This is the most dangerous flashpoint in the world, so every word that a president speaks about North Korea is usually carefully crafted and vetted with the Secretary of Defense, with the Secretary of State. Frankly, we would preview any new language with our allies. And clearly it seems, in this case, that none of that happened.
His provocations and weapons programmes ensure regime security and stoke nationalism in order to help shore up his domestic legitimacy. At the expert level, I think this is widely understood, but for the general public, the idea that someone would choose a path of such extreme isolation and poverty for their country is hard to fathom, and may seem crazy.
In the near-term, the triggering point for increased tensions might be foreign policy driven – a hardening of positions on North Korea or a maritime incident. Or it could come from the U.S. taking punitive economic measures such as barring China’s exports. Whether such events might lead to more serious conflicts or sensible minds agreeing on a path that will allow the Asia region to remain stable and prosper remains to be seen.