Explainer: North Korean relations

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This week, North Korea threatened that the United States would pay its “due price” for leading the charge for the small East Asian country to be sanctioned by the UN for the missile tests they have carried out in recent weeks.

While the actions of North Korea are increasingly threatening, this isn’t the first time that the country has been sanctioned by the UN and responded with threats of nuclear warfare – just four years ago in 2013, North Korea was sanctioned and the country responded with a warning that they would “exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack.”

This behavior can be traced back to the mid-1990’s, when much of North Korea’s food was wiped out by widespread flooding and roughly three million North Koreans were reported to have died of starvation – after which North Korea broke the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War and sent troops into a demilitarized zone.

However, beyond occasional small-scale attacks on South Korea, most of North Korea’s threats have gone unfulfilled. While the country has launched missiles over the past thirty years in a show of capability, so far there has been no action.

“Every time [North Korea] starts to really starve, they rattle the sabers until they get concessions,” SHSU alum Jacob Piwetz, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in History, said. “They get a few shipments of food, a western leader says there will be peace in our time, and the can gets kicked down the road again.”

In historical context – and considering that there’s no current evidence that North Korea is actually gearing up for war – former CIA analyst Robert Carlin has characterized the threats as “maximum drama”.

“As this drags out day by day, there will be more dramatic developments and statements and events, and I think that probably suits them,” Carlin said in an interview with CNBC. “They’d like as much drama surrounding this as they can.”

While there doesn’t seem to be a current, imminent threat, if whatever demands put in place by North Korea are not met the threats will likely continue and may turn into actions.

“As long as giving into his demands is easier than war, it works out,” Piwetz said. “[But] if that changes, or somebody screws up, now you’ve got 60 years of rhetoric and nukes. Really, it should have been handled before they got nukes, [and] now it’s a lot more complicated.”

Piwetz went on to say that he doesn’t think that putting it off will make the situation any better.