Home Global News North Korea’s Strategy To Grab America’s Attention With Explosive Displays
North Korea’s Strategy To Grab America’s Attention With Explosive Displays

North Korea’s Strategy To Grab America’s Attention With Explosive Displays

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Count on the North Koreans to make a statement with a bang. Literally. Blowing up a liaison office that was supposed to serve as a symbol of good relations between the brother-enemies on the Korean peninsula sends a message. Especially when the June 16 big bang apparently was ordered by Sister Number One, Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sibling and a potential successor.

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North Korean state media said that the liaison office in the former royal capital of Kaesong was “tragically ruined with a terrific explosion.” The office was opened in 2018 and was supposed to herald an era of warming ties. A black plume visible from the southern side of the border meant that those brotherly hopes went, how else is there to put it, up in smoke.

North Korea has been angered by balloon-lofted shipments of leaflets, food and US$1 bills that are launched from South Korea, mostly by North Korean defectors. South Korean officials have opposed the balloon flights but haven’t yet been able to halt them. The North Koreans said that they wanted to “force human scum, and those who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes.” The same day the North threatened to move its troops into the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries.

The episode reminded me of the now-yellowing leaflets I collected in Seoul when in 1989, shortly after the arrival in South Korea of U.S. Ambassador Donald Gregg. Crudely drawn and printed on cheap newsprint, one depicts a servile South Korean President Roh Tae-woo paying fealty to Gregg, another shows the American sporting fangs. Even then, the leaflets were laughable. Now this sort of warfare seems like an anachronistic whiff of another age. In South Korea, these sorts of leaflets are now tucked away in the safety of a museum, to be marveled at as evidence of a bygone era.

The past, of course, is very much alive in Korea. The north is home to one of the world’s most thuggish and brutal regimes, one that classifies families by political loyalty, kills relatives of those who have transgressed, and cares little that its stunted and malnourished population suffers periodic famines. North Korea was looking for an excuse to make a dramatic statement, apparently in frustration at continuing economic sanctions. Pyongyang is unhappy that despite Kim Jong Un’s three summit meetings with Donald Trump and a dovish administration in Seoul that it hasn’t been able to break free from sanctions. The propaganda leaflets were just a pretext.

The Kaesong explosion–of a building paid for by South Korea–is the most serious incident since 2010, when North Korea sank a South Korean naval vessel and killed 46 servicemembers. Later that year it shelled a South Korean island near the North Korean coast, killing four people.

Scott Snyder, Korea analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, speculates that Kim Yo Jong needs to draw blood in order to prove her ability to lead the country in the event her brother dies or is incapacitated.

With the U.S. distracted, North Korea might gamble on delivering a short, bloody shock to South Korea and count on not starting a war. It wouldn’t be the first time. In 1968, North Korea seized the USS Pueblo and its crew when the Johnson administration was distracted with the siege of Khe Sanh in Vietnam.

Certainly, North Korea likes a spectacle. When U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright visited North Korea in October 2000, Kim Jong Il (father of the current leader) treated her to a mass-games spectacle of some 24,000 performers. The event featured a card-flipping display of a missile. Kim promised Albright–falsely—that there would be no more North Korean missile launches. It is unfortunate that the North plays with foreign relations–and Korean lives–as if it were just another mass-game spectacle.

 

This article was written by Mark L. Clifford from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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