North Korea just threatened to destroy the United States, South Korea, and Japan — escalating tensions during an already dangerous time.
“Let's reduce the US mainland into ashes and darkness,” said a spokesperson for the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, which oversees North Korea’s foreign affairs and propaganda, as reported by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. He even said the US should “be beaten to death as a stick is fit for a rabid dog.”
But the, uh, “Peace Committee” spokesperson didn’t stop there: “The four islands of the [Japanese] archipelago should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche,” the spokesperson continued, referring to the country’s “self-reliance” ideology. “Japan is no longer needed to exist near us.”
The spokesperson didn’t spare South Korea, either: “The group of pro-American traitors should be severely punished and wiped out with fire attack so that they could no longer survive.”
The menacing comments come at the end of a few tense weeks. On August 29, North Korea launched a missile over Japan’s Northern island of Hokkaido, landing 733 miles to the East. Five days later, North Korea tested its most powerful nuclear bomb yet, which was at least seven times more powerful than the one America dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
In response to the test, the United Nations on September 11 passed its harshest sanctions package it’s ever adopted against North Korea, which includes banning textiles exports and capping shipments of crude oil into the country. And on September 12, South Korea conducted a military exercise to improve its ability to fire cruise missiles at North Korea.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s top government spokesperson, said North Korea’s comments were “extremely provocative and egregious,” adding, “it is something that markedly heightens regional tension and is absolutely unacceptable.”
South Korea and the United States have yet to respond directly to North Korea’s latest threat. But on September 12, two days before Pyongyang’s statements, President Donald Trump noted the US may take more actions beyond the recently imposed sanctions. “Those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” the president remarked alongside Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
It’s unclear what exactly that extra action would be — or if Trump will choose to heighten tensions even further after these recent comments.
North Korea can follow through on its threats — but it likely won’t
North Korea is no stranger to making bombastic threats toward its perceived enemies.
Take this statement from March 2016: “If the American imperialists provoke us a bit, we will not hesitate to slap them with a preemptive nuclear strike.” Or this from North Korea leader Kim Jong Un just one month later: Pyongyang “can tip new-type intercontinental ballistic rockets with more powerful nuclear warheads and keep any cesspool of evils in the earth, including the US mainland, within our striking range.”
Those comments were mostly shrugged off by the United States because North Korea didn’t have a missile that could hit the US mainland. But now it likely can. On July 28, North Korea tested one that could theoretically hit major US cities like Chicago, New York, or even Washington, DC. And US intelligence officials believe that North Korea will soon be able to reliably fit a nuclear warhead atop a missile.
That helps explain why the Trump administration feels the North Korean threat is so urgent. Officials want to end the standoff preferably through diplomatic negotiations, where Pyongyang agrees to give up its nuclear weapons. But as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has reported, most experts think North Korea won’t give up its bombs because the regime feels its nuclear arsenal is the only thing deterring countries, especially the US, from overthrowing it.
It’s worth pointing out that North Korea could already hit South Korea and Japan with a nuclear weapon. But South Korea must also deal with other threats from its Northern neighbor. Pyongyang is already pointing thousands of pieces of artillery at Seoul, South Korea’s capital — with a whopping 25.6 million residents living in the greater metropolitan area. One war game convened by the Atlantic back in 2005 predicted that a North Korean attack would kill 100,000 people in Seoul in the first few days alone.
So while some used to laugh at North Korea’s boisterous statements, it’s doubtful many in Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo are chuckling now.