The Meaning of Kim’s Midnight Pow-Wow

According to Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA), at 12:30AM on the 29th Kim Jong Eun convened an “urgent operations meeting on the duty of the Strategic Rocket Force.” There, he apparently made an “important decision,” namely that “If [the United States] makes a reckless provocation with huge strategic forces, the People’s Army should mercilessly strike the U.S. mainland, their military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea.”

The report made particular note of the fact that Kim signed off on operational plans during the meeting, suggesting that there is nothing now standing between the North Korean military and an attack on the mainland United States.

Convening a late-night emergency meeting of military officials in this way was designed to reinforce domestic tensions, but its publicization also has an international element, while it would also appear to imply that Kim is overreacting to recent B-52 and B-2 strategic bomber sorties over the Korean Peninsula.

It must have been a source of concern for Kim to witness the arrival of these aircraft, which can readily infiltrate North Korea’s air defenses unannounced. The fear is not new: it is known that Kim’s grandfather and father were equally sensitive to the topic of strategic bombers. At times this fear was expressed in public lectures, where the B-52 Stratofortress was described as an “imperialist tool of genocide.”

And, while the international community may harbor few concerns over the security of U.S. possessions, there are worries that Kim Jong Eun may be coming to rely more on his own judgment than on the strategies that characterized the rule of Kim Jong Il. As such, it is perfectly possible that he will maintain the current state of tension, yet without a concrete plan of action for the future. From there it is difficult to predict his actions, and a dangerous provocation cannot be ruled out.

Many believe that Kim’s aim is to wait for the United States to yield in some way that will permit him to stand his forces down and relax the tension. However, this plan is unrealistic, because the U.S. has repeatedly stated that it has no wish to negotiate with North Korea unless there is a set agreement for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in place.