Analysis: Pyongyang’s view of the North Korea-U.S. crisis

This analysis was written by a former Western intelligence officer with decades of experience in Asia 

From Pyongyang’s standpoint, the storyline of its engagement with the U.S. looks something like this:

Prior to President Trump’s inauguration, North Korea made it clear it was prepared to give the new U.S. administration time to review the policy and come up with something better than President Obama’s.  The only wrinkle was that if the U.S. went full-steam ahead with its annual joint exercises with South Korea (especially if that were accompanied by more talk of “decapitation” and more flights of strategic bombers over the Korean peninsula), the North would react strongly.

In short, the U.S. did, and the North reacted.

Behind-the-scenes contacts went up and down, but couldn’t get traction.  In April, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un paraded new missiles as a warning, to no effect.  The regime launched the new systems, one after another.  Still, Washington’s approach didn’t change.

On July 4, after North Korea’s first successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch, Kim sent a public signal that the North could put the nuclear and missile programs “on the table” if the U.S. changed its approach.

The U.S. did not, so the North launched another ICBM, very deliberately deeming it a warning to the U.S. that they were to be taken seriously. Still, more B-1 bombers flew over the Peninsula, and the U.N. Security Council passed new sanctions.

As a result, Pyongyang announced the Guam gambit: Four missiles would bracket the island as soon as the Strategic Force worked out the plans and gave them to Kim for his approval. The announcement indicated that the four missiles would overfly Japan, in effect signaling that the previous restraint demonstrated by lofting missiles in order to avoid such over-flights was at an end.

On August 14, Kim announced he had approved the Guam plan but was holding off its execution in order to watch the U.S. a…

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