SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — White House spokesman Josh Earnest said North Korea's "bellicose rhetoric" would only deepen its international isolation, and that the U.S. has both the capability and willingness to defend its interests in the region.
Narushige Michishita, director of the Security and International Studies Program at Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, isn't convinced North Korea is capable of attacking Guam, Hawaii or the U.S. mainland. He says Pyongyang hasn't successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile.
But its medium-range Rodong missiles, with a range of about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers), are "operational and credible" and could reach U.S. bases in Japan, he says.
More likely than such a strike, however, is a smaller-scale incident, perhaps off the Koreas' western coast, that would not provoke the Americans to unleash their considerable firepower. For years, the waters off the west coast have been a battleground for naval skirmishes between the two Koreas because the North has never recognized the maritime border drawn unilaterally by the U.N.
As threatening as Kim's call to arms may sound, its main target audience may be the masses at home in North Korea.
For months, the masterminds of North Korean propaganda have pinpointed this year's milestone Korean War anniversary as a prime time to play up Kim's military credibility as well as to push for a peace treaty. By creating the impression that a U.S. attack is imminent, the regime can foster a sense of national unity and encourage the people to rally around their new leader.
Inside Pyongyang, much of the military rhetoric feels like theatrics. It's not unusual to see people toting rifles in North Korea, where soldiers and checkpoints are a fixture in the heavily militarized society. But more often than not in downtown Pyongyang, the rifle stashed in a rucksack is a prop and the "soldier" is a dancer, one of the many performers rehearsing for a Korean War-themed extravaganza set to debut later this year.