By having a working atomic bomb, they’ve already got a credible deterrent. They’re already assured that they won’t be walked over, like Saddam or Qaddafi or Ukraine.
But for that matter, given the number of artillery pieces they had facing Seoul, they already already had a credible [non-nuclear] deterrent. No American force was ever going to invade them before they had nuclear weapons.
As such, they perfectly understand that the only card they can play is leveraging ballistic nuclear missiles.
This was a card too far. It adds no additional deterrent value to their threat; the US wasn’t going to incur 1 million South Korean deaths. In fact, it only makes it more likely that the US would attack, preemptively.
the idea its ruler(s) are insane or stupid is both idiotic and counter-productive.
But lets not delude ourselves into thinking they are smart and/or rational.
The Cold War turned a peninsula into a living landmine for America and China and that created a situation where the NK dictatorship is willing to nuke their neighbors… and that’s including China… in order to fight off the tides of change that have ended most all of the other Cold War era dictatorships.
Now none of the regional powers have any idea of what to do but they keep using the same tactics that have consistently failed for near seven decades in an attempt to maintain a global status quo that stopped existing in the 1990s.
Following a South Korean artillery exercise in waters in the south, North Korean forces fired around 170 artillery shells and rockets at Yeonpyeong Island, hitting both military and civilian targets.
The shelling caused widespread damage on the island, killing four South Koreans and injuring 19. South Korea retaliated by shelling North Korean gun positions. The North Koreans subsequently stated that they had responded to South Korean shells being fired into North Korean territorial waters.
[…] Timeline (All times in Korea Standard Time: UTC+9.)
08:20: North sends a telex message requesting a halt to the South’s artillery training exercise.
10:00: South starts the artillery training exercise.
14:30: North deploys five MiG-23ML fighters from the 60th Regiment at Pukchang.
14:34: North starts firing shells (around 150[dubious – discuss], of which about 60 land on Yeonpyeong)
I did write N. Korea would never initiate an attack, not that they were peace-loving pacifists!
I would argue that event confirms my point of view: it is very important for the regime to show they’re ready to retaliate at the slightest provocation, real or otherwise, as it tends to make the opponent think twice before they choose an aggressive course of action. Which leads us to:
That might have been true a year ago, now, I’m not so sure. More importantly, the current POTUS doesn’t sound like he is really aware of all the stakes in the area. Hence, in my opinion, NK’s decision to make things really plain.
Well, NK claims the place is its own territory (rightly or not, but there are a large number of disputed territories claimed by two or more parties in the area, so it’s nothing exceptional and I’m too lazy to look up the specific details). That means that from its own point of view, any action inside can be constructed as an aggression that must be retaliated against.
As a matter of fact, deciding to have a military exercise there is also a (slightly less aggressive) way to claim ownership of the place (or at the very least denying NK’s ownership).
Just to make sure: I’m not saying they’re right, simply that this falls squarely within what I’ve written about retaliating at the slightest (perceived) provocation.
Modern missile defense systems never shoot at anything that isn’t going to hit the defended area. Doing so depletes antimissile capacity, and in the case of a flyover like this, risks dropping the enemy missile’s payload* on the defended area.** If you can target something on a ballistic path, you already know if it’s going to hit or not.
Old Russian-style defense systems didn’t have the computational capacity to determine trajectories before firing, so they just filled the entire sky with metal. “Quantity has a quality all its own”. You generally want to be under hard cover when that sort of thing is going on!
All this is why cruise missiles exist. Ballistic paths are easy, but it’s hard to detect and intercept a missile that’s zigzagging about while flying just above the ground contours.
* possibly nuclear - and distributing plutonium fragments over a wide area isn’t appreciably preferable to a targeted nuclear detonation.
** destroyed missiles rarely vaporize, they’re more likely to drop to earth in an expanding cloud of hypersonic fragments.