4:53 PM CDT, March 29, 2013
North Korea and the United States are doing their best to sound like they are more than ready to go to war. The Pyongyang regime put its missiles on "highest alert" after threatening to "mercilessly strike" the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and Guam. Yesterday the United States had B2 and B52 bombers, which can carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, carry out practice bombing runs in South Korea. The Russian foreign minister expressed fears that the posturing could "get out of control."
But you probably don't need to ready that bomb shelter just yet. Of North Korea, one expert says that "there is little to no chance that could successfully land a missile on Guam, Hawaii or anywhere else outside the Korean Peninsula that U.S. forces may be stationed." Even if Kim Jong Un believes otherwise, he can't have any illusions about the utter destruction his country would face if it started a war.
So what's he doing? Two things: First, using North Korea's usual tactic for reminding the world that it exists and deserves attention. Second, rallying his people and his military behind him by feigning a crisis. He's still a new ruler with little experience, and this is a chance for him to display decisive leadership.
The United States obviously wants to convey to Kim the clear message that it can and will respond with overwhelming force if attacked. But it has another goal as well: reassuring our allies, Japan and South Korea, that they can count on us to defend them. This is important for good relations, and it's designed to dispel any notion that they may need nuclear weapons of their own.
Any time well-armed enemies start issuing threats, there is the chance of a disastrous misstep that leads to an outcome neither wanted. But North Korea and the United States have been playing this game for a long time, and they both know the value of barking without biting.
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