North Korea is still suspected in a coordinated cyber attack this week that paralyzed tens of thousands of computers at six South Korean banks and media companies.
North Korea has threatened Seoul and Washington in recent days over U.N. sanctions imposed for its Feb. 12 nuclear test, and over U.S.-South Korean military drills. It also threatened revenge after blaming Seoul and Washington for an Internet shutdown that disrupted its own network last week.
North Korea "will never remain a passive onlooker to the enemies' cyber attacks," state media said last week in a commentary. "The U.S. and its allies should be held wholly accountable for the ensuing consequences."
"Much of this is political theater because they have not proven the capability to actually reach the United States," said David Kang, professor of international relations, in an interview with CBS Los Angeles. "Both sides are ratcheting up the rhetoric. My sense is there is a fairly typical cycle of intense rhetoric, and then a period when both sides just pause; then, as long as both sides continue to pause, they begin to dial [the rhetoric] down a bit."
Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor in Korean studies, said the North Korean regime is not suicidal.
"They are conducting a form of psychological warfare against South Korea and against the United States, putting pressure on the new government in Seoul, especially, to resolve the situation, to return to negotiations," Lee said on Talk of the Nation. "And that means with bigger blandishments, concessions in tow."
THE TAKEAWAY: It seems likely that North Korea is getting ready to attack something.
On The Daily Circuit, Tom Weber called his guests' attention to Foreign Policy magazine, whose blogger John Hudson has been compiling a list of recent threats from the North Korean regime. As of Friday he had 16 threats on the list, and Sung-Yoon Lee said he could add more. Excerpt:
1. We now have "lighter and smaller" nukes, and we're not afraid to use them against the United States.
Read the full list.
Prof. Lee said the threats lead him to think an attack is coming, possibly within "the next few days."
"With all this chest-thumping over the past few weeks," he said, "and in consideration of the young leader's age ... the young leader who is referred to as the great general, although he's never served a single day in the military — I think it calls for some kind of action."
He said he does not regard the North Korean regime as suicidal. "However, they do resort to deadly attacks periodically, attacking South Korea and the U.S. over the past 60 years, since the end of the Korean war," he said. "But always these attacks have been limited in scale and controlled. They don't just go berserk and launch an all-out war, because again they are not suicidal, but rather quite calculating. I expect North Korea to resort to some kind of attack against South Korea."
A caller asked whether the West should consider North Korea a "rational actor."
Prof. Kang replied, "It's pretty clear the leadership in North Korea is not insane. They're clearly in touch with the world. For example, you don't rule a totalitarian a dictatorship, with factions and palace politics, unless you're really good at doing strategy.
"I think the question would be ... Are they risk takers or are they fairly cautious? If they're risk takers, as the situation gets worse they may be increasingly willing to roll the dice, to try an attack on the South. To potentially try and upset the status quo, somehow. Alternatively, you would also have to be a risk taker if you're going to engage in any serious reforms."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
• North Korea issues fresh threat to U.S., South probes hacking. "North Korea said it would attack U.S. military bases on Japan and the Pacific island of Guam if provoked." (Reuters)
• North Korea threatens "preemptive nuclear attack" on US as UN readies new sanctions. North Korea releases new threats as the United Nations Security Council votes to "implement harsh new sanctions against the regime." (Christian Science Monitor)
• Sung-Yoon Lee's testimony to Congress. (U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs)
• When It Comes To Cyberwarfare, North Korea Is No Newbie. "Computer antivirus maker McAfee says Pyongyang was behind two major denial of service attacks in recent years — one in 2011 that was directed at South Korean government and banking websites, and another in 2009 that brought down U.S. government Internet sites." (NPR)