Michael Parenti offers his projection on the thinking that motivates North Korea and its nuclear threats:
The Pyongyang leadership seems to know something about US global policy that our own policymakers and pundits have overlooked. In a word, the United States has never attacked or invaded any nation that has a nuclear arsenal.
The countries directly battered by US military actions in recent decades, along with numerous other states that have been threatened at one time or have one thing in common: not one of them has wielded a nuclear deterrence--until now.
In December 2001, two months after 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney referred chillingly to "forty or fifty countries" that might need military disciplining. A month later in his 2002 State of the Union message, President Bush pruned the list down to three especially dangerous culprits: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, who, he said, composed an "axis of evil."
Rather than passively await its fate sitting in Washington's crosshairs, nation #3 on the US hit list is trying to pack a deterrence. From its lonely and precarious perch the North cannot help feeling vulnerable. Consider the intimidating military threat it faces. The DPRK's outdated and ill-equipped army is no match for the conventional forces of the United States, South Korea, and Japan. The United States maintains a large attack base in South Korea. As Paul Sack reminds us in a recent correspondence to the New York Times, at least once a year the US military conducts joint exercises with South Korean forces, practicing a land invasion of the DPRK. The US Air Force maintains a "nuclear umbrella" over South Korea with nuclear arsenals in Okinawa, Guam, and Hawaii. Japan not only says it can produce nuclear bombs within a year, it seems increasingly willing to do so. And the newly installed leadership in South Korea is showing itself to be anything but friendly toward Pyongyang.
The DPRK's nuclear arsenal is a two-edged sword. It can deter attack or invite attack. It may cause US officials to think twice before cinching a tighter knot around the North, or it may cause them to move aggressively toward a confrontation that no one really wants.