Bottom line up front: North Korea has a long history of ramping up tensions through various acts of provocation, extracting food, monetary and other aid from South Korea, the U.S. and even China. But the big gambit this time around — the big unknown — is whether President Donald Trump is willing to allow the U.S. to be blackmailed. — JED

North Korea’s episodes of nuclear aggression are typically interpreted as demonstrations of force, but they may actually be generating funds for its cash-strapped economy.

“For Pyongyang, it pays to provoke,” Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korean Studies professor at Tufts University, told CNBC on Monday. “Whereas good behavior buys only indifference from its richer neighbors, being a bad apple buys leverage and billions in aid.”

The same countries admonishing North Korea leader Kim Jong Un for nuclear belligerence still shell out large sums of diplomatic aid under the motive of “damage-control diplomacy, i.e. getting the North to back off and stay out of the headlines for a while,” Lee said. “Exporting insecurity is [Pyongyang’s] time-tested means to reaping concessions.”

Over the past quarter-century, the pariah state has amassed $20 billion worth of cash, food, fuel, and medicine from the U.S., Japan, China and South Korea. That’s come from “repeated lies of denuclearization,” according to Lee, who has testified as an expert witness at U.S. government hearings on North Korea policy.
Source: CNBC