As new nuclear states adjust to the power of their new weapons, they have the potential to behave provocatively. As history shows, they usually probe the limits of their power and test how other international actors respond. These tests have generally occurred in the diplomatic sphere, although there are some cases of limited acts of aggression. In the cases where military aggression occurred, states halted their efforts long before nuclear use would have been triggered.
Seen in this light, North Korea’s current behavior is almost predictable, a textbook example of what should be expected from a new nuclear power.
Lowell Schwartz is a political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and co-author of “The Challenge of Nuclear-Armed Regional Adversaries.”