Denny Roy, a political scientist who studies Asian security issues, told me last fall that North Korea “intentionally employs a posture of seemingly hyper-risk acceptance and willingness to go to war as a means of trying to intimidate its adversaries.”
This puts the world in a quandary: How could any outside threat possibly exceed the risk that North Korea already takes on itself? How could any concession remove the North Korean weakness that drives its behavior?
Basically North Korea is a weak state. Its only leverage is to hold the world hostage and act crazy. Unfortunate, but true.
But this piece reminded me a lot of stuff that John Maynard Smith described in Animal Signals. Sometimes it is the weaker and more vulnerable animals which have to engage in high risk agonistic competition, so that they can show more fit individuals that there is going to be a significant cost in initiating hostilities.
It also reminds me of high school. If you are smaller than average, it is best to make it clear to larger bullies that you won’t be passive. You may lose the fight, but by escalating rapidly you can dissuade a bully from targeting you, as opposed to someone who is more likely to be an easier victim.
Of course, bullies need to be “rational” actors here….