DPRK stated that it withdrew from the armistice treaty on 11 March 2013 and cut the phone hotline between Pyongyang and Seoul. It also withdrew from its non-aggression pact with South Korea. Meanwhile, Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the North Korean government, ran an editorial in which it stated that the glorious North Korean army, newly equipped with world-class nuclear weapons and missiles, would transform both Seoul and Washington into seas of fire — presumably as soon as the supreme commander gets around to giving the relevant order. According to reports from North Korea itself, the populations of major cities are undergoing frequent, high-intensity air raid drills.
Officially, all this is a reaction to the UN Security Council resolution that condemned the third nuclear test, conducted by North Korea in February. The resolution introduced some new sanctions against the DPRK and has been described by Pyongyang as an ‘act of war’.
So why does North Korea behave this way? There seem to be at least two reasons behind Pyongyang’s noisy behaviour. First, this rhetoric seems to have become a standard reaction to UN Security Council resolutions that condemn nuclear and missile tests in the North. In spite of its high pitch this is a diplomatic gesture, a way to express North Korea’s dissatisfaction with the resolution and its resolute unwillingness to bow to outside pressure.
But there is another reason for the DPRK’s verbal bellicosity. The North Korean populace has to be regularly reminded that their country is surrounded by scheming enemies. Otherwise, they might start asking politically dangerous questions — for example, they might wonder why their country, once the most industrially advanced in all of continental East Asia, is increasingly lagging behind China and, especially, South Korea. Outside threats are the best way to explain away never-ending economic difficulties, and an air raid drill or two does wonders when it comes to keeping people afraid and stopping them from having heretical thoughts. It also will remind North Koreans of the need to maintain discipline and unite around the current leader and his ‘glorious’ family.
As decades of experience teaches us, we can be pretty sure that from time to time some clashes (of relatively small scale) are bound to happen on the land and sea borders between the two Koreas. But right now the chances of such clashes are low.
The noise emanating from Pyongyang is, well, just noise.