North Korean news agency Rodong Sinmun published several images of Kim at an emergency military operations meeting at 12:30 a.m. March 29. In the images, Kim and military officials were looking at maps and what appear to be missile flight paths, which, according to an overlaid map produced by NK News, show missile paths ending in Hawaii, Washington, Los Angeles and possibly Austin, Texas.
The images were published to show North Korean citizens the resolve of its leaders and to incite speculation abroad. However, including Texas on the maps suggests they were part of outdated attack plans; it is possible they were made during the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, when an attack on Texas held symbolic meaning.
North Korea raised its alert level in response to what it saw as U.S. escalation on the Peninsula. North Korea has been stepping up its warnings of war, and the United States, acting within the framework of military exercises with South Korea, responded by signaling its commitment to South Korea's defense. These signals included flights of B-52s on March 25 and flights of B-2As on March 28. It was after the March 25 flights that the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army raised the alert level, issuing a statement that said "From this moment the Supreme Command will put on the highest alert all the field artillery units including strategic rocket units and long-range artillery units that are assigned to strike bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor troops in the U.S. mainland and on Hawaii and Guam and other operational zone in the Pacific as well as all the enemy targets in south Korea and its vicinity."
The U.S. responded by drawing attention to the B-2A flights over South Korea. These flights triggered the follow-up preparation order by Kim. Apparently the earlier order by the Supreme Command, which is headed by Kim, was somehow insufficient and an emergency meeting needed to be held.
South Korean media has reported signs of activity around North Korean missile bases. If these reports are true, they would be consistent with the order to step up the alert level and with preparations for a missile test. It would also be consistent with North Korea's exploitation of foreign satellite and other intelligence observation capabilities to shape the psychological battlefield.
The North Korean announcement, coupled with the pictures of the war room, are intended to raise the level of concern to a level that forces the United States and South Korea to enter dialogue to de-escalate. The North Korean nuclear test, the rejection of the Armistice Agreement, artillery and amphibious landing exercises and raising the missile alert level are all part of the same campaign. A series of North Korean short- and intermediate-range missile tests would also fit in the pattern going forward, and North Korea has in the past exploited holiday weekends, including the Fourth of July, to conduct such tests. China and Russia have already warned that things may escalate out of control on the Korean Peninsula, and the latest missile alert following the B-2A flight prompted the United States to say it did not intend to worsen tensions.
However, there are few signs of real war preparation in North Korea, and the border at Kaesong remains open. The United States has responded to each North Korean provocation with a stronger signal of its own. So far, this is still a game of rhetoric. But Pyongyang's threats-for-rewards policy clearly is becoming less and less effective, and it remains to be seen how Pyongyang will react if it cannot maintain that policy.