On the one hand, given who and what the "Hermit Kingdom" and its cornfed "king" are, as the old saying goes, "If they coulda, they already woulda". On the other hand, there is the perspective of the wolf in the "boy who cried wolf" story. Now it's true that the wolf didn't tell the boy to cry "WOLF!" to his fellow villagers incessantly and falsely until nobody believed him anymore so that the ursine creature could attack and eat them with impunity. But the wolf was certainly the beneficiary of that process. And if the NoKos wanted to dull our preparedness against a nuclear attack, repeatedly "crying wolf" until we don't even glance in their direction would be an effective way to hide their intentions for the real thing in plain sight.
Most observers think it's the usual petty extortion gambit:
North Korea said it is ready to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. at any time and that its main nuclear facility was fully operational, allowing the country to improve both the quality and the quantity of its nuclear weapons.
The statement, along with a pledge to launch a satellite with missile technology banned by the United Nations Security Council, comes as the Kim Jong Un regime prepares to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party. The comments fit a pattern of saber rattling by the authorities in Pyongyang before the celebration of such milestones.
“It’s sending a message to the U.S. that its nuclear threat will only get worse if the country continues to be treated with sanctions and pressure rather than with negotiations,” Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said by phone. “It’s North Korea’s traditional playbook: First start a crisis with words before actually making action.”
There is, however, a fourth way to look at North Korea, and the only one that takes into account one very important detail: Kim Jong Un is not a free agent. He doesn't have the autonomy to have any personal "private little nuclear wars" with his neighbors or with the U.S. He takes his orders from Beijing, the much larger communist superpower on his northern doorstep without which the "Hermit Kingdom" would have ceased to exist decades ago. And Xi Jinping is not about to let Kim start freelancing with doomsday weapons that might provoke the U.S. into a much heightened level of military readiness, to say nothing of deployment, when Beijing needs us to remain nice, quite, docile, supine, and prostrated.
Xi has similar plans for taking down the United States to Kim's. But the latter works for the former, and Xi's timetable and battle plan take precedence. If the pot-bellied pig "went off the reservation," it would be a simple matter to withdraw Red China's protective cover and leave Kim fully exposed to Western reprisals, and he knows it.
About the only wedge the Kim regime has had in the past is that it is such a useful and effective "bad cop" to Beijing's "good cop". But with the ChiComm military buildup reaching superpower proportions, that sends a message to Kim as much as it ought to (but isn't) to Barack Obama: "Yes, you're a useful catspaw; but we need you far less than you need us."
Bottom line: Any North Korean nuclear action will be as part of a ChiComm strategic battle plan.
Which brings us back to the original question: Is this just typical Kim bluster, or could this time be the real thing?
With Xi coming to Washington, D.C. in the next couple of weeks, a direct nuclear attack on the U.S. would seem unlikely, unless the idea was for him to be present to accept Barack Obama's unconditional surrender in person. But incinerating targets closer to home? That might be a different story.