WASHINGTON DC – North Korea has put its missile and artillery units into combat ready posture to protect its “sovereignty” and defend the “supreme leadership”, state media outlet KCNA reported Tuesday.
The latest warning said that “strategic” rocket units and long-range artillery units have been ordered to prepare for possible strikes against the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and Guam. ” There is a limit to patience”, the article added.
Adding that the North Korean military would show their will through physical action towards the “puppet authorities of south Korea”, the warning also said that the South Korean military “should be mindful that everything will be reduced to ashes and flames the moment the first attack is unleashed.”
While previous North Korean threats said Washington DC could now be a target for preemptive nuclear strikes, Pyongyang’s still experimental long-range missile capabilities mean they would be almost impossible to realize. The same is true for targets like Guam and Hawaii, both of which are over 3,000 and 7,500km respectively.
Responding to the latest threat, Dr. Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the Australian National University, said, “It’s attention-seeking behavior. It’s like a child in a candy shop: if you haven’t bought him a lolly and don’t pay attention to his tantrums he tries to intimidate you with things – even if they are self-harming.”
The alleged raise in combat readiness levels comes after the U.S. conducted B-52 formation training in South Korean several days ago, a development which the U.S. said, “once again [demonstrates] the depth of the alliance”.
“As North Korea threatened to attack South Korea with nuclear weapons, the exercise involving B-52s is meaningful as it shows U.S. commitment to provide its nuclear umbrella on the Korean Peninsula,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok last week told reporters at South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
For their part, the B-52 flights came amid rising tensions between Pyongyang and the U.S. – South Korean alliance after the UN Security Council voted to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea following their third nuclear test last month.
Since the latest Security Council Resolution, North Korea has unilaterally nullified the 1953 non-aggression armistice, made increasingly aggressive threats, and released a slew of video propaganda showing the potential destruction of South Korea and the U.S. These actions have been viewed as “provocations” by both South Korea and the U.S., two countries increasingly frustrated by North Korea’s non-compliance with global norms.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and South Korea today released news that their two militaries had signed a military contingency plan to respond to potential attacks from North Korea. The announcement was timed to mark the anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean vessel Cheonan, which was sunk on March 26, 2010.
While this development might suggest the emergence of a counterattack agreement, Pentagon Spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson stressed the agreement instead, “Formalizes what was already happening…we have formally agreed as an alliance that we will consult with each other about future actions to respond to what just happened.”
Although North Korean threats have been on the sharp increase in recent weeks, Chris Green, Editor at a Seoul based online news site today said, “Daily NK has heard of many problems arising during North Korean military training exercises. That does not mean they won’t attempt a limited provocation against South Korea, but it does mean that their threats of a wider conflagration carry little weight, and that they will avoid directly antagonizing the United States.”
In spite of the latest flurry of tit-for-tat actions, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei today called on all sides to exercise restraint, as is normal practice for Beijing.
But on Monday, the Chosun Ilbo cited unnamed government officials as saying that if North Korea launched a provocation like the Cheonan sinking, the South Korean military would retaliate by launching missiles at statues of North Korean leaders.
“If North Korea launches another provocation, our military has developed a plan to respond with air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missiles to strike not only the source of provocation as well as support and command forces, but also some statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il”.
Such a response could lead to a major military response targeted towards for South Korea, since the statues of the Kims are highly revered in North Korean propaganda.
North Korea’s recent increase in war rhetoric and military preparations follow its promise to exact strong retaliation for recently completed U.S.-South Korean military exercises and UN sanctions.
North Korea shelled a ROK military base on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in 2010 after Seoul refused to cease artillery exercises along the disputed maritime border. Two South Korean marines were killed in the attack, along with two civilians contracted to work on the small island marine base.