North Korea Threat of Pre-Emptive Strike 'Not Very Frightening'

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - A threat by North Korea that it reserves the right to pre-emptively attack the United States if America launches a pre-emptive strike against Iraq is "communist rhetoric" that's not very frightening, national security analysts said.

"It's an irresponsible statement by North Korea, and it's not very frightening because I don't believe North Korea would come out very well in a nuclear exchange with the U.S.," said retired Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, director of national security studies with the Hudson Institute and a former director of the National Security Agency.

"It also reflects grand illusions on the part of North Koreans about the importance of nuclear weapons," Odom said.

The threat, as reported by the Guardian newspaper, is "typical communist rhetoric," said retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, a national security analyst and North Korea expert.

"They know that if they do anything pre-emptively, we've got nuclear stockpiled weapons over there, as well as conventional forces, plus the South Korean army, so we could shut down North Korea in four days if we had to," Vallely said.

The newspaper quotes a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman as saying: "The United States says that after Iraq, we are next." The spokesman added: "But we have our own countermeasures. Pre-emptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the U.S."

Pentagon officials reiterated to statements by Bush administration officials that it did not plan a pre-emptive strike against North Korea. The United States believes the nuclear issue in particular can be handled "diplomatically and peacefully," a spokesman said.

"We aren't doing anything that would escalate that matter into a military crisis at all," Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis said.

"We are, however, taking prudent measures that we normally do when we're considering military options elsewhere in the world within the northeast Asia region in the Pacific, taking action to bolster our forces there, such that we're not leaving that area uncovered while we're engaged in potential operations elsewhere," Davis added.

Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed a "prepare to deploy" order to send aircraft to the Pacific region in what is seen as a signal to North Korea that the United States is not distracted by Iraq.

North Korea vowed Wednesday to counter any U.S. plan to beef up its military power in the region. North Korea's official news agency denounced U.S. "war hysteria."

The United States currently has 37,000 troops stationed in South Korea and 48,000 in Japan. The Pentagon reportedly is planning to send 24 bombers to Guam, in addition to an undisclosed number of intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft to the region.

"We watch North Korea every day. We watch everything that moves over there," Vallely said.

Senior U.S. commanders reportedly have also requested an aircraft carrier to brace the defense of South Korea.

A year ago, President Bush included North Korea with Iran and Iraq in an "axis of evil" for their suspected weapons development programs.

The nuclear crisis began in October when the United States said North Korea had admitted to enriching uranium in violation of a 1994 agreement. According to the agreement, Pyongyang would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for two energy-generating reactors and free fuel.

Since December, North Korea has expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors and withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It also restarted a nuclear complex capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium and threatened to resume missile tests.

Threats by North Korea are "meant to be taken seriously," a senior defense analyst said.

"I don't think that the North Koreans will pre-emptively strike against us, but I think it's a measure of the fear they have that their regime will disappear. Fundamentally, there's a lot of instability there," said the analyst, who requested anonymity.

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