North Korea's nuclear threats 'more bluff than reality'

Experts say Pyongyang knows nuclear strike on US would be 'suicidal' and technically 'impracticable'

LAST UPDATED AT 11:52 ON Fri 8 Mar 2013

NORTH KOREA'S threat of a nuclear strike against the US, and its decision to tear up all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, have been downplayed by experts as typically "extreme rhetoric".

Pyongyang has also said it will close its hotline with Seoul, and shut their shared border point, in retaliation for a fresh round of sanctions approved by the UN yesterday as punishment for North Korea's nuclear test last month.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un appeared to put his country on a war footing yesterday, telling troops that the slightest provocation would result in a "great advance" along the entire frontline with the South.

In the hours before yesterday's UN vote on sanctions, Pyongyang unleashed a "raft of new threats" including the possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the US. But experts point out that North Korea "has a history of bellicose statements without matching action" and most do not believe it capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on a missile that could reach the US, says The Guardian.

Dr John Swenson-Wright, from the policy institute Chatham House, agreed that a pre-emptive nuclear strike seemed "more bluff than reality". He told the BBC that the North's leaders knew such an attack would be "suicidal" and a strike on the US was probably "impracticable" given the "technically rudimentary quality of the North's ballistic missile programme".

A more troubling possibility is that the North might choose - out of irritation with the UN - to precipitate a border clash with South Korea, either on land or sea, as it did before in 2010, Swenson-Wright said.

South Korea has responded to the North's rhetoric with a "toughened stance" of its own. It leaders said today that if Pyongyang attacked it with a nuclear weapon, Kim Jong-un's regime "will be erased from the earth."

The new UN sanctions were outlined in a US-drafted resolution which was approved unanimously by the 15-nation council yesterday. It was the product of three weeks of negotiations between the US and China after North Korea's nuclear test on 12 February.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, welcomed the council's move, saying in a statement that the resolution "sent an unequivocal message to [North Korea] that the international community will not tolerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons". · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.