Jeffrey LewisDPRK Threatens ROK Media

KCNA, on behalf of North Korea, is threatening to rain nuclear weapons down upon various media outlets in Seoul.  That’s not hyperbole, if I clarify that the nuclear part is merely implied.

Good times!

Seriously, KCNA has issued a long, threatening statement that gives the lat/long for major South Korean media outlets that are to be struck, possibly with nuclear weapons, if Lee doesn’t apologize for “hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK.”

The coordinates are wrong, by the way.

From the horse’s — which end is KCNA again?

Officers and men of the army corps, divisions and regiments on the front and strategic rocket forces in the depth of the country are loudly calling for the issue of order to mete out punishment, declaring that they have already targeted Chosun Ilbo at coordinates of 37 degrees 56 minutes 83 seconds North Latitude and 126 degrees 97 minutes 65 seconds East Longitude in the Central District, Seoul, Choongang Ilbo at coordinates of 37 degrees 33 minutes 45 seconds North Latitude and 126 degrees 58 minutes 14 seconds East Longitude in the Central District, Seoul, the Dong-A Ilbo at coordinates of 37 degrees 57 minutes 10 seconds North Latitude and 126 degrees 97 minutes 81 seconds East Longitude in Jongro District, Seoul, KBS, CBS, MBC and SBS, the strongholds of the Lee group orchestrating the new vicious smear campaign.

In view of this grave situation the KPA General Staff sends the following ultimatum to the Lee group of traitors:

The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK are the army of the supreme commander and the people’s army which is devotedly defending the supreme commander and protecting his idea and the people and children whom he values and loves so much.

It is the iron will of the army of the DPRK that the dens of heinous provocateurs hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and desecrating its idea, system and people should not be allowed to exist as they are.

We would like ask the Lee group if it wants leave all this to be struck by the DPRK or opt for apologizing and putting the situation under control, though belatedly.

It should take a final choice by itself.

Now it is impossible for the officers and men of the KPA three services to keep back their towering resentment any longer. In case dens of monstrous crimes are blown up one after another, the Lee group will be entirely held responsible for this.

If the Lee group recklessly challenges our army’s eruption of resentment, it will retaliate against it with a merciless sacred war of its own style as it has already declared.

We are fully ready for everything.

Time is running out.

No, I would not kid you.  This has to be a first in the history of nuclear coercion.  Can’t wait to see how this gets coded as a MID.   (By the way, is it just me or at the coordinates really, really wrong?  For example, I have the Chosun Ilbo main office located at 62-4 Taepyeongno 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul 100-101 or  37°34’6.60″N, 126°58’33.99″E. The Dong-a Ilbo main office is 139 Chungjeongno 3(sam)-ga, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea or  37°33’42.86″N, 126°57’47.97″E. Poor Joongang Ilbo along appears targeted with some assuracy.)

This is just bizarre.

This is part of a disturbing series of threats over the past few months, including some really ugly depictions of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak as a rat.

One colleague believes that some of this stems from a particularly careless statement from a military source that a new South Korean cruise missile “can precisely fly through the window of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s office in Pyongyang.” Early coverage by the Nautilus Institute noted that the “window statement” coincided with the wave of hostile propaganda depicting Lee as a rat and threatening to”reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style.”

An even earlier instance of the uptick in threatening language, however, dates to March — before the cruise missile comment.  That is when the DPRK threatened to reduce Lee — actually his ” headquarters” — to “ashes” in response to a mocking poster at a military base in Incheon (above.)  The offending item was a picture of the two Kims, with text that says either “defeat” or “kill” Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un, posted in a military facility.  (As best I can tell, the picture appeared in the print version of the Korea Herald Business.  If someone wants to take a look at the hard copy in Korea, I’d be obliged.)

One theory I have about all this stems from the Track II interaction that IISS hosted in London with DPRK officials.  One of the topics of our dialogue was the ghastly tone from KCNA and other state media.  North Korean officials were quick to respond with complaints about portrayals in the South Korean media, which led to a discussion about distinguishing official statements amidst the cacophony produced a free society with a vibrant media.  Speaking only for myself, my goal in that discussion was to encourage North Korea to understand that in a free society individuals are not prohibited from making nasty remarks about Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un.  (I didn’t point my blog.)  It never occurred to me that North Korean officials might already have internalized that distinction, only to express it in this very odd way, by targeting the news outlets directly.

I guess this is progress, though it doesn’t have much to recommend it as strategy for media outreach.

Comments

  1. Robert Ayson (History)

    In theory great coercion case study. In practice this bluff comes with a massive circular area probable. Shows the value of Track 2!

  2. Andy (History)

    The coordinate disparity could be explained by a difference in map datums. Google Earth and most of the world use WGS-84 – I have no idea what North Koreans might use.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Wow, it never occurred to me that I might some day learn something about geodesy in North Korea. There is even a National Bureau for Geodesy and Cartography in Pyongyang.

      I assumed that the DPRK was using WGS 84 (well, ok, I didn’t know the name) because they were able to submit declarations to ICAO and IMO for the Unha 2 launches. I’ve scratched a little more to discover North Korea is partially compliant in terms of WGS-84 for air traffic.

      So, the clearly used to use something else. Maybe SRS 90 from the old Soviet days?

      There

  3. Daniel Pinkston (History)

    Yawn. “Officers and men of the army corps, divisions and regiments on the front and strategic rocket forces in the depth of the country are loudly calling for…” This is not new or unusual. In the DPRK system, which is characterized by a command economy, near-war mobilization, extreme personalistic dictatorship, economic deprivation and food insecurity, there is a very strong incentive for those in the lower echelons system to demonstrate their loyalty to their superiors. Maybe it’s a little more intense and noticeable because of the succession, and maybe the “big-nose white ghosts” are paying more attention. They make these belligerent pledges to the leadership all the time. And in times of scarcity, if you are less than passionate, your rations might be cut G.I.

  4. Andy (History)

    It’s also possible North Korea uses more than one datum. WGS-84 is a worldwide standard only because of GPS. It’s likely North Korea uses WGS-84 for some functions and other datum(s) for other functions.

    That’s pretty common, actually. In the US, for example, the DoD uses WGS-84, but most every other part of the US federal government (and most state governments) use NAD-83 (plus, I have a ton of older USGS NAD-27 maps). And when I think back to my early days in the Navy doing targeting, we had to use all different kinds of datums (because the maps we had were based on different datums). That’s a huge headache when you’re trying to get precise coordinates for WGS-84 based weapons systems.

    Anyway, this is all speculation, but probably reasonable speculation.

  5. Bill Rankin (History)

    Well, what actually seems to have happened here is that the North Koreans have a problem converting decimal degrees to degrees, minutes, and seconds. The DPRK “37° 56′ 83″ N, 126° 97′ 65″ E” is pretty clearly not in a base-60 system, and the correct coordinates that you give happen to come out as 37.5685° N, 126.9761° E. So we’re actually looking at errors of a few ten-thousandths of a degree, which is just a few tens of meters. There might well be datum issues here as well, but they seem rather beside the point.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      That’s it! Maybe it’s right in Korean…

    • Andy (History)

      Well, now I feel stupid for missing the obvious. Nice work Bill!

  6. Ara Barsamian (History)

    Aren’t these guys the same clowns that bought GPS’s from Radio Shack in Japan to guide their rockets over the Sea of Japan for their first TaepoDong tests?

    We saw the glorious results last month!!!

  7. Roger (History)

    I’m with you. This KPA threat, while not new, was unusually specific – albeit geodetically challenged – and more vehement than normal.

    The propaganda speaker was turned up to 11.5

    Yet, the Chinese language press simply reported what the DPRK had said. (http://www.nknews.org/2012/06/weekly-chinese-media-watch-missiles-burma/) They did not offer any of their normal bromides “we urge all parties to exercise restraint” or “Stability on the peninsula is in everyone’s interest”.

    So there are a few likely reasons for this:
    1) PRC assesses this to be a DPRK venting and not really likely to lead to anything except frenzied electrons and ink;
    2) PRC has had it and really doesn’t care what DPRK does anymore;
    3) PRC wishes to preserve flexibility and wait to see what actually happens before having to commit to anything.

    I thought it was also interesting that DPRK would wait until PRC assumed Presidency of the UN Security Council. Maybe nothing, but I suspect the timing is coincidental, not accidental.

  8. Mohammad (History)

    I have always wondered about why people in the West take Eastern rhetoric so serious. Although the North Korean types are really extreme and disgusting, and I’m not familiar with Korean culture, being a Middle Eastern I can easily identify (and dismiss) rajaz (i.e. rant) talk.
    The most interesting and unintendedly influential example of a such quotes has been the infamous “Zionist regime must vanish from the page of time” a.k.a. “Israel must be wiped off the map” (incorrect translation) by Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials. As a Farsi-speaker I could not believe my eyes when I saw Westerners interpreting it as call for genocide or a sign that Iran might attack Israel by nuclear weapons.
    Perhaps we should instruct our political leaders and media to better understand these cultural nuances on the other side, both to avoid and prevent dangerous misinterpretations.

    • John Schilling (History)

      I take it you speak Korean as well as Farsi? Good – perhaps you can enlighten us by telling us what we can expect the Iranian and North Korean leadership to say when they actually intend to kill us or our allies. We, being foolish Americans, think they would say something like “we are going to wipe you off the map” or perhaps “we are going to fire missiles at these coordinates…”; if there is a different formula for such warnings, we’d like to know about it.

      Also, we’d really like to not be lectured any more by people who imagine it is always our duty to accomodate their beliefs and cultural norms, never the other way around. On this one, I think you all get to do things our way. Our way is, don’t threaten to kill people unless you mean it. Our way is better.

      If you have nuclear weapons, we will pay attention to what you say. If you say you are going to kill us or our allies, we may well take you at your word. And we will kill you first, which is something we are scary good at. When it is over, we will feel bad about it, and you will be dead.

      Perhaps you should instruct the political leaders and media on the other side as to this Western cultural nuance. You speak the language, and it could save their lives.

    • Roger (History)

      Mohammad – thank you for the insight. I think there’s great value in discussing these issues from the cultural aspects you mention. I certainly welcome further discussions perhaps leading to a short article @roger_cavazos or rcavazos@nautilus.org

    • Nick (History)

      While I do understand the Korean proclivity for hyperbole, John raises a good point. Perhaps they will never be serious. Perhaps, when they are serious, they will be silent. Perhaps, when the hyperbole reaches truly epic proportions and invokes images of Greek and Norse mythology, the striking change of symbols with be a signal that they ACTUALLY intend to follow through with the heretofore empty threats. Who knows?

      Either way, a fine, fine example of substantiated braggodocio. Swagger in prose. Tastefully jingoistic.

      Perhaps President Obama should issue the following, just for kicks:
      “We will scream, ‘AMERICA!’ triumphantly from the highest mountaintops and shine like a glowing beacon of badassery, as we counter your fire with ever more brilliant fire and laser weapons, shielded by the impermeable golden feathers from Eagles of Freedom, with minimal effort and maximal awesomeness, all the while carrying on as the leader of the free world, spreading more awesomeness to all who desire it, and crushing the rest with our cumbersome, run-on boasts.”

    • Mohammad (History)

      John & Nick,

      I did not intend to “blame” anyone for these misinterpretations. I was trying to raise awareness of a fact, from the point of view of a Middle Eastern. As I said in the last part, the onus is on both sides; on the speechmakers to “prevent” such misinterpretations by understanding that how the speeches will be received in other cultures, and on the receiving end to “avoid” such misinterpretations by understanding the cultural context the speech was made in.

      And I centainly do not claim that the interpretations are arbitrary; far from it. This necessitates using people who are immersed in the “other” culture and can distinguish actual threats from rant. I believe that there’s evidence that high-level Western politicians, when not in propaganda-mood, already do that.

      The problem is that some speeches, which are likely to contain rants, are mainly intended for domestic purposes, but the international media is also listening. Most Iranian officials’ public speeches, especially Khamenei’s, are intended for domestic, or at most, Middle Eastern/Muslim audience since they do not seem to understand the context of English-language international media enough. These domestic speeches necessarily contain intracultural references and rhetoric, which is a common feature of Iranian politics.

      P.S. 1: To be fair, the “wiped off the map” controversy was actually a result of mistranslation and outrageous taking out of context, unlike these North Korean threats.

      P.S. 2: There is a very funny joke in Iran about how international outlets translated one of Ali Larijani’s remarks when he was Iran’s top nuclear negotiator. He tends to speak in loaded, poetic terms and uses proverbs extensively.

    • Rob Goldston (History)

      In the West we tend to privilege “speech acts” over other actions, often taking them more seriously as indicators of future behavior than physical actions. It appears to me that this is different in some other cultures, where speech is considered more on a par with other forms of behavior.

      That said, is it correct as I have read that the Ahmedinejad quote has appeared draped over missiles on parade in Tehran? If so, I think the quote is correctly placed pretty far along the spectrum of threatening braggadocio.

    • Tim (History)

      I’m on board with John, Nick and Rob. “Don’t threaten to kill people unless you mean it.”

      1) Deciding which rants and raves can be ignored and which must be taken seriously is an inexact science at best. Case in point: During the 1998 election campaign in India, the BJP platform said clearly that if elected, a BJP government would perform a nuclear test. The BJP was elected, nuclear tests took place on 11 and 13 May, and the US was surprised. We didn’t take the rhetoric seriously, but obviously should have, in retrospect.

      2) In the nuclear realm, the stakes are just too high for us to give weight to the idea that nuclear threats are OK, so long as they are (probably) idle. There’s already too much room for miscommunication/false warning/accident/etc. without adding this to the mix.

    • Mohammad (History)

      Rob,

      I totally agree that at least we Iranians tend to value speech acts less than our Western counterparts. I have heard Western people who have dealt with Iranians say this (a WikiLeaks cable from US embassy in Tehran in 1979 said that when dealing with Iranians, “Statements of intention count for almost nothing”, although I think that is exaggerated). This does not mean that Iranians are untrustworthy, it means that you should be able to distinguish serious statements from rant/taarof. Iranians have also come to realize this cultural difference in recent decades and there’s an increasing awareness that the style of communication with Western people should be more straightforward and precise than with Iranians, to prevent misunderstanding (there are jokes about how Western tourists interpreted Iranian taarof).

      And yes, I was only talking about the specific October 2005 Ahmadinejad speech which sparked the controversy. Iranian civilian leaders (Ahmadinejad and Khamenei) have clarified Iran’s stance repeatedly.
      Yet the Iranian military have a penchant for rajaz-khaani, which has a long history in Middle Eastern cultures dating back to ancient wars. It is intended to bolster self-confidence in Iranian armed forces and instill fear in the enemy (which has actually backfired), particularly when Iran feels under military threat.
      Also pay attention that Iran’s supposed threats against Israel or the US are deliberately vague (i.e. are not specific that Iran should or will attack Israel by military force, which leaves the door open for further clarification) but when not in rajaz-mode, it has said unequivocally that it will not initiate any attack. Recently, Khamenei clarified this policy when he said that:
      We are not a nation that attacks other countries and nations. We will never start a bloody war. […] But we are a nation that responds to all kinds of attack and even all kinds of threats with full force and determination. […] We will answer threats with threats.

      I believe that many such threats have more a domestic audience. It is intended to reassure Iranians that standing up to the world’s only superpower is possible after all.

    • Nick (History)

      What should we expect then when the leader of the free world, almost on a weekly basis, refers in dealing with Iran as “all options are on the table,” which includes nuking them as well as cyber attacks and assassination.

      Except for the first one, there seems to be clear evidence of the last two in the past 3 years. I think I will go past what Mohammad said, and I consider it truly a hypocritical behavior by the western politicians and pundits to continue this rant with no avail. How many times do we have to go through this nonsense of what he said?

      Judging from what has happened in the past few months it should be clear, at least for the people of this website, that AHMADINEJAD does not control anything to do with the military or the nuclear policy.

    • John Schilling (History)

      I understand that political rhetoric is often directed at a domestic audience. I don’t see that it matters much. This rhetoric carries a real diplomatic cost, so it isn’t going to be done unless it serves a real purpose. Either the leadership actually believes it, or the population wants to hear it and the leadership isn’t willing to say “No”.

      The Falklands War happened not because Galtieri hated England, but because he hated the idea of being deposed by a local population that was dissatisfied with what he had done for them so far. The thousand or so dead probably don’t care so much that the prewar rhetoric out of Buenos Aires was aimed at a domestic audience.

      When we start talking about millions of dead, that sort of thing is intolerable. It does not matter whether the first missile is driven by the hatred of a government or the hatred of a population the government needs to appease or distract. Either way, or anywhere in the middle, rhetoric tends to lead to action.

      If you want the rest of us to tolerate your illicit nuclear arsenal, do not ever threaten to use it against anyone we care about. Because we will take that threat seriously.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      John:

      If you want the rest of us to tolerate your illicit nuclear arsenal, do not ever threaten to use it against anyone we care about. Because we will take that threat seriously.

      We’re being a little asymmetrical here. North Korea, who actually launch (artillery shellings, nuclear tests, sinkings of ships, sub raids, cross-border sniping) are in this instance being publicly ignored. And Iran, who are not doing any of those things (but do arm Hizbollah and Hamas, who do some of them) and are being much more obscure about nuclear threats, are being publicly threatened with bombing.

      The particular history and dynamics there are … odd in both cases.

      I understand the histories at least moderately well, but it’s still odd.

    • Andy (History)

      Mohammad,

      I think you make some good points, but as others have noted, it’s often not clear what is serious, what is merely a rant, or what is only aimed at a domestic audience.

      Just to give you a counter-example, consider the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The indications and warning section in the Defense Intelligence Agency (the main US military intelligence agency) followed Iraq’s build-up of forces closely and correctly gave both war and attack warnings to the leadership in the US. Their assessment was that all the preparations clearly pointed to actual hostilities. Those warnings were, unfortunately, ignored because people in the State Department, based on what the Kuwaitis, Saudis and others in the region were telling them, thought Saddam was bluffing. So it seems that Westerners aren’t the only ones unable to discern a rant from an actual threat. Consider the chain of terrible consequences from that failure.

    • Mohammad (History)

      Yesterday I posted a comment in response to Bob, but since it has not appeared yet, I suppose that it has ended up in the spam folder because of excessive links. I repost below without too many computer-readable links.
      ——————————
      Rob,

      I totally agree that at least we Iranians tend to value speech acts less than our Western counterparts. I have heard Western people who have dealt with Iranians say this (a WikiLeaks cable from US embassy in Tehran in 1979 said that when dealing with Iranians, “Statements of intention count for almost nothing”, although I think that is exaggerated). This does not mean that Iranians are untrustworthy, it means that you should be able to distinguish serious statements from rant/taarof. Iranians have also come to realize this cultural difference in recent decades and there’s an increasing awareness that the style of communication with Western people should be more straightforward and precise than with Iranians, to prevent misunderstanding (there are jokes about how Western tourists interpreted Iranian taarof).

      And yes, I was only talking about the specific October 2005 Ahmadinejad speech which sparked the controversy. Iranian civilian leaders (Ahmadinejad and Khamenei) have clarified Iran’s stance repeatedly [1][2].
      Yet the Iranian military have a penchant for rajaz-khaani [3], which has a long history in Middle Eastern cultures dating back to ancient wars. It is intended to bolster self-confidence in Iranian armed forces and instill fear in the enemy (which has actually backfired), particularly when Iran feels under military threat.
      Also pay attention that Iran’s supposed threats against Israel or the US are deliberately vague (i.e. are not specific that Iran should or will attack Israel by military force, which leaves the door open for further clarification) but when not in rajaz-mode, it has said unequivocally that it will not initiate any attack. Recently, Khamenei clarified this policy when he said that [4]:
      We are not a nation that attacks other countries and nations. We will never start a bloody war. […] But we are a nation that responds to all kinds of attack and even all kinds of threats with full force and determination. […] We will answer threats with threats.

      I believe that many such threats have more a domestic audience. It is intended to reassure Iranians that standing up to the world’s only superpower is possible after all.

      Links:
      [1] en DOT wikipedia DOT org/wiki/Mahmoud_Ahmadinejad_and_Israel#Clarifying_comments
      [2] leader DOT ir/langs/en/index.php?p=bayanat&id=3477
      [3] proz DOT com/kudoz/persian_farsi_to_english/general_conversation_greetings_letters/910352-rajz_khani_kardan.html
      [4] english DOT khamenei DOT ir/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1558&Itemid=4

    • Jeffrey (History)

      No, I was just traveling. I am not sure why your comment didn’t auto-approve. Maybe an unusual IP address for you?

    • Mohammad (History)

      Thanks to all for the interesting insights provided. I find two points as especially valid:
      1. That nuclear weapons should not be taken lightly. This is true, but let’s also take the downside into account, that too much alarmism can lead into a disastrous war or other disproportionate consequences too (think 2003 Iraq war and the current day sanctions against Iran which vastly hurt the civilian population).
      2. That it’s hard to distinguish between rants and credible threats. The 1998 Indian nuclear test and Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait are very interesting counter-examples of my thesis, but I wonder what the native politics-savvy Indians/Iraqis felt about the seriousness of the rhetoric at the time.

      While I still believe I made a valid point in my initial comment, now I accept that my style of saying it was a bit careless. Surely no threat should be discounted if there’s other reason to believe they’re serious. Saddam had actually invaded another country a decade before his threats against Kuwait and was building up troops, as Andy mentioned.
      But seriously, does anyone believe that DPRK is going to nuke the ROK media? And let’s not forget how despite repeated clarification by Iranian officials, their statements against Israel are being grossly misinterpreted on a daily basis.

      All in all, while speech acts matter, it’s definitely not a bad idea to understand rhetoric in its cultural and political context before responding with disproportionate actions. I’m sure most governments around the world already try to do that (at least in private), and I think the media and the general public should also do so to avoid feeding into pro-war rhetoric.

      Nice discussion, thanks to all.

    • Mohammad (History)

      Jeffrey, I’m sure it’s the links, as my IP address has been the same. I had experienced this before on another post. I think the settings in wordpress are configured to block too many links.

  9. jgusc (History)

    I think those Nork boys need a Tomahawk with a booze and broads warhead launched thru his window. Show him what we’re really all about. Years ago the Soviets used to illuminate us with their fire control radars as we’d zorch by. We got tired of the deedle-deedle in the the headset so we loaded some sonobuoy overpacks with Playboy mags and Buds, taped them shut, and rippled them as we flew by. The Sovs duly launched the motor whaleboat, retrieved, open up the packs, and we were not illuminated any more during that deployment. I’m sure the zampolit had his hands full.

    And I do like Nick’s rhetoric. New Obama speechwriter?

  10. Thom Cookes (History)

    Mikita Krushchev’s “we will bury you” (and the subsequent misunderstandings) spring to mind…

Pin It on Pinterest