North Korea’s nuclear program, some analysts believe, is designed to halt an American invasion by first striking nearby United States military bases and South Korean ports, then by threatening a missile launch against the United States mainland. While North Korea does not yet have this ability, analysts believe it will within the next decade.
This is the culmination of North Korea’s rationality, in something known as desperation theory. Under this theory, when states face two terrible choices, they will pick the least bad option.
In North Korea’s case, that means creating the conditions for a war it would most likely lose. And it could mean preparing a last-ditch effort to survive that war by launching multiple nuclear strikes, chancing a nuclear retaliation for the slim chance to survive.
North Korea’s leaders tolerate this danger because, in their calculus, they have no other choice.
The rest of us share in that risk–vanishingly small, but nonzero–whether we want to or not.
[New York Times]