North Korea abandons armistice: 4 key questions answered

Tensions on the Korean peninsula are ratcheting up. The US has started its annual war games with South Korean forces, and North Korea has used that fact to declare that it is invalidating the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953. What really has North Korea upset, though, is the tough, new sanctions passed by the United Nations in response to the North's nuclear test last month.

Here are the top four questions analysts are wrestling with on the heels of these developments.

Q. How about the nuclear threat to carry out a preemptive nuclear strike against US “aggressors?” Is this credible?

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    A North Korean soldier stands in front of the country's Unha-3 rocket at Sohae Satellite Station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea, last year.
    David Guttenfelder/AP
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A. Last week, a North Korean official said the North would pursue "a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors." While such threats are not credible in the sense that North Korea could not use nuclear missiles to reach continental American shores, that is clearly a goal of the North Korean government.   

In 2011, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that Pyongyang was within five years of being able to strike the US with an intercontinental ballistic missile. “In that sense, [the threat] is quite worrying, because that was two years ago,” says Mr. Cha, adding that such a technological breakthrough could conceivably happen during President Obama’s current term in office.   

“We’ve been watching the missile and nuclear program in North Korea as much as you can watch secret programs,” Cronin of CNAS notes. Though North Korea has not tested any kind of nuclear warhead or long-range missile with the technology it needs to reach the United States, North Korean missiles could hit “many” US targets in South Korea and Japan.   

That said, Cronin adds, “There are plenty of other ways for North Korea to hurt us, including cyberspace attacks.”

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