North Korea’s asymmetric provocations over the last decades can be classified into two periods: tactical provocations at sea in 1970–1990 and strategic (nuclear) provocations in 2000–2020. What is the logic underlying the North Korean imbroglio? And how does the former period differ from the latter? The first set of provocations was intended to shift the threat imbalance caused by a widening gap in conventional military capabilities into a balance of insecurity, where the weaker North Korean side faced South Korea and the combined ROK–US forces. The second set was intended to shift the balance of insecurity into an imbalance of terror while ensuring that only Pyongyang would be armed with nuclear weapons in the area. The “gray zone” discourse of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (rather than North Korea) ended up bolstering North Korea’s nuclear program, while South Korea intensified only its conventional weapons program.

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