Commentary Magazine


Overstating the North Korean Threat

Does Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s untested new dictator, want a war? He certainly sounds like it with his constant stream of threats against South Korea and the United States. His mouthpiece has even been warning foreign embassies to evacuate Seoul because a “thermonuclear war” is supposedly about to break out. But Kim is not crazy and he is certainly not suicidal. He must know that an all-out war would end in the destruction of his regime and his likely death. No more watching basketball with Dennis Rodman, if that were to happen.

So while he may launch some missiles toward open waters or undertake other provocative acts against South Korea, he is unlikely to restart an all-out Korean war. Following the playbook written by his father, Kim Jong-il, he simply wants to pressure South Korea and the U.S. into making concessions that will enhance his regime–and he believes the more blood-curdling his threats, the greater likelihood there is that the West will cave in.

It is a mystery why a Republican congressman would want to help Kim to terrorize the West, but that is just what happened at a House Intelligence Committee hearing today. CNN noted in breathless style: “A study just completed by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency says North Korea may have nuclear weapons that could be delivered by ballistic missiles, a congressman said Thursday. The revelation came from Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, during a House Intelligence Committee hearing.”

Actually, on closer examination there is lot less here than meets the eye. The very next paragraph quotes Lamborn as follows: “Quoting from the unclassified portion, which I believe has not yet been made public, they say, quote, ‘DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivering by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low.’ “

Moderate confidence… low reliability…. Why is Lamborn publicizing such a tenuous finding issued by one intelligence agency and apparently not supported by the rest of the intelligence community?

In fact, while it’s possible that North Korea has made greater advances than hitherto realized, the general view of outside analysts is that it has not yet figured out how to produce atomic warheads for ballistic missiles. But with his threats to attack the U.S. and launch a “thermonuclear war,” Kim Jong-un would like us to believe his WMD program is more advanced than it actually is–a task that Lamborn is unwittingly helping the North Korean dictator to achieve.