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The Pyongyang Playbook

Courtesy Reuters

One persistent misperception about North Korea is that its provocative international behavior is unpredictable. In the last two years alone, North Korea has held four U.S. citizens hostage; fired a long-range missile over Japan; conducted further nuclear testing; and, most recently, torpedoed the South Korean warship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors on board.

In fact, Pyongyang's methods have been remarkably consistent since the early 1960s, when Kim Il Sung, the nation’s founding dictator and its current leader’s father, purged all potential rivals and consolidated power. Its strategy has been to lash out at its enemies when it perceives them to be weak or distracted, up the ante in the face of international condemnation (while blaming external scapegoats), and then negotiate for concessions in return for an illusory promise of peace. Incapable of competing with economically flourishing South Korea, the North can rely only on military and political brinkmanship to

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