North Korean nuclear tests

North Korea's actions designed to raise tension, say analysts

Analysts say North Korea's recent behaviour is bluster, but US is taking young leader seriously

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 April, 2013, 4:02am

If North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un's threats to start a nuclear war are an attempt to get the world's attention, he's succeeded. The question is why?

The answer would go a long way to determining whether war cries emanating from North Korea herald a devastating conflict or, as many analysts say, are just the latest round of provoke- and-retreat behaviour driven by politics in Pyongyang.

Yesterday, North Korea said it would restart a nuclear reactor to feed its atomic weapons programme, in its clearest rebuff yet of UN sanctions at the heart of the soaring tensions.

The aim was to "bolster the nuclear armed force both in quality and quantity", the official KCNA news agency quoted a government spokesman as saying.

Such bluster carries risks of misjudgments or accidents if Kim, new to power after his father's December 2011 death, is not skilful at managing the crisis he has created with missile and nuclear tests, threats against South Korea, and videos depicting attacks on the United States.

"What I fear most of all is that he does not have an 'off ramp' to be able to ratchet back the tensions," David Maxwell, associate director of the Centre for Security Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, said.

Even longtime patron China has been watching Pyongyang warily, expressing regret yesterday over the decision to restart the Yongbyon nuclear complex and urging all parties to return to negotiations. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said conflict on the Korean peninsula did not serve any country's interests.

Kim is more of a wild card than were his grandfather and his father. He has the unique challenges of being a third-generation dictator

White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday the US had seen no troop movements or other changes in the North's military posture to back up its threats. Still, he said, the US was taking Kim's threats "very seriously".

Kim is more of a wild card than were his grandfather and his father. He has the unique challenges of being a third-generation dictator, measured against Kim Il-sung, revered as the "Great Leader," who led North Korea into war and ran the nation for more than four decades, and an erratic father, Kim Jong-il, the self-proclaimed "Dear Leader" who sought nuclear status and military might while maintaining a centrally planned economy that impoverished the people.

"He's an extremely isolated young man," said retired Admiral Dennis Blair, a former national intelligence director in the Obama administration and former US Pacific commander.

"He's treated like a god. His father and grandfather were pretty savvy, pretty cold and calculating. I'm sure he'd become that way over time. But this is his first rodeo. He's pretty inexperienced. I think it's dangerous because of his inexperience and his youth."

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse