Responding to North Korean 2024 War Threats

commentary

Jan 18, 2024

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his daughter inspect an intercontinental ballistic missile in North Korea in this undated photo released on November 19, 2022 photo by KCNA via Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his daughter inspect an intercontinental ballistic missile in North Korea in this undated photo released on November 19, 2022

Photo by KCNA via Reuters

This commentary originally appeared on The National Interest on January 17, 2024.

In late 2023, the South Korean National Intelligence Service warned that North Korea was likely “to engage in unexpected military and cyber provocations” in 2024. Then, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told his people “to prepare for war with the United States” in 2024.

Is Kim planning to escalate his cold war on the United States and its allies to a hot war?

Only if doing so serves the “two consistent missions (PDF) given to the military by the Kim family regime: preserve the North Korean state's independent existence against any external power, and provide the means for North Korea to dominate the Korean Peninsula.”

But the United States has no intention of attacking North Korea: It has very little to gain and a lot to lose by engaging in war with North Korea. And it has made this attitude abundantly clear for decades by both saying so directly and avoiding (PDF) potentially escalatory reactions to North Korean military attacks and provocations, fearing North Korean escalation.

So, what is Kim Jong-un trying to accomplish? Kim apparently has a longer-term plan that could explain his 2024 provocations, nuclear weapon production, and threats of war. Several years ago a leaked North Korean document for training senior military personnel described the North Korean plan's objectives: “The dear supreme commander [Kim] will dominate the world with the nuclear weapons, will make the United States apologize and compensate us for decades of bullying our people, and will declare to the entire world that the world's powerful order will be reshaped by the Juche-Korea, not the United States.…”

The remainder of this commentary is available at nationalinterest.org.


Bruce W. Bennett is a senior international/defense researcher at RAND. He works primarily on research topics such as strategy, force planning, and counterproliferation within the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center.