Kim Jong Un's talk of war fit a decade-long pattern in which North Korea uses threats to draw the U.S. to the negotiating table, then backs off. But one mistake could backfire.
North Korea’s saber-rattling may be simply a show of force intended to make Kim Jong Un look tough, but U.S. military commanders and international experts worry about the growing chance of a miscalculation that could lead to a real conflict.
U.S. officials have said a missile test launch from North Korea is “imminent.”
“Every year, North Korea has this kind of hissy fit over our annual exercises, but this year it’s gone on a lot longer and a lot stronger because of the need to portray this guy as a great leader,” former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Chris Hill, said Wednesday on The Daily Rundown.
The young leader’s ascension to power in 2011 following the death of his father Kim Jong Il introduced a new factor into what has been a regular pattern of escalation and negotiations from North Korea.
Since North Korea first admitted to having nuclear weapons, the U.S. and other countries have engaged in repeated rounds of negotiation in which the North has demanded everything from energy aid to the normalization of relations in exchange for denuclearization. But no deal ever lasts long.
“The problem is the North Koreans accept something one day and then decide the next day they don’t want to accept it,” said Hill, who represented the United States in six-party talks with Pyongyang. “That’s what really drives you crazy in negotiating with these people. You think you have a deal, then the next day you don’t have a deal.”
It’s not clear if Kim Jong Un’s brinksmanship is designed to do anything other than cement his reputation as a strong leader.
“At the end of the day the real concern is, since they don’t understand us and they don’t understand the rest of the world…they could miscalculate,” says former Ambassador Hill. “They simply don’t understand that if they do something they may well get a response they weren’t expecting.”
U.S. Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that North Korea was approaching a “dangerous line,” after weeks of ratcheting up the rhetoric.