The first target of the North Korean missile is, of course, the White House — not literally, but figuratively. Pyongyang’s leaders know that under Barack Obama’s administration, North Korea will drift downward in Washington’s foreign policy agenda — in favor of hotter spots like Afghanistan — and they do not like it. To survive, North Korea has to appear a serious threat. Therefore their message to Washington runs something like this: “Mr. Obama, do not forget: We’re here, we’re dangerous, and we’re defiant — so you had better deal with us and give us some aid and diplomatic concessions.”
Skeptics will argue such blackmail will not work. History does not support this position. In October 2006, North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon. For a while, Washington and other capitals talked about repercussions and “international solidarity.” But few months later, in February 2007, the U.S. dramatically changed its approach — and after years of saber-rattling, chose to resume negotiations with Pyongyang. North Korean leaders believe this change in the U.S. attitude was related to the nuclear test. Therefore, they expect that this time, nothing will come out of the rising wave of diplomatic condemnation. They are probably right.