Why Is North Korea so Aggressive?

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For decades, North Korea has projected hostility toward the United States, but their aggression has escalated to a new level in 2017. Highlights include:

  • June 13 – Otto Warmier, an America college student who was tortured and detained in North Korea for 17 months, was returned to the U.S. severely brain damaged and in a vegetative state. He died days later.[1]
  • July 4 – North Korea claimed to have successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that could “reach anywhere in the world.”[2]
  • July 25 – North Korea threatened a nuclear strike on “the heart of the U.S.” if it attempted to remove Kim Jong-Un from power.[3]
  • August 8 – North Korea threatened the U.S. territory of Guam, where 163,000 U.S. citizens reside, and a key U.S. Air Force base is located.[4] Additionally, the Strategic Force of the North Korean People’s Army threatened a pre-emptive ballistic missile strike against the United States mainland.[5]
  • August 28 – North Korea launched a ballistic missile directly over Japan, flying over the northern island of Hokkaido.[6]
  • September 4 – North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb—its most powerful weapon to date.[7]
  • September 14 – North Korea says the U.S. should be “beaten to death like a rabid dog” and threatened to vent its spite by reducing the U.S. mainland into ashes and darkness.” They also threatened to sink the four islands of Japan’s archipelago with nuclear weapons.[8]
  • September 15 – North Korea launched a second ballistic missile over the Japanese island of Hokkaido.[9]


Historical context is paramount to understanding North Korea’s aggression. The Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953 halted the bloodshed of the Korean War which cost the United States 36,000 American soldiers and wounded another 100,000.[10] It was designed to suspended hostilities while a formal peace treaty could be negotiated. Sixty-four years later, no such peace treaty has been signed.[11] As such, the Korean War has never formally ended, leaving the North Koreans with no assurances that they will not be attacked.

“Although shooting stopped in 1953, Pyongyang insists that the Korean War never ended. It maintains as an official policy goal the reunification of the Korean peninsula under the Kim dynasty.”[12] Because of this, North Korea is desperately pursuing a nuclear weapons program designed to “repel” an invasion by inflicting massive casualties in the early days of conflict.[13] Regardless of the armistice, North Korea is still a nation at war.

This article is excerpted from the paper Evaluating the North Korean Crisis.

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Timothy Zebell

As a former missionary to Asia for twelve years and the author of several books, Timothy is passionate about helping people understand the relevancy of God's Word in today's world. His goals are to help Christians discern truth from error, empower Christians to speak into cultural matters with relevancy, and to help Christians capitalize on the opportunities that these matters provide for sharing the truth about God and His gospel message.
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1. Grinberg, Emanuella. “McCain: North Korea ‘Murdered’ Former Detainee Otto Warmbier.” CNN, June 20, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/19/politics/otto-warmbier-dies/.

2. “North Korea Nuclear Timeline Fast Facts.” CNN, August 8, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/29/world/asia/north-korea-nuclear-timeline—fast-facts/.

3. Cohen, Zachary Barabara Starr. “North Korea Promises Nuclear Strike on US if Regime is Threatened.” CNN, July 25, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/25/politics/north-korea-threatens-nuclear-strike-us/index.html.

4. Baker, Peter and Choe Sang-hun. “Trump Threatens ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea if It Endangers U.S.” The New York Times, August 8, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/08/world/asia/north-korea-un-sanctions-nuclear-missile-united-nations.html.

5. Ibid.

6. Sang-Hun, Choe and David Sanger. “North Korea Fires Missile Over Japan.” The New York Times, August 28, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/world/asia/north-korea-missile.html.

7. Berlinger, Joshua and Taehoon Lee. “Nuclear Test Conducted by North Korea, Country Claims; South Korea Responds with Drills.” CNN, September 24, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/03/asia/north-korea-nuclear-test/index.html.

8. McCurry, Justin. “We Will Sink Japan and Turn US to ‘Ashes and Darkness’, Says North Korea.” The Guardian, September 14, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/14/north-korea-threat-sink-japan-us-ashes-darkness.

9. Griffiths, James, Zachary Cohen and Joshua Berlinger. “North Korea Launches Missile Over Japan.” CNN, September 15, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/14/asia/north-korea-missile-launch/.

10. “Korean War Costs High in Men, Misery, Money.” United Press International, July 27, 1953. Accessed August 10, 2017. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1953/07/27/Korea-War-cost-high-in-men-misery-money/7064925114921/.

11. Dobbins, James and Jeffrey Hornung. “End the Korean War, Finally.” The New York Times, June 8, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/08/opinion/end-the-korean-war-finally.html.

12. Bowden, Mark. “How to Deal with North Korea.” The Atlantic, July/August 2017. Accessed August 10, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/the-worst-problem-on-earth/528717/.

13. Lewis, Jeffrey. “North Korea is Practicing for Nuclear War.” Foreign Policy, March 9, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2017. http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/09/north-korea-is-practicing-for-nuclear-war/.

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