I think we can now fairly safely conclude that they don't quite yet have the ability to back up this threat, or they wouldn't keep emptily parroting it:
North Korea on Monday issued its latest belligerent threat, warning of an indiscriminate "pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice" on Washington and Seoul, this time in reaction to the start of huge U.S.-South Korean military drills....
The North's powerful National Defense Commission threatened strikes against targets in the South, U.S. bases in the Pacific and the U.S. mainland, saying its enemies "are working with bloodshot eyes to infringe upon the dignity, sovereignty and vital rights" of North Korea.
"If we push the buttons to annihilate the enemies even right now, all bases of provocations will be reduced to seas in flames and ashes in a moment," the North's statement said.
I have no doubt that Kim Jong Un will do this at his first actual opportunity. Precisely because of that, I don't think he would give us more than one big warning before letting fly. Logically, of course, he shouldn't give us ANY warning, but we are talking about a man whose bark doesn't reach to the top of his tree, so one has to assume and allow for a certain minimum level of his emblematic bluster and spittle. Two such big warnings tells me that - today - he can't back up his threats.
Which is great - for today. But it won't be long before he can, and therefore will, back them up. And when that day arrives....
....Well, you know the rest of the story.
Which means we're right back in the pre-emption boat again. Or would be if Barack Obama hadn't scuttled it years ago. Although, to be unmeritedly fair, it's highly doubtful any Republican president would order a pre-emptive invasion of North Korea, either.
Which leaves us with only one other option, that can best be expressed by this off-the-top-of-my-head axiom: "The road to Pyongyang goes through Beijing". Just as Kim's threats are not a matter of will but of time, it is equally as true that Kim doesn't so much as take a dump without the ChiComms' permission. He is their true face, their "strong right arm," and any nuclear attack they want to launch will come through him. Consequently, the NoKos are part of a much bigger problem: Red China using the Kim regime to goad us into a war on the Korean peninsula that Beijing can use as a pretext for "counter"-attacking us in a fully-escalated global showdown.
Ergo, we have a very fine line to walk with the PRC, particularly in light of the fact that we're no longer the global superpower that faced down the old Soviet Union and would be easily defeated in any war with the Sino-Russian Axis. So will and guile are going to be greater factors than the strength to back it up. Consistent firmness is the key, if there is one, and even that is going to be a major credibility rebuilding job after the past eight years. Which means we can't go out of our way to provoke the ChiComms, as with Donald Trump's trade-to-shooting-war-waiting-to-happen, but convince them that it is still, on balance, better to "play ball" with us than let their NoKo catspaw upset the "apple cart" they're painstakingly setting up in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
Yes, there is going to be some appeasement involved in this process, because we simply do not have the power or deterrent influence to avoid it. We need time, in other words; time to rebuild our military capabilities to at least some level of parity, if we can afford even that much, as well as our credibility as a power on the world stage. Two debilities that are grievously mutually reinforcing, and consequently much more time-consuming to reconstruct.
In short, it's a race,we are badly trailing it, and we therefore are more or less totally dependent upon Red China to save us from nuclear disaster, because only they can coerce the NoKos. But it's the hand that sixty-two-million idiot American voters have dealt us, and all we can do is play it - with some bluff and bluster of our own.
Because once Kim Jong Un can back up his threats....time will be up.