Let’s All Take a Deep Breath

(Photo: Timothy A. Clark/AFP/Getty Images)

In the thick of the war of words between Pyongyang and Washington, there is a tendency by the media to pick out the most threatening language each side throws at the other. That is understandable. And, indeed, is exactly what the North Koreans (and presumably the White House) want, otherwise they would be using more restrained language.

Nevertheless, there may be more to the story than meets the eye, certainly the eye that only skims the surface.

What, for example, did DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho mean when, in his speech at the UN General Assembly on September 23, he mentioned the formation of a North Korean “investigation committee” charged with toting up a bill of damages caused by sanctions. Why raise this? Does one speak of collecting damages from sanctions if one is planning to launch a suicidal war?

What does it mean that in the North Korean propaganda campaign designed to express unusually broad domestic support for Kim Jong Un’s September 21 statement that responded directly and personally to President Trump’s UNGA speech, there are numerous references to turning anger at the US into increased efforts at meeting economic goals?

What does it mean that despite a drumbeat of harsh rhetoric transmitted for the international audience, Pyongyang radio and TV programming is normal, continuing to report such mundane events as a tennis match or the success of North Korean acrobats in a Moscow circus festival?

None of the above are as sexy as a North Korean assertion of a right to down an American bomber over international waters, but all of them together would seem to require a closer look to determine if, in combination and over time, they give us a more balanced picture of Pyongyang’s perceptions and plans.

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