North Korea's latest round of saber-rattling theatrics provides several textbook examples of the phenomenon, but the Kim dictatorship's targeting of Austin, Texas, for nuclear destruction is particularly demonstrative.
Last week, Pyongyang's Korean Workers Party propaganda organ, Rodong, published several photos of tyrant Kim Jong-Un allegedly chairing an emergency meeting in a top-secret command bunker. One photo shows a map with missile trajectories. According to NKnews.org, the map displays a missile strike plan, with the likely targets being Honolulu, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Austin.
Propagandists always prefer to have proximate causes for unleashing a diatribe. Kim's alleged proximate cause for his emergency meeting was the participation of two U.S. B-2 strategic stealth bombers in South Korean-U.S. military exercises. For the record, the exercise is an annual event. The B-2s flew from Missouri to Asia, then returned.
The annual South Korean-U.S. military exercises are an opportunity to train soldiers, but they also send the message that Seoul and Washington are prepared to defend South Korea and the allies possess an overwhelming offensive capability should North Korea repeat the mistake it made in June 1950. That's when the sire of the Kim hereditary dictatorship, Un's grand-daddy tyrant, Kim Il-Sung, completely underestimated U.S. resolve and launched the Korean War.
It is highly improbable that the missile attack plan was something slapped together last month. Odds are good the cities are genuine, calculated targets. Honolulu makes immediate sense. The North's missiles can already hit it, and it is President Barack Obama's hometown.
Los Angeles is a huge target area, ideal for missiles of questionable accuracy. Though not yet within range, it could be shortly. LA has millions of residents plus the icon targets of Hollywood and Disneyland. Washington is a no-brainer. North Korea can't hit the city, but threatening it puts nuclear bull's-eyes on U.S. leaders and America's capital. It's a personal and public tit for tat.
But why Austin?
The literal answer, and literal target, is South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co.'s Samsung Austin Semiconductor (SAS) manufacturing facility, located on Austin's north side. However, pinpointing the hometown of this facility is agitprop excess, for it tells us that the North Korean regime is aware of its own immense and tragic failure. Moreover, the thugs are ashamed.
North Korea's real target, which the literal target represents, is South Korea's demonstrable success. Samsung and a hundred other South Korean enterprises with global reputations and reach demonstrate South Korea economic power and organizational strength. North Korea, a Communist Workers' Paradise, is a starving prison state, and its leaders are profoundly embarrassed.
Last fall, the global success of rapper Psy's "Gangnam Style" hit tune and video made a statement about South Korean cultural influence. North Korea's gulag-style can't compete.
This week, after North Korea declared that combat could begin within hours, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that Pyongyang is "on a collision course with the international community." Ban wants new negotiations, but, alas, the secretary general himself is a source of North Korean embarrassment. He is a South Korean, emblematic of South Korean political influence.
Are the theatrics dangerous? Only if the world treats them as pure theatrics, for North Korea possesses truly destructive capabilities, which miscalculation or mistake could unleash. A rash North Korean general could punch a button. A rattled North Korean general could launch a conventional ground attack in his sector.
The U.S. has deployed an anti-ballistic missile system that provides the U.S., South Korea and Japan with a defensive shield against the rash launch of a single missile. Unfortunately, the current system is very limited. This is a mistake that must be quickly corrected. A conventional ground attack that escalates is another matter.
What is the intelligence indicator that will tell us when Washington and Seoul believe the propaganda campaign is over and war is likely? South Korea hosts thousands of U.S. military dependents. When they start to leave, pay close attention.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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