Buried in a story published last month about an alleged assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, there was an ominous intelligence report detailing North Korea's "three-stage scenario" to create fear of a nuclear war.
With hindsight, this report is starting to look remarkably prescient.
North Korea watching website NK News points towards three crucial paragraphs in the original story, published in South Korean newspaper Korea JoongAng Daily on March 14 and based on interviews with "a Seoul-based intelligence source":
The first stage is issuing war threats against the South and spreading the idea that a war is imminent, the source said.
The second stage is reportedly forcing foreigners in the North to leave the country, warning that their personal safety cannot be guaranteed in time of war. The North would also inform foreign diplomatic missions in Pyongyang to pull out their citizens.
The third step will be a terrorist attack on a public installation in the South such as an airport, or an armed attack like the sinking of the Cheonan, the source said.
Looking back, this "scenario" appears to be coming to fruition.
The second stage appears to have begun today, with reports that North Korea is telling foreign embassies to consider getting their staffs to leave before April 10.
The third part? We will have to wait and see.
Most experts have agreed that the possibility of all-out war in the Korean peninsula is unlikely. However, a number believe that some kind of smaller skirmish is on the cards.
Back in mid-March Korea JoongAng Daily's story didn't get too much attention. Murky stories about North Korean intrigue come out all the time, and there is little way to verify their accuracy. This story appeared to be based mostly upon one single unnamed source.
However, given the recent escalation in warmongering rhetoric from North Korea, the story certainly merits reexamination.
In particular, the article is interesting as it makes clear that North Korea's warmongering rhetoric isn't really about external threats, it's about internal problems within North Korea. In particular, Kim seems to be siding with military hardliners in a bid to win public support.
“[North Korea is] afraid that the public will be very agitated by forthcoming food shortages in April,” another source told the newspaper. “Kim Jong-un doesn’t want to start a war. He just wants to escalate tensions to unite his people and find a way through the tightened sanctions.”
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