Commentary: North Korea unlikely to start a war it will lose


North Korea has long used explosive rhetoric in its relationship with South Korea and the US. It now faces a “boy who cried wolf” problem.

Even if Mr Kim means what he says this time, even if he plans to strike, there is no way for outsiders to know that he means it this time. Pyongyang routinely talks about annihilating its enemies, nuking Washington, turning Seoul into a sea of fire, and so on.

Outside media tends to latch onto particularly outlandish comments from the leadership, but South Koreans have long since tuned all this stuff out. Mr Kim and his officials simply have no rhetorical credibility anymore.


In 2010, 2013, and 2017, there were analogous war crises. In 2010, North Korea military actions against South Korea killed 50 people; in 2013, North Korea told foreigners to evacuate South Korea because war was imminent; in 2017, Mr Kim and former US president Donald Trump exchanged nuclear threats. We are now in a similar situation.

A thread links these four “crises” – the rise of hawkish presidents in South Korea and the US. In each instance, a more belligerent South Korea or US president entered office, taking a tougher line on the North.

Current South Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol has done the same. And in each instance, North Korea’s response was to aggressively push back, pursuing a manner of offensive deterrence with extreme retaliatory threats.

Eventually, temperatures dropped after the North made its point – again – that it will fight. This is likely the case this time too, although there are some lingering risks.

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