North Korea’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il, has been dead for more than a year, but his policies live on under his son, Kim Jong-un. Despite cosmetic changes—an attractive first lady carrying a designer purse—economic reform appears to remain mostly talk and political adjustments only affect the internal balance of power. Now the “Great Successor” is continuing his father’s policy of provocation, threatening to stage another nuclear test.
The official rhetoric also remains characteristic of the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The National Defense Commission explained: “We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets we will launch, as well as the high-level nuclear test we will carry out, are targeted at the United States, the arch-enemy of the Korean people.” Moreover, “Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words.”
Although Pyongyang gave no specifics on its planned test, mid-February seems likely. That would mark Kim Jong-il’s birthday and preempt the inauguration of Park Geun-hye as South Korea’s new president.
So far the Obama administration’s reaction has been muted. Administration special envoy Glyn Davies was visiting Seoul and said: “We hope they don’t do it, we call on them not to do it. It would be a mistake and a missed opportunity if they were to do it. This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean peninsula.” White House press secretary Jay Carney denounced the North’s rhetoric as “needlessly provocative.”
Of course, the DPRK believes there never is a moment when it is not appropriate to increase tensions on the peninsula. And North Korean foreign policy is based on provocation.
Washington’s response should remain low-key. First, the administration should downplay the test’s significance, observing that it is nothing new. The North already has conducted two tests. Although no one wants Pyongyang to advance its nuclear program, the test will…