North Korea's constant attempts to create pointless crises is believed to be part of a program preventing growing domestic unrest in North Korea from turning into open rebellion. Many North Koreans are engaging in illegal behavior (black market, corruption, smuggling, violent crime), but still remain largely ignorant of what is going on outside North Korea. So when the government releases its diatribes, news of its missiles launches or military maneuvers, and selected reactions from foreign nations, North Koreans feel that they need their government, no matter how screwed up it is, to protect them and maintain order. All this is a bit odd to outsiders, but makes sense from inside the world's most vicious police state.
Kim Jong Il has made 77 public appearances so far this year, more than twice as many as last year. These more numerous visits have reassured North Koreans that their leader was still in action. But Kim's haggard appearance makes it clear that he is not well.
Next year will be the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Memorials are being planned in the United States, but much less so in South Korea itself. There is a major generation gap in South Korea when it comes to the Korean War. Leftist politics and media have, over the last two decades, shifted attitudes of younger South Koreans, planting the idea that the U.S. was at fault for starting the Korean War, not the invading (but misunderstood, as this version goes) North Koreans. This sounds strange to outsiders, and it infuriates older South Koreans who personally experienced the war, and how close South Korea came to being part of that big prison camp up north. There is a growing controversy in South Korea, largely along generational lines, over how the 60th anniversary of the war should be recognized.
People in northern China and South Korea know more about the succession situation in North Korea, than most North Koreans do. That's because the state controlled media in the north has said nothing about the succession. North Korea officials have talked, to outsiders, but the majority of North Koreans, who get most of their news from the state media, know little about all this. However, there has been a lot of coverage of Kim Jong Il's 26 year old son, Kim Jong Un, as an up and coming government official, not as his father's successor. Public reaction to all this up north has been largely negative. More than that, most North Koreans don't care who the next leader is. Most North Koreans have more pressing problems, like getting something to eat, or getting out of the country.
North Korean efforts to grab more control over the, now legal, open markets, have failed. The merchants either ignore the orders of the local communist officials, or quietly pay some more bribes to make the new policies go away. This is another example of how the "iron grip" of the North Korean government is cracking, and increasingly subverted.
July 8, 2009: The South Korean government announced that, ever since July 4th, Internet based attacks on government and military web sites in South Korea and the United States have been underway, and are believed to have come from North Korea. These are DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks. These are carried out by first using a computer virus (often delivered as an email attachment), that installs a secret Trojan horse type program, that allows someone else to take over that computer remotely, and turn it into a "zombie" for spamming or DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks to shut down another site. There are millions of zombie PCs out there, and these can be rented, either form spamming or lunching DDOS attacks. Anyone with about $100,000 in cash, including North Korea, could have carried out the recent attacks on South Korean and U.S. government sites. You can equip a web site to resist, or even brush off, a DDOS attack, and some of those attacked were prepared. But others were not.
July 7, 2009: North Korea has placed more restrictions on the distribution of food to malnourished and starving North Koreans. The government reduced the number of counties food could be distributed to from 131 to 57, and required seven days notice before delivers (currently only 24 hours was required.) North Korea is greatly bothered by accepting food aid, as this is an admission that the highly praised (by themselves) North Korea government cannot provide for its people. But if this food aid is not allowed in, people do starve.
July 6, 2009: North Korea made a big deal out of how powerful its armed forces are. But to military officials outside the country, these boasts are increasingly hollow. Over a decade of food, fuel and cash shortages have left the military poorly trained and with aging equipment.
July 4, 2009: North Korea has begun advertising a new beer (made using a bankrupt British brewery, that was bought by North Koreans eight years ago and shipped to North Korea). The beer costs sixty cents a bottle in North Korea, which only a few percent of the population can afford. Most North Koreans get their beer and booze from illegal home-made brews. At the same time, North Korea launched seven missiles off its east coast. These were short range SCUD line ballistic missiles. North Korea has about 600 hundred of these, and some are quite old, and of questionable reliability.
July 2, 2009: The North Korean government, fearing a Chinese reduction in trade and subsidies, has contacted and organized North Korean criminal smuggling gangs to secretly move goods for the government, if there is a Chinese shutdown of some trade.
July 1, 2009: North Korea fired four anti-ship missiles, about a hundred kilometers into the ocean. This was meant to send a message, although North Korea has had a large inventory of these missiles, and some of them are always getting so old that they are no longer safe to use. While these older missiles can be refurbished, they can also be used for reliability testing, to see if that class of missiles, when they get older, are still reliable.
June 30, 2009: The North Korean ship Kang Nam, apparently headed for Myanmar with a cargo of weapons, has turned around and seems to be going back to North Korea. The ship has been shadowed by a U.S. destroyer since leaning North Korea on June 17th. Meanwhile, the U.S. has imposed more sanctions on foreign firms that do business (often in secret) with North Korea. This sort of action annoys North Korea a great deal, because the U.S. has the clout to interrupt North Korean access to the international banking system.
June 28, 2009: North Korea has admitted, what has long been suspected, that it is building nuclear bombs using uranium, as well as plutonium (which has to be extracted from nuclear fuel used in a reactor). North Korea has uranium mines, and has exported much uranium ore in the past. The process for converting this ore into highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons can be easily hidden. South Korea and the U.S. have long suspected that North Korea was following the uranium angle.
June 27, 2009: The South Korea military is setting up a Cyber War command, to deal with network security and defenses against Internet based attacks from North Korea, or other hostile nations. Meanwhile, North Korea threatened to shoot down any Japanese civil or military aircraft that violate its airspace, no matter how briefly, and no matter if it is accidental. Some commercial flight paths come close to North Korean air space, and there are occasional cases where navigational problems, or attempts to avoid nasty weather, leads airliners to come very close to North Korean air space. But what North Korea is really angry about are the increasing visits to its aerial borders by Japanese electronic reconnaissance aircraft. The Japanese now fear that North Korea might go after these recon aircraft if they are just outside North Korean air space. The North Koreans have done that sort of thing before.
June 26, 2009: China announced that it would back, and participate in, any tougher UN sanctions against North Korea (as punishment for the recent nuclear weapons test.) China is North Korea's largest trading partner, and the source of most foreign aid.
June 25, 2009: North Korean leader apparently gave five luxury (costing nearly $100,000 each) cars to five senior intelligence officials, in return for their support of Kim's 26 year old son, Kim Jong Un, as his successor. The government also organized a large (over 100,000) rally against the U.S. and South Korea.
June 24, 2009: North Korea again announced that it would destroy the United States. This announcement has been coming out of North Korea for decades, and is apparently largely for domestic North Korean consumption.
June 23, 2009: The North Korean ship Kang Nam is apparently headed for Myanmar with a cargo of weapons. This violates UN embargoes, but the U.S. says it will not board the Kang Nam at sea. However, the U.S. can ask that the Kang Nam be searched if it goes into a port to refuel. A nation like Myanmar would refuse this request, but most would not.
June 22, 2009: Over the weekend, North Korea warned mariners and airlines to avoid an area 446 by 109 kilometers off the port of Wonsan, because of planned missile tests.