The first thing to say about North Korea is that nobody knows what is really going on there. I instantly mistrust anyone spouting certainties about Afghanistan or North Korea. So how do we judge events like the recent exchange of fire that killed two South Korean Marines? Through the only cracked and dusty lens we have, history.
Since the armistice was signed in 1953 there have not been open, tanks-rolling hostilities. But there have been continual provocations that occasionally flare up. It is informative to note when those flare ups happen. North Korea has been a prison state for decades run by tyrants in a cult of personality. To maintain that you must occasionally flex some muscle for both internal and external audiences. This is especially important when you are about to try and pull off another succession to another underwhelming personality. That is a huge challenge and so an enemy to focus the people on is very helpful, Eurasia, Eastasia whoever. In this case they simply look across the DMZ, because for many of them they have always been at war with South Korea.
The other benefit of saber-rattling is payment of the NorkGeld. That’s right, every time they do this they are usually also in dire need of food, oil and cash. They do a fair business in the arms trade and have dabbled in nuclear proliferation, but they know they will get satchels of cash, barrels of oil, and some rice if they remind us they can make a big mess. So we will soon be partnering with our good friends and owners the Chinese to pay the North Koreans to chill. I assume we will have some questions tied to that new nuke facility, but honestly I doubt we will act strongly against it. Appease and pay ’em off, can’t wait to add the Iranians to that list.