Analysts are accustomed to bizarre words and actions from North Korea, but its behavior the last week has left the world to wonder what the Hermit Kingdom will do next.
On March 11, Pyongyang declared that it had nullified the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War. “The U.S. has reduced the armistice agreement to a dead paper,” the country’s state-run media said.
The announcement came as South Korea and the U.S. continued through a two-month session of joint military drills, including a new exercise that brought an additional 2,500 American troops to the Korean Peninsula.
The North’s Most Dangerous Leader Yet
After the death of Kim Jong-il in December 2011, his son Kim Jong-un took up the reins of North Korea. Many analysts thought the transition would trigger a reversal in the country’s rogue behavior. The young Kim Jong-un received a Western education, and was an outspoken fan of Michael Jordan and James Bond films. Optimistic Westerners said what little information was available about Jong-un suggested that he might abandon the internal oppression and external belligerency that had marked the reigns of his father and grandfather.
But the young Jong-un is desperate to prove himself worthy to his nation’s hard-line military, and it is now clear that nuclear North Korea under his rule is more aggressive, more unpredictable and more dangerous than ever before.
Last month, Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear weapons test, prompting the United Nations to impose new sanctions on it. The North responded to the sanctions by threatening preemptive nuclear attacks on South Korea and the U.S. “[O]ur intercontinental ballistic missiles … are on a standby,” Vice Defense Minister Kang Pyo-yang said. “If we push the button, they will blast off and their barrage will turn Washington, the stronghold of American imperialists and the nest of evil … into a sea of fire.”
But would the North actually attempt any attacks with its relatively primitive weaponry? And could any such attempt be successful?
On Sunday, Congressman Mike Rogers said the threats are not empty bluster: “They certainly have a ballistic missile that can reach U.S. shores. You have a 28-year-old leader who is trying to prove himself to the military, and the military is eager to have a saber-rattling for their own self-interest, and the combination of that is proving to be very, very deadly.”
Recent history has also taught the North that, shy of sanctions, there is no reason not to provoke U.S. allies. Back in 2010, a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo into a South Korean ship, sinking the vessel and killing 46 sailors. Later that year, North Korean forces killed four South Koreans with an artillery barrage. Pyongyang was only slapped on the wrist for those incidents, so its leaders seem to think they can antagonize again without retaliation from the U.S.
Logic suggests they are right.
After Pyongyang said the truce had been nullified, UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky gave a response representative of many western views: “Let me just stress here that the Armistice Agreement is still valid and is still in force, and that the terms of the Armistice Agreement do not allow either side unilaterally to free themselves from it.”
So, North Korea isn’t allowed to break the truce unless the international community says it can break it? Pyongyang’s track record shows that it has little regard for what the international community “allows.” It also shows that the pariah nation actively seeks to antagonize the U.S. and South Korea.
If North Korea does start a war or commit other isolated acts of aggression, and if America does nothing, it may signal to Iran, Russia and other enemies of the West that they too can get away with aggression and provocations.
The China Factor
North Korea owes its existence to China. Without the support of Chinese troops, the North would surely have been defeated during the Korean War. The Chinese oil and food that crosses the border—often illegally—is pretty much all that’s keeping Kim’s regime afloat. As North Korea’s white knight, China has immense influence over Pyongyang.
Beijing signed on to the last round of sanctions, but, in the past, Chinese companies have flagrantly helped the North evade sanctions, and there’s no reason to think that will change. Despite Beijing’s endorsement of the sanctions, China is actually using erratic North Korea as a proxy to intimidate its Asian neighbors and to antagonize the West. With China maintaining its role as Pyongyang’s protector, it is unlikely the U.S. or any other nation will take decisive action against North Korea’s illegal nuclear development and other provocations.
Asia’s rising tensions point to dark times on the horizon, but the Bible makes plain that this is actually leading to the most spectacular event in the history of the universe: the return of Jesus Christ, and the beginning of an age of peace for Asia and for the whole of mankind. To understand more, read Russia and China in Prophecy. ▪