The latest spat between North Korea and South Korea. May have raised tensions in the area but it is difficult to believe that it will lead to war.

From the point of view of the West, the stakes involved in confronting the North Koreans appear to be too high. The Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement is some sort of nuclear conflict triggered by threatening an unstable and unpredictable regime. Faced with this WATNA the West is going to continue to pursue a negotiated settlement of the current tensions, however elusive that may be.

And what of the North Koreans? Do they really want to precipitate a war? I think not. Their bombardment of a South Korean Island has all the hallmarks of being aimed at a negotiation with their own population, rather than a genuinely aggressive move against their neighbour. If you were a paranoid one-party dictatorship, going through a leadership transition, wouldn’t it be convenient to create the spectre of a foreign threat? Wouldn’t that perceived threat be helpful in encouraging the local population to rally around the new leadership rather than focusing to carefully on any misgivings they might have about the leasdership transition to the current dictator’s son?

The bombardment and the predictable strong reaction against it by the West gives the North Korean leadership extra authority. “Authority” is an acknowledged source of bargaining power in any negotiation, and the North Korean leadership knows how to create it. This feels like another re-run of their favourite movie….