When I was in the army in the early ’90s, nuclear weapons were still deployed by the Army in South Korea; artillery fired 155mm and 203mm nuclear shells were maintained as a deterrent to possible North Korean aggression. After the enactment of the INF Treaty, both the United States and Soviet Union decommissioned their respective nuclear artillery shells and intermediate range nuclear missiles. This included the Pershing 2 (United States) and the SS-20 Sabre (Soviet Union). Complete decommissioning was completed by the end of 1992, supposedly to usher in a new era of peace.
25 years later, the threat of North Korea has escalated, especially under the current U.S administration. The youthfulness of Kim Jong Un is reflected in his rash decisions, and the purging of party members within his regime. The executions have included family members among those thought to be lacking in the expected 100% support of the young dictator, regardless of how irrational his thought processes are.
The NorKs threaten a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, have test fired missiles over Japan, and claim to have developed the technology to hit targets deep within the United States with nuclear warheads. They have threatened for decades, but always seem to fall short when it comes down to actually committing themselves to war. The Clinton and Obama administrations approached North Korean policy cautiously, not wanting to provoke the anger of Kim Jong Il, then after his death, Kim Jong Un. The American policy was much like Chamberlain’s before World War 2, namely that of appeasement. During Clinton, the NorKs promised not to pursue nuclear weapons, and we promised to help them with technology for peaceful nuclear energy. What ended up happening, much to the strange bewilderment of previous administrations, was the weaponizing of the nuclear technology they were provided, which ultimately led to the current situation.
In 2017 Donald Trump took office. The rhetoric escalated, with President Trump promising “Fire and Fury” if the NorKs tested American resolve to the defense of South Korea and Japan. Kim Jong Un had never dealt with a leader who had threatened retaliation, especially if that leader happens to be sitting on the largest nuclear stockpile on the planet. The rhetoric began to slowly fade, with Kim Jong Un poking the stick at the U.S. every couple of weeks to prove to his people that he is still a world player.
But there is one thing holding Kim Jong Un and the NorKs back; power. Absolute, unquestioned power. Kim Jong Un knows that if a war with the ROK and U.S. were to begin, his power would be lost instantly, The NorK government would collapse, though the fanaticism of the people would most likely continue for months, or even years after the fall. Kim Jong Un will not risk his position of power for a war with the ROK and U.S.
The rhetoric will continue. It was always there, and has been since the ’50s. As long as the war of words continues, a war with missiles and gravity bombs will most likely not happen.