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Dunsmore: North Korean Threat


The new, inexperienced North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's threats to use nuclear weapons against the American homeland can hardly be brushed aside as the same old North Korean bellicose rhetoric. Yet at the same time, I see no signs that the national security apparatus of the U.S. government is in full crisis mode.

There is a long history of North Korea making belligerent threats to annihilate South Korea along with the approximately 28,000 American troops still stationed there. Over the years, the three generations of the Kim dynasty have continued to blame the enemy in Washington for the abject failure of North Korea's own political and economic system. They've often resorted to murder and extortion. Just three years ago, the North Koreans torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel which went down with 46 sailors aboard.

Yet there is a tangible difference between past such incidents and what is happening today - namely - North Korea now has nuclear weapons. Last month, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, presented areport to the Senate Intelligence Committee which concluded that North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the U.S. and its allies in Asia.

We know that the Kim regime fired a long range rocket in December and two months later detonated underground what it called a smaller and lighter nuclear device. But there is no evidence in the public domain that the North Koreans actually have been able to weaponize their nuclear device. To do that they would have to make a nuclear warhead small enough and sufficiently sophisticated to be mounted onto one of their long range missiles. If they had achieved that capability, the alarm bells in Washington would almost certainly be a lot louder than they are at the present.

TheU.S. did beef up its presence in annual Korean military exercises with two nuclear capable B-2 stealth bombers and other high-tech planes and ships. Yet in recent days the White House has appeared to be trying to ease the growing tensions. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary said on Monday, We are not seeing changes in the North Korean military posture such as large scale mobilizations, He described this is a disconnect between North Korea's rhetoric and its actions.

The Kim regime responded by announcing it was going to restart what was once its main nuclear reactor, which might eventually increase its nuclear weapons stockpile. And Wednesday it blocked South Korean workers from entering a huge industrial zone which is the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation - and a crucial money-maker for the North.

North Korea is the last remaining Stalinist country standing. It is erratic and treacherous. But in the dangerous world of nuclear politics, it cannot be ignored. What is needed soon is the right combination of carrot and stick diplomacy in serious negotiations that have been too long delayed.