Crippling sanctions are now in place on North Korea. China no longer supports North Korea, they’re even seizing North Korean boats that were docked in China when the sanctions started. Russia has condemned them saying threats to launch nuclear attacks are justifications for pre-emptive attacks against North Korea.
There is speculation that Kim is not in complete control. If he backs down and complies with international demands in order to get sanctions listed he risks being seen as weak and losing his position. If the sanctions stay in place eventually North Korea will collapse, or the army may turn against him when they can’t get paid / fed. If this is true his only remaining move is to launch a small attack of some kind, then back off in return for getting some of the sanctions lifted. This way he could save face while still cooperating with the international community.
Thing his, his “small attack” could easily escalate, South Korea is not going to roll over and ignore an attack, even if the US urges them for restraint thats not certain to happen. I am thinking an attack by a desperate North Korea is likely, within the next six months, once the effects of the sanctions really start to bite.
Also, October Surprise anyone? What effects on the US election would outbreak of war in Korea have? My initial thoughts are that it would help Clinton, none of the GOP candidates seem particular believably strong on plausibility as CiC. Cruz talks strong but a hawkish firebrand is not the person you want in power when dealing with an unstable dictatorship which is known to possess nuclear weapons.