We cannot always count on North Korea being as inept as it is belligerent.
The country's supreme military body, the National Defense Commission, said a planned third underground nuclear test was part of an "all-out action" against the United States, which it called the "main player" behind the newest round of United Nations sanctions aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program.
By calling the U.S. the "main player," North Korea flatters us. Most of its neighbors have an even greater interest in seeing the erratic little nation give up its nuclear ambitions.
North Korea's rocket program has hardly been trouble free. There have been a lot of duds and misfires. But North Korea's scientists keep trying, and one of these days they may very likely succeed in developing an effective arsenal of missiles.
They claim to have a missile now that could reach the United States. To underscore the point, they announced a program to develop a generation of long-range rockets capable of striking this country. However, they appear to be some years away from miniaturizing a nuclear warhead that the rockets could carry.
The commission said the missile tests and the proposed underground nuclear test represented "a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century" and targeted "the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people." Like many North Korean pronouncements, this one doesn't make sense -- a U.S. vendetta against North Korea that has lasted "century after century?" -- but the emotion behind it is unmistakable.
The commission went on, "Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words, as it regards jungle law as the rule of its survival."
North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un, the third generation of his family to head the nation, is still an unknown quantity, but the early going suggests he is no more amenable to reason than his father.
The nation survived on threats and bluster, some of it comic, to blackmail the world into feeding its starving people. But a nuclear arsenal changes that equation.
Otherwise, there will come a day when the U.S. will have to take these threats as something other than harmless bluster and act accordingly.
Dale McFeatters is a syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.