For John, BLUF: It is like when you are young and your younger sibling is trying to provoke you. You want to slug the dear, but that might not be the proper response. Nothing to see here; just move along.
From The Atlantic, by Reporter Uri Friedman, 7 February 2018.
Here is the lede plus one:
How will the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons end? Will Kim Jong Un buckle under pressure and roll back his nuclear program, or will he press forward in completing an arsenal that can threaten the whole world? Will Donald Trump make good on his threats to take military action against the North, or will he focus on deterring Kim from ever using his nukes?There is the long history, at the link embedded above, to the shorter history in the article, but here is the article's conclusion:
It's impossible to answer these questions with certainty. But it's possible to find clues in the historical record. And history suggests that the current crisis is unlikely to devolve into fighting—that the more probable outcome is one or both leaders backing down and reaching a compromise.
Long before North Korea was antagonizing America with missile and nuclear tests, it was seizing American spy ships, downing American planes, and hacking American soldiers to death. In 2007, the Congressional Research Service catalogued well over 100 North Korean provocations against the United States and its allies over the previous 57 years, ranging in severity from the digging of a cross-border tunnel to the invasion of South Korea in 1950. That invasion sparked a three-year war that left millions dead. Since then, however—from the bombing of a South Korean airplane in 1987 to the more recent sinking of a South Korean warship and shelling of a South Korean island in the same year—no North Korean provocation has resulted in a major military conflict.
Donald Trump has argued that episodes such as the Pueblo and EC-121 crises have led the Kim regime to interpret "America's past restraint as weakness"—and that it "would be a fatal miscalculation" for Kim to draw the same conclusions this time around. But Trump nonetheless confronts the same conundrum that Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton all confronted well before North Korea had nuclear weapons. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger, the least-risky military options are insufficient to meet the challenge from North Korea and the sufficient military options are very risky. And even if the military plans are limited, the planners must be prepared for unlimited war on the Korean peninsula. Since the horror of the Korean War, no U.S. leader has been willing to assume those risks. Not yet, at least.My strategic advice to the President♠ is to stick with deterrence and sanctions, but to be ready to support South Korea in any response needed to a provocation. If Kim Jung-un attacks the US or Japan then we should go with a proportional response led by the US.
Regards — Cliff
-2, Sun 4.10
♠ Worth what he paid for it.