US officials now believe that North Korea will conduct a lethal attack against South Korea, according to the New York Times. Washington assesses that Pyongyang will attempt to limit its attack to avoid a full-scale war.
North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un could take lethal military action against South Korea in the coming months, American officials told the Times. “The officials have assessed that Kim’s recent harder line is part of a pattern of provocations, but that his declarations have been more aggressive than previous statements and should be taken seriously.” The article continues, “While the officials added that they did not see an imminent risk of a full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula, Kim could carry out strikes in a way that he thinks would avoid rapid escalation.”
North Korea experts Robert Carlin and Siegfried Hecker recently published an article in 38North warning of a potential war on the peninsula. “The literature on surprise attacks should make us wary of the comfortable assumptions that resonate in Washington’s echo chamber but might not have purchase in Pyongyang,” Carlin and Hecker write. “This might seem like madness, but history suggests those who have convinced themselves that they have no good options left will take the view that even the most dangerous game is worth the candle.”
Writing at Responsible Statecraft, John Feffer calls for his readers to take the Carlin and Hecker warning seriously but explains that Kim’s fiery statements may signal that Pyongyang seeks peace and not war. “The usual North Korean approach has been to make wild threats to get the attention of an otherwise indifferent US government in order to pave the way for a fresh round of negotiations.” Feffer’s argument continues, “Missile launches, nuclear tests, and promises to turn South Korea into a “sea of fire” have all, in the past, signaled not an interest in war but, perversely, a determination to restart peace talks with newly attentive adversaries.”
Throughout Joe Biden’s term, tensions on the Korean Peninsula have steadily increased. Since taking office, Biden abandoned the diplomatic path put forward by his predecessor, Donald Trump. Instead, the current administration has conducted several rounds of large-scale, live-fire war games on the Korean Peninsula.
Washington has deployed more nuclear-capable weapons platforms to the region, threatening Pyongyang. US and South Korean soldiers have conducted drills simulating Kim’s assassination. Additionally, Washington has worked to create a trilateral military pact with Tokyo and Seoul.
The provocations have drawn a predictable response from Pyongyang. North Korea has conducted a series of missile tests, placed a military satellite into orbit, carried out military drills near the border, and developed North Korea’s relationship with Russia.
Earlier this week, Pyongyang test-fired a new cruise missile. North Korean state media attempted to downplay the test’s impact on regional tensions. “The test-fire had no impact on the security of neighboring countries and has nothing to do with the regional situation,” KCNA reports, “The Missile Administration explained that the test-fire is a process of constant updating of the weapon system and a regular and obligatory activity of the administration and its affiliated defense science institutes.”
Pyongyang said that Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit North Korea in the near term. On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that the US, Japan, and South Korea are preparing for war with North Korea.
The Times report noted US officials believe, as he has moved closer to Putin, Kim is “likely feeling emboldened.” Washington has accused Pyongyang of arming Moscow’s forces fighting in Ukraine. One official told the Times that North Korea sending weapons to Russia was a sign that Kim was not preparing for a large-scale war.