The fog of confusion surrounding North Korea's actions thickened over the previous week, beginning with the show trial of the two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. The North Korean court (wholly government-controlled) sentenced the two women to twelve years in a forced-labor camp for unspecified 'hostile acts,' which apparently included straying over the border into North Korea itself. These camps have been documented in the past, and include the kind of conditions found in the worst of the old Soviet gulag system. Speculation is rampant among the talking heads that the women won't actually be sent to a camp, as long as the North Koreans feel they can use the two as a bargaining chip to exact concessions from the US. Interestingly, the journalists were there to report on the growing cross-border trafficking in female sex slaves by the North Korean government. (I say growing because several family members and friends are involved in trying to liberate women and children who are trafficked, and have been documenting the growing influence of the North Koreans in this vile trade. If you're interested in an in-depth examination of this issue, check out the book Terrify No More (Gary Haugen and Gregg Hunter)).
Last month's test of a nuclear weapon, and the ongoing missile tests, have dramatically upped the tension over North Korea's intentions and objectives. Speculation here in the US has centered around the possibility that President Obama will have his hand forced, and will back down from cutting the missile defense program (particularly in Alaska), and if we will begin intedicting North Korean vessels. Yesterday, the Korean Central News Agency declared that North Korea would take such an interdiction as an act of war, and would consider a nuclear retaliation. Presumably, this threat is directed against Seoul, which has recently backed the idea of ship inspections. Simultaneously, North Korea is preparing for a test of its long-range missile, and two medium-range missiles. Finally, while Kim Jong-Il may want his youngest son (Kim Jong-un) to be his succesor as the 'Dear Leader,' it's far from clear that the military and governmental apparatus will accept this appointment or will let Jong-un rule as completely as his father and grandfather.
One thing is clear: we don't know what North Korea wants or how it will act.