What does North Korea really want? Its playbook offers clues

Threatening to fire a volley of missiles toward a major U.S. military hub — and the home to 160,000 American civilians — may seem like a pretty bad move for a country that is seriously outgunned and has an awful lot to lose.

But pushing the envelope, or just threatening to do so, is what North Korea does best.

By announcing a plan to send four “Hwasong-12” intermediate range missiles over Japan and into waters near the Pacific island of Guam, Pyongyang has significantly upped the ante despite threats from U.S. President Donald Trump.

The North has made it clear Kim Jong Un still has to sign off on the plan and give the execution order. But it says it could be ready to go within days — or just before the U.S. and South Korea are set to begin their annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian military maneuvers.

So what, ultimately, is Pyongyang trying to accomplish?

A lot of things, actually.

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FIRST, BUILD UP THE CRED

North Korea sees the United States as an existential threat.

It knows that if it is going to be taken seriously, it needs to have a credible military deterrent. Its strategy for years, if not decades, has been to attain that by building long-range missiles that can carry nuclear warheads to targets on the U.S. mainland. It’s not good enough just to claim to have that capability — it must be demonstrated.

Successful tests provide the data needed to make technical advances and valuable training for ground troops. They also dispel doubts about whether those…

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