UPDATE 1117KST: Inter-Korean relations are now in a “state of war“, the KCNA reported this morning. “Situations on the Korean Peninsula, which are neither in peace nor at war, have come to an end,” the statement from the government said.
UPDATE 1449KST: South Korean intelligence agencies have spotted increased activity on North Korean mid-to-long range missile platforms, an unnamed official told Yonhap in Seoul: “We are closely watching for the possibility of a missile launch,” the anonymous government source said.
SEOUL – Kim Jong Un signed off on a plan to ready his forces to target the U.S. mainland and American bases in East Asia following yesterday’s U.S.-led B-2 stealth bomber runs, the KCNA reported after the North Korean military conveyed an “emergency meeting” in the early hours of this morning.
In a photo published in the Korea Worker’s Party (KWP) paper the Rodong, plans for a strike on the U.S. mainland are clearly –and therefore probably deliberately– visible. The newspaper is widely distributed in cities, and often displayed in public places for easy viewing.
“He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in south Korea,” a KCNA report in English said.
In the below photos, Kim Jong Un can be seen in what appears to be a military command room, signing the ready order.
In the version enlarged by NK NEWS (below), the text reads “U.S. Mainland Strike Plan” [미본토타격계획], and a larger map towards the back of the command centre appears to show the Western coast of the United States.
A composite overlay appears to show San Diego, Washington D.C., Hawaii and possibly Austin as being primary targets in a North Korean attack plan:
In a second picture Korean People’s Air Force (KPAF) air wing numbers are visible, as is what appears to be the location of the U.S. 7th fleet on the side of the large map on the wall. A 21.5 inch aluminium unibody iMac is on Kim Jong Un’s desk, confirming long-held rumors of the Kim family’s passion for Apple Macs.
Given that the photo will have primarily been intended for a domestic audience, it will most likely have already served its purpose of demonstrating North Korean military capabilities internally. Most analysts agree North Korea would not be able to hit any U.S. mainland targets.
A composite of the two photos gives a better idea of the scene, although the different focal lengths distort the image slightly:
“All the available technical evidence suggests that the North’s claims to be able to hit (let alone target precisely) geographical sites in the United States are highly implausible,” John Swenson-Wright, senior lecturer in East Asian International Relations at the University of Cambridge told NK NEWS.
“It seems reasonable to suppose that the target map is designed for home consumption and to create an impression of war-readiness for DPRK-citizens that is part of a wider policy of strengthening national resolve,” Swenson-Wright added. If the marks on the map are intended to demonstrate the flight path of a missile, they would most likely not be straight.
The development appears to be a tit-for-tat response to a U.S. stealth bomber training run Thursday that saw two B-2’s fly from Missouri to drop ordinance on an island in the southern half of the Korean peninsula. U.S. officials said the flights were not designed to raise tensions, but reduce them by bolstering deterrence in face of North Korea’s recent vitriolic provocations.
However, North Korea sees ongoing U.S. military drills as part of a plot to conduce a full-scale nuclear invasion of their country. This week, Pyongyang put its military on the highest level of alert possible and cut a second military hotline. A KCNA report published earlier today added to tensions by saying that the North Korean military was preparing to “blow up the strongholds of aggression…through precision strikes no matter where they are.”
Observers worry that, with tensions running high and two new leaders in Pyongyang and Seoul, there is significant potential for escalation in the event of military confrontation. Both Kim Jong Un and Park Geun-hye are under domestic pressure to show strong and decisive leadership in the face of each other’s threats, and a lack of direct communication between the two sides is worrying for some.