Consistent with the highly belligerent posture North Korea has taken in the past three weeks, and the “rapid-fire series of provocations“ it has initiated since the beginning of 2009, Pyongyang yet again chose to escalate its rhetoric, this time threatening to use its nuclear weapons in a “merciless offensive” if provoked. After testing its second nuclear device in less than three years, numerous ballistic missile tests, deciding to withdraw from the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, and sentencing two American journalists to 12 years’ hard labor, North Korea took another unprecedented step in announcing for the first time it was prepared to use nuclear weapons in an offensive capacity. Up until now, North Korea has insisted its nuclear program was purely for defensive purposes.

The statements came not because North Korea felt threatened or felt itself the victim of an injustice, but merely because a South Korean company doing business at a North Korean industrial complex set up in 2004 chose to pull out and end its contract. Such erratic behavior only emphasizes the need for the United States to continue to deploy a multi-layered missile defense system and to restore funding for the Missile Defense Agency’s budget. Although Secretary Gates has expressed some consideration for restoring his proposed cuts to the MDA budget, in light of North Korea’s recent behavior, the window for doing so is closing quickly.