North Korea's immediate rejection of a U.N. resolution sanctioning the communist nation for its reported nuclear test was a repetition of the North's well-worn rhetoric, and a reiteration of past empty threats that it would consider sanctions to be a declaration of war.
The U.N. Security Council's unanimous resolution would be expected to be criticized loudly by the North, which deeply resents the outside world trying to force it do something without giving anything in return, which runs counter to its primary ideology of "juche," or self-reliance.
Bending to others' will also would make North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appear weak, something he can't afford to do to maintain his grip on power without losing face.
In the North's view, the biggest source of outside pressure is the United States, which Pyongyang knows would like to see regime change despite Washington's public insistence it has no intention to invade.
The U.S. has refused to lift financial restrictions against the North for its alleged counterfeiting and money laundering, Pyongyang's key demand before it returns to six-nation nuclear talks. The restrictions are believed to have had a strong effect on the North's elites, putting even greater pressure on Kim from those who could be the determiners of his fate.
The North's claimed nuclear test "was entirely attributable to the United States' nuclear threat, sanctions and pressure," North Korea's U.N. Ambassador Pak Gil Yon said Saturday in response to the resolution's passage at the United Nations in New York.
The North also asked why there was no mention of concern about the U.S. military presence in the region targeted at deterring Pyongyang.
From the North's view, its nuclear program is simply a way to stave off a U.S. offensive, and a bargaining chip to give it leverage for what it really wants: security guarantees for the regime.
Pak said the North has repeatedly maintained "it would feel no need to possess even a single nuke when it is no longer exposed to the United States' threat, after it has dropped its hostile policy towards the (North), and confidences have been built between the two countries."
The North knows it can't launch a nuclear attack or proliferate atomic weapons without risking an attack against it. The regime expressly said it wouldn't do either of those things when it announced plans for the nuclear test on Oct. 3.
Pyongyang also repeated at the time its desire for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and hopes for a world free of atomic weapons.
Invoking Kim Il Sung
The North's ambassador echoed that Saturday, and repeated the country's earlier invocation of the name of Kim Il Sung — the nation's founding ruler who is treated as a virtual god under the quasi-state religion that forms the foundation of the North Korean system, and who even in death maintains the title of president.
"The denuclearization of the entire peninsula was President Kim Il Sung's last instruction and an ultimate goal of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," Pak said, using the country's formal name.
Although the North's long-standing position is that sanctions are tantamount to a declaration of war, it's essentially empty rhetoric.
But the resolution has given the North a way not to appear weak on that point. At the urging of China and Russia, it isn't backed by threat of military force — meaning the North can claim the sanctions aren't the type that would prod it to lash out with a military option of its own.
Still, North Korea isn't just going to sit back and do nothing. Pak said in his response that the North would "continue to take physical countermeasures" in the face of U.S. pressure. The North tends to do what it says it will do, meaning another claimed nuclear explosion or rocket launch could be likely.
Burt Herman is chief of bureau in Korea for The Associated Press.