Fletcher in the News

DPRK Following A Strategy of Gradual Escalation: Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee

PBS Newshour

Sung-Yoon Lee is the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor in Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

RAY SUAREZ:  The temperature kept rising on the Korean Peninsula today, at least judging from public pronouncements. The communist North declared its missile forces are ready to launch at American targets.

More than 100,000 North Koreans filled Pyongyang's main square today, shouting "Death to the U.S. imperialists." The mass rally coincided with a new threat. State television announced North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has decided the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S.

TV PRESENTER: He has signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby for fire so that they are able to strike at any time the U.S. mainland and its military bases in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam and those in South Korea.

RAY SUAREZ:  State media also released photographs of Kim and his senior generals during an emergency meeting late last night. They're seen looking at a map, purportedly showing U.S. cities that might be targeted by North Korean missiles. The White House responded through a spokesman traveling with President Obama today.

He said bellicose rhetoric only deepens North Korea's isolation. On Thursday, a more forceful demonstration: A pair of B-2 stealth bombers flew 6,500 miles to South Korea and back, as part of ongoing joint military exercises between the two nations.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, addressed the flight during a briefing with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. …

… RAY SUAREZ:  Professor Lee, do agree? Are we really in more jeopardy than we were just a few weeks ago?

SUNG-YOON LEE, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University: Well, we have seen a crescendo of bluster barrage.

I don't think we are on the brink of war, because we know the North Korean regime harbors no suicidal impulses. I don't necessarily want to paint the North Korean regime as all-knowing, omnipotent, brilliant military strategists. So, there is always the danger of miscalculation, yes.

But we have seen North Korea resort to periodic, deadly, but always limited, controlled attacks against the South and the United States forces in South Korea over the past 60 years. And I think the North Korean regime views this period, 2013, as a particularly appeasement-prone time.

And, hence, it's in North Korea's interest to raise the stakes, paint Washington and Seoul especially into a corner, with a view towards receiving more economic concessions in the future.

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