Meeting threats with threats only feeds the national paranoia in North Korea and gives the regime the rationale for redirecting even more resources away from an already destitute people toward the military.
Further, it reinforces Pyongyang’s argument that the principal factor hampering peaceful development is the longstanding US military presence in the region. The North’s insistence on splitting the US-South Korea alliance endures because the North has nothing else to focus on, nothing that appeals as much to the national psyche of victimization.
The time has therefore come to throw Pyongyang a curve ball and to create new opportunities.
The transition of power in Pyongyang following Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011 and the succession of his son, Kim Jong-un, provides such an opportunity. While little is known about the secretive new leader, we know that his father’s 17 years as “dear leader” were a complete failure. In fact, the elder Kim’s only accomplishment was a fledging nuclear program.
His failures stand out when contrasted with decades of relative success and stability under his father and North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung. But Kim-the-second used the state propaganda apparatus and national paranoia to turn his nuclear ambitions into an instrument of legitimacy for his rule.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that US insistence that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear program before direct talks could resume was met with failure, leading to where we are today.