So imagine if it was Iran or Libya or Syria doing what South Korea does, but they were doing it to the U.S. or an American ally? Would we simply back off and give into their demands? Would any nation? Or would we give it as good as we got?
Again, we're not trying to excuse the North's dangerous behavior and flouting of international laws, but it's worth considering the possibility that some of South Korea's actions might be playing right into the North's hands. If you want to look tough, to convince your own people and the world community that you can't be bullied, doesn't it help to have useful bully to push back against? Why remind the "young lad" that he needs to prove himself and then give him the prefect opportunity to do so?
Some North Korea watchers seem to agree that some of the South's action have been less than helpful. One of the most prominent North Korea-obsessed news sites, NKNews.org, asked three experts for their thoughts on the matter and all seem to agree that it's not simply a matter of the North flying off the handle. Michael Madden, who writes the NK Leadership Watch blog, isn't defending North Korea, but he certainly isn't excited about the South's responses to them, either.
South Korea has engaged in military drills that are every bit as hostile and provocative to the North, as anything the Korean People’s Army has done. So this appears to be more tit-for-tat than anything.
So why would the U.S. and the South antagonize the North? For starters, there's an argument to be made that escalation of tensions, short of an actual shooting war, is good for the United States. It provides a convenient excuse to bolster its military presence in Asia, which mean a closer alliance with (or more cynically, control over) South Korea and Japan, while also pushing back against China. (This current show of force is as much for Beijing's benefit as it for Pyongyang.) It makes the argument that the U.S. needs troops on the ground overseas and fancy weapons systems from government contractors to arm them with. As another North Korea watcher, Leonid Petrov, puts it, "North Korea is a convenient enemy — intimidating but weak, irrational but predictable." In other words, North Korea allows the Americans to flex muscle without actually having to throw a punch.
Even if the South's provocation is not intentional, some of their words and actions have driven the North to intensify the nasty rhetoric in return. Madden says the American bomber flights were a miscalculation that forced the North to respond in kind. And the more experienced leaders in Washington and Seoul probably should have anticipated that. These are two nations that been in a 60-year-military standoff that is littered with previous assaults and many actual deaths, even after the Korean War was supposed to have ended. Perhaps Southerns are so used to it that don't see the problem,