Published in the Globe and Mail, April 12, 2013
A curious dynamic has seized the world in the past week concerning the latest iteration of North Korea’s ongoing game of blackmail by brinkmanship. The North, a failed state by any definition, regularly trots out ridiculous threats against everyone around it – threats which would surely result in its own rapid destruction if they were carried out (though many lives would be lost on all sides, to be sure). It relies on a carefully cultivated sense that it is not quite rational. The international community rushes in to provide incentives to persuade Pyongyang to back down, which it pockets and then ratchets up the pressure again after a while to extract more.
The latest round of all this is regarded as particularly important in that a new leader is trying his hand at the game, after we had hoped he might be different from his father and grandfather before him. He has gone somewhat further than his predecessors in terms of threats and bluster and it is not clear if he has left himself an off-ramp. The world’s media have rushed to the scene to cover the “crisis.”
Reports have now surfaced that at least one arm of America’s sprawling intelligence empire believes that the North may have miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile – though the reliability of such a weapon would be doubtful and America’s other intelligence agencies do not agree with this assessment. Notably, the report was deliberately leaked by a Senator known to be a proponent of increased spending on missile defences.
We are now faced with a situation in which the consensus of the chattering class seems to be gelling around the idea that the North will test a missile at some point in the next few days – which would be seen as a particularly…
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