Last month, the global community kept a watchful eye over the events unfolding in North Korea. The North’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, ramped up his acts of aggression and blew up a joint liaison office with the South in the border town of Kaesong. It came after hundreds of thousands of balloons landed in the North from the South.
Each balloon held anti-Kim leaflets thought to have been drawn up by non-governmental activists.
Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, reacted furiously, branding those responsible as “human scum”.
She later called the South “the enemy” before cutting a telecommunications line that had been in daily use between Seoul and Pyongyang.
Many have since called the string of aggression a mere ploy to draw attention to the North and reopen diplomatic negotiations with the US.
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This appeared to be confirmed when Kim announced the North would be scaling back its “military action” after having taken the “prevailing situation” into consideration.
Now, the US has announced it is willing to hold talks with the North for the fourth time during Donald Trump’s presidency.
The North’s willingness to oscillate between aggression and reason has, in the view of several experts, placed it in a dangerous region.
In his 2018 Vox report on the North and its capabilities on the war front, journalist Yochi Dreazen revealed the extent to which the country’s unpredictability is its most dangerous aspect.
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“Even more frightening,” he claimed, was the fact that the majority of experts he spoke to about the North said “they believed Kim would use nuclear weapons against South Korea in the initial stages of the fighting — not just as a desperate last resort”.
It is accepted that in the event of any full-blown war, a power would only use nuclear weapons in the face of being completely defeated.
Yet, Mr Dreazen explained that the North’s decision to use nuclear weapons at the beginning of war would, in fact, be a “a rational decision, not a crazy or suicidal one”.
He cites Bruce Bennett, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation who has spent decades studying North Korea and the Kim family specifically.
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Here, Mr Bennett used the example of the Cold War and how the Soviet Union approached the nuclear question.
He said: “In the Cold War, we specifically talked about a logic called ‘use them or lose them,’ which referred to the fact that the Soviet Union understood that the first goal of an American preemptive attack would be to knock out their nuclear weapons before they could be fired at the US.
“Now think about how Kim is looking at the world.
“He knows that any US and South Korean strike would be designed to destroy or capture his nuclear weapons.
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“That means he’d need to either use them early or risk losing them altogether.”
Mr Bennett also drew attention to the “decoupling” strategy employed by the US during the Cold War.
Washington pledged to protect European countries from any Soviet invasion, making it clear they would use small-scale tactical nuclear weapons against advancing soviets to stop the assault.
This changed when the Soviet Union developed long-range nuclear missiles capable of reaching mainland US.
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The US was now tasked with the hypothetical choice of Europe or itself.
Mr Bennett says this is much the same in the case of North Korea.
He told Mr Dreazen: “By the time you get to the late Fifties, the French in particular are saying, ‘Wait a minute, if the US uses nuclear weapons against Soviet ground forces in Europe, the Soviets are going to fire nuclear weapons at the US. Is the US prepared to trade New York City for Paris?”
With the North progressing towards long-range missiles, already owning a handful of rockets apparently capable of reaching mainland US, Mr Dreazen explained that this point is “such a game changer” should war ever occur.