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US intel downplays NK full-scale war risks, noting Putin as influencer

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : March 13, 2024 - 14:43

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Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines (right) testifies alongside Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns at a hearing with the House Select Intelligence Committee in the Cannon Office Building on Tuesday in Washington, DC. (Getty Images via AFP) Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines (right) testifies alongside Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns at a hearing with the House Select Intelligence Committee in the Cannon Office Building on Tuesday in Washington, DC. (Getty Images via AFP)

The US intelligence community currently assesses that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is unlikely to escalate tensions into a full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula, even as concerns persist over the potential for his closer alignment with the Russian president to embolden his aggressive actions.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines provided the assessment during Tuesday's House Intelligence Committee hearing while noting that Kim's recent rhetoric and actions have been increasingly provoking, specifically directed at South Korea.

"We believe that it is clear that he is increasingly provocative in the sense and there is more anxiety about the potential of him taking sort of military action, including on the Northern Line Limit," Haines told the Congress.

"Our analysis right now is effectively that he will engage in increasingly provocative behavior, but he is not interested in escalating this into a full-on war, and there is a kind of limit on this."

Kim's progressively hostile rhetoric towards South Korea has heightened concerns regarding the possibility of military provocations on the Korean Peninsula. Some experts have asserted that Kim's harsh statements are not mere rhetoric but rather signify his strategic decision to go to war, akin to the actions of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, in 1950.

In January, Kim called for a constitutional amendment to define South Korea as the "No. 1 hostile country and invariable primary enemy" and to address the matter of "completely occupying, subjugating and reclaiming" South Korea and incorporating it as part of North Korean territory in the event of a war on the peninsula.

Kim also dismissed the Northern Limit Line as a "ghost boundary lacking any basis in international law or legal justification" in February, despite it being the de facto inter-Korean maritime border in the West Sea established by the United Nations Command.

The US intelligence chief also highlighted that Kim's deepening connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin could potentially prompt him to take more aggressive actions, raising the risk of miscalculation.

"One of the challenges that we see as sort of a factor in this landscape is that he is potentially feeling increasingly emboldened by virtue of the relationship with Russia advancing as it has," Haines said.

Haines also emphasized that Putin's reliance on North Korean-produced munitions, especially during the prolonged war in Ukraine, would reduce his inclination to challenge North Korea's provocative actions, especially in nuclear matters, such as by standing against North Korea at the UN Security Council.

"So I think that's something that we're carefully watching, and I think it does sort of increase the risk of miscalculation and concern," Haines told the Congress.

"We've been working very closely with the Republic of Korea and our counterparts there to try to manage that," she added, referring to South Korea by its official name.