One would’ve thought that the North Korean declaration that they are in “a state of war,” coupled with stepped up US rhetoric would’ve left little more room for bellicosity, but with both sides still not tired of it, they have found yet more ways to raise the stakes.
The US has added F-22 stealth fighter jets to their “military drills” along the Korean frontier, while issuing a statement condemning North Korea’s “provocation.” North Korea, of course, has seen the increase in US attack aircraft, including nuclear-capable bombers, as a provocation in and of themselves.
The US and South Korea hold annual military drills this time of year, practice runs for an invasion of North Korea that gets larger each time, and always draws angry threats from the North Korean side of the border.
North Korea’s Central Committee, for its part, declared nuclear weapons as the nation’s “treasure,” insisting that they are not a bargaining chip to be dealt away in diplomacy and that they are not something that would be traded for “billions of dollars.”
North Korea has made the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal their primary goal in recent years, and has conducted successful underground tests. It remains unclear, however, how close they are to being able to miniaturize the process into a deliverable warhead. Since they perceive an imminent threat from the US, South Korea, or both, they seem determined to keep this retaliatory capability, though their repeated threats to launch a first strike seem to be bringing them quickly to a point of no-return.
The Central Committee also said improving North Korea’s economy, a veritable trainwreck, is a high priority. Interestingly, they noted in their statement that their isolation is in no small part a reaction to their nuclear arsenal, but suggested they believe they can improve the economy without giving them up.
The plan, at least as they presented it, was to use their nuclear deterrent to reduce conventional military spending, allowing them to put more money into agriculture. While that seems reasonable on paper, the complexities of central planning in an isolated state with a near-total command economy make it hard to predict how efficiently that spending will be done. Moreover, North Korea’s military retains a position of major influence in the government, and like any other military is likely to take a dim view of spending cuts for any reason.