Ambitious threats and worrying claims from North Korea

In pictures released on March 25, Kim Jong-un inspects a military training drill on the border with South Korea. Photo: Reuters/KCNA

It was last week that the North Korean state media issued a warning that if the US Air Force flew B52s over South Korea conducting nuclear bombing drills, described as an "unpardonable provocation", then there would be "strong military counteraction".

Today that warning was issued again but in a much more specific form.

The North Korean military reported to have put its artillery and missile units on "combat posture". Warnings that US bases on Guam, Hawaii and the American mainland will be targets. Retaliation for more B52 flights on Monday.

Add those to the previous threats to launch a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" and we've seen a daily stream of destructive rhetoric.

Sometimes words turn into action. It's three years to the day since the North Koreans became the only suspect in the sinking of a South Korean Naval Corvette, 46 were killed when the Cheonan was holed by a torpedo.

It's almost two a half years since the North Korean shelled an island off the shores of the DMZ in disputed waters. Four people were killed. Those attacks did not come after specific warnings, but amid the usual level of tension, often high.

The difference now is that the threats are more ambitious, more detailed and have to be taken more seriously. After all within the last four months, the North has launched a long-range rocket and tested a nuclear bomb.

Soldiers of the Korean People's Army take part in a training exercise watched by Kim Jong-Un. Credit: Reuters/KCNA

The military consensus remains that North Korea lacks the high tech capability to launch an intercontinental nuclear missile.

However, standing watching a full scale armed forces parade in Pyongyang last April I noted that big missiles (I had no way of knowing if they were real) were wheeled past Kim Jung Un as the piece de resistance; at the end of the show of strength.

They were deemed to be new, and were clearly a sign of defiance just days after the embarrassing, failed rocket launch last April.

Now, with a successful rocket launch and bomb test behind him, Kim Jung-un appears to be trying to keep impressing his military commanders.

How far will he go? The big question and anyone who says they have the answer is probably making it up. One former ambassador to Pyongyang told me that they simply don't know how decisions are made, the power structure is a 'black hole'.

What these threats may be designed to do is to take Kim closer to a negotiation table.

North Korea cornered, will come out fighting, knowing fully well it can never win, but hoping the US may try to find out what exactly what it wants in exchange for stopping the threats. After all this is a country where millions need food aid and the economy has reversed into endless recession.

The louder North Korea shouts, the more it sounds like it's crying out for help.