WASHINGTON — As tensions escalate on the Korean Peninsula with Pyongyang warning foreigners to leave and closing an industrial complex on the border with South Korea, many around the world are wondering what prompted the communist country to provoke its neighbors and the rest of the world.
Analysts have offered various views on why North Korea's young leader Kim Jong Un is focused on strengthening the military instead of trying to improve the well-being of his impoverished people.
A former North Korean spy who now lives in South Korea has provided a rare insight into the inner workings of the secretive state and its young leader.
"Kim Jong Un is too young and too inexperienced. He's struggling to gain complete control over the military and to win their loyalty,'' said Kim Hyun Hee speaking to Australia's ABC television at an undisclosed location.
She helped plant a bomb on a South Korean airliner in 1987 that killed 115 people on board. South Korean authorities captured her and sentenced her to death. But she was pardoned after it was determined that she had been brainwashed by the North.
Kim says there are reasons behind Kim Jong Un's threats.
"North Korea is using its nuclear program to keep its people in line and to push South Korea and the United States for concessions,'' she said.
Others agree. Suzanne DiMaggio, an expert at the Asia Society, says the regime is mainly looking for ways to keep power.
"If you look at the situation in North Korea itself... Economically, in terms of humanitarian aspects, it is in dire straits. So it is very well likely that the regime is using April 15th, Founder's Day, and this huffing and puffing of its military might as a way to rally the people and stoke nationalism within the country to support this new leader," said DiMaggio.
Military analysts say that despite the threats, the North Korean 1.2 million-strong military is showing no signs of preparing for war. But they say Pyongyang is likely to engage in some provocative action, such as firing a missile or testing a nuclear weapon, to mark the birthday of North Korea's founder and the current leader's grandfather, Kim Il Sung.