You know who tries to deter cyber-attacks with nuclear weapons? North Korea, that’s who.
North Korea released a statement that Kim Jong Il had “ratified the plan of the Strategic Rocket Force for firepower strike” against “the U.S. mainland, their stronghold, their military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam…”
Eagle-eyed observers noted the white chart that showed various targets. If you squint a bit, you can make them out. Three are pretty obvious:
(1) Washington, DC. Ok, we knew that.
(2) Hawaii. The statement said so and, well, Hawaii is home to PACOM.
Now, what is the fourth target?
The North Koreans have recently been complaining about cyberattacks against their networks. (Rodong Sinmun and KCNA both seem to have been offline for recent periods.) On March 15, KCNA carried a statement stating that “intensive and persistent virus attacks are being made every day on internet servers operated by the DPRK,” asserting the attacks are “timed to coincide with the madcap Key Resolve joint military exercises being staged by the U.S. and other hostile forces,” and warning that North Korea “will never remain a passive onlooker to the enemies’ cyber attacks…”
A few observations.
First, I think it is very interesting that San Antonio makes the top four, but not Omaha. I suppose this should tell us that Kim Jong Un is very, very unhappy about not being able to read Rodong Sinmun on his smart phone.
Second, some of my colleagues have argued that the display of the wall chart is for domestic consumption. I would submit the North Koreans are speaking to both domestic and US audiences, given that the San Antonio reference will be lost on 99.9 percent of North Koreans.
Third, the threats appear aspirational in that the ranges may exceed North Korea’s actual missile capabilities. Generally, I am of the view that North Korea does not yet have the ability to reliably deliver a nuclear weapon to the United States although there are important cautions. North Korea might be sitting on a much larger missile, might be able to jerry-rig Unha rockets, or might be deploying KN-08 missiles without flight-testing them. None of these options strikes me as terribly reliable and each has serious operational limitations. And San Antonio is very, very far from North Korea — more than 11,000 kilometers.
But, in a pinch, North Korea might decide that such missiles, though a bit backward in performance, would still be better than fighting a war with just millet and rifles. I think someone maybe said something like that once.