So, how might this realization alter North Korea’s actions? It’s plausible that, contrary to the logic that maximum pressure will force concessions, the North’s new constraints could persuade Kim that he needs to demonstrate his own resolve and preemptively remind the United States and its allies just how costly an attempt at forced denuclearization or regime change would be. Indeed, Pyongyang’s track record suggests a willingness to raise the stakes during periods of tension and to take lethal action — from the seizure of the USS Pueblo in 1968 to the artillery bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 — when it believes it necessary.
If Kim reaches this conclusion, there are a few options that his regime could consider which U.S. policymakers should prepare now to counter. First, there is the strong possibility of additional missile testing, potentially involving more sophisticated delivery systems and warheads — a standard tactic Kim has employed in recent months to demonstrate his resolve and showcase the North’s newfound technical prowess. I believe the regime is also likely to engage in proportional actions: Recall that when North Korea objected to the release of a Sony film in 2014 that portrayed an assassination attempt on Kim, it responded with a cyberattack on that specific studio. Today, Pyongyang could calculate that it needs to similarly target business interests in South Korea and the U.S. to force an easing of economic sanctions. This would likely be done through a series of cyberattacks against vulnerable commercial targets in both the United States and South Korea, especially banks and key economic infrastructure, but could also involve physical sabotage operations.