North Korea's big birthday party about to go with a bang?

Military personnel participate in a parade in Pyongyang in October, 2010. Photo: Reuters

North Korea is big on ceremony.

Last April, while in the country on a journalist visa, I was taken to the Kim Il Sung stadium, packed with thousands of soldiers all cheering the new leader Kim Jung Un, part of the build up to the 100th anniversary of the birth of his Grandfather. An event marked with the launch of a rocket carrying a satellite, which "failed to reach orbit".

Every day I've spent in the country, about 8 in total, I've been taken to see a statue, stadium or a parade.

Pyongyang is not called the showcase capital for nothing. Key dates in the calendar are usually marked with a big event, like the most recent successful rocket launched on the 12th of the 12th, 2012.

North Koreans gather during a memorial for the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, in 2011. Credit: Reuters

Now we are just days away from another auspicious date, the 'day of the shining star', the birthday of Kim Jung-il; celebrated on February the 16th.

So the next 11 days will be the danger zone for a possible nuclear test.

It seems Kim Jung-un wants his father's birthday party to go with a bang.

For almost two weeks now the North Korean leader and his military chiefs have been issuing threats and warnings of a "higher level" nuclear bomb test and "long range rockets" targeting "the sworn enemy of the Korean people", i.e. the US.

North Korean soldiers march during a military parade n 2010

Why does North Korea want to rattle sabres? Because the secretive state also needs to rattle its own cage. To remind its enemies that it feels cornered, but won't give in without a fight.

Talking to North Koreans, it's always striking how they are brought up to believe that US and South Korean tanks are just about to roll over the DMZ; that invasion is imminent.

An overhead view of North Koreans attending the memorial for the late leader Kim Jong-il Credit: Reuters

In late night conversations over a glass of North Korea's surprisingly excellent beer, I've had animated chats with my 'minders': Mr Kim and Mr Song.

Both seem to really believe that the Americans are coming, if not today then tomorrow. State propaganda feeds this message to people from birth and of course my 'minders' have to repeat this message to me, otherwise the second 'minder' might report him. It would take more than a couple of beers to get these men straying from the party line.

A single-minded fear of being under attack, and bear in mind the North and the South/US are still technically at war, drives North Korean strategy.

The leadership uses this defence of its people as justification for the 'military first' policy, which in turn provides a grip on power.

North Korean military band celebrates their country's rocket launch in December 2012. Credit: Reuters

In the last 12 months North Korea's neighbours Japan, South Korea and China have changed leaders.

It's now worth noting that young Kim Jung Un, thought to be around 29 years old, is the longest serving leader out of the four countries, three of them economically crucial. Professor Jin Cang Rong, from Renmin University in Beijing told me he thinks that:

A nuclear test will make the US very nervous, as well as South Korea and Japan, they are bound to react, to do something, this makes the situation much more dangerous.

Since the world's only Communist Dynasty doesn't do democracy, or that much diplomacy, threatening to test nuclear weapons is North Korea's way of saying "we can defend ourselves, you have to take us seriously."

Chilling tactics in this forgotten corner of the Cold War