Did North Korea Just Declare War on the U.S.?

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The annual joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea usually elicit ominous threats of retaliation from North Korea. But in an interview on Thursday with the Associated Press, Han Song Ryol, the North’s only diplomatic tether to the United States, effectively declared war, referencing sanctions targeting Kim Jong Un as crossing “the red line.”

In early July, after a United Nations Human Rights Commission report detailed a host of human rights abuses in the isolated nation, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Kim Jong Un and 22 other high-ranking government officials. It marked the first time sanctions targeted Un, though the West has routinely sanctioned the country as a whole.

“The Obama administration went so far to have the impudence to challenge the supreme dignity of the DPRK in order to get rid of its unfavorable position during the political and military showdown with the DPRK,” said Han, using acronym for his country’s official title–Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In response to the sanctions, the North cut off its only line of communication with the U.S., known as the New York channel, which was essentially a diplomatic post in Manhattan. Han has held that post for nearly two decades, as the director-general of the U.S. Affairs Department for the North’s Foreign Ministry.

A senior Obama administration official told Politico a few weeks ago that the sanction against Kim Jong Un and others in his government was meant to send a message: “if you become involved in abuses like running concentration camps or hunting down defectors we will know who you are.”

Joint military exercises–the Ulchi Freedom Guardian–are conducted by the U.S. and South Korea every August, and Han warned that if this year’s display goes as planned, then the North has a “self-defensive right and justifiable action to respond in a very hard way.” The U.S., he added, “has already declared war against the DPRK.” Last year’s Ulchi, which included 50,000 South Korean soldiers and 30,000 U.S. soldiers, nearly resulted in clashes between the two Korean nations, with tensions higher than ever before.

North Korea’s nuclear program has been maligned by the rest of the world and historically, the main target of U.S. and U.N. sanctions. But Han insisted it is indeed the U.S. who is irresponsible with nuclear weapons and other advanced military tools, saying:

It is not us, it is the United States that first developed nuclear weapons, who first deployed them and who first used them against humankind. And on the issue of missiles and rockets, which are to deliver nuclear warheads and conventional weapons warheads, it is none other than the United States who first developed it and who first used it.

Whether or not the U.S. “red line” crossing will indeed lead to war with North Korea is foggy, but with its citizenry impoverished and its global reputation sinking, anything is possible.

Alec Siegel
Alec Siegel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. When he’s not working at Law Street he’s either cooking a mediocre tofu dish or enjoying a run in the woods. His passions include: gooey chocolate chips, black coffee, mountains, the Animal Kingdom in general, and John Lennon. Baklava is his achilles heel. Contact Alec at



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