In an article titled, North Korea Will Never Play Nice, B.R Myers begins by distinguishing what is a "provocation" and what is an "act of agression":
WHILE it is cowardly and foolish not to resist an act of aggression, the best way to deal with a provocation is to ignore it — or so we are taught. By refusing to be provoked, one frustrates and therefore “beats” the provoker; generations of bullied children have been consoled with this logic. And so it is that the South Korean and American governments usually refer to North Korea’s acts of aggression as “provocations.”
The North’s artillery attack on a populated South Korean island is now getting the same treatment, with the South’s president, Lee Myung-bak, vowing that Pyongyang will be “held responsible” and that “additional provocative acts” will be punished “several times over.”
There is no reason that North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-il, should take those words seriously.
In fact, I think I also had referred to the attack as a "provocation", albeit the "worst provocation since the Korean War armistice"
Of course, he is right that Kim Jong-il needed take any words of holding anyone responsible seriously. The North Korean regime rarely has to worry about much more than a mild rebuke in the Security Council or largely meaningless sanctions.
But interestingly, he doesn't seem to agree with my own extrapolation of his idea about this attack being related to the succession.
The provocation view of North Korean behavior also distorts our understanding of the domestic situation. Analysts tend to focus too much on the succession issue; they interpret the attack on the island as an effort to bolster the reputation of Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s son and anointed successor. Their conclusion is that North Korea will play nice once the young man is firmly in power.
In fact, I think there is no reason why it couldn't be an act of aggression to bolster Kim Jong-Un's reputation without leading to the conclusion that North Korea will "play nice" later. Myers points out that there has been a serious of increasingly serious acts of agression that the regime sees as necessary to bolster its military-first policies and to legitimise its militaristic rulers but isn't that exactly Kim Jong-Un's problem, right now? That he doesn't have any military credentials to go with his rank of four-star general so these acts might be necessary for the succession?
Well, I concur with his conclusion anyway:
There is no easy solution to the North Korea problem, but to begin to solve it, we must realize that its behavior is aggressive, not provocative, and that its aggression is ideologically built in. Pyongyang is thus virtually predestined to push Seoul and Washington too far, thereby bringing about its own ruin.
The Chinese should take note of this, since their rationalization for continuing to support North Korea derives from the vain hope that they can prop it up indefinitely. The military-first state is going to collapse at some stage; let’s do what we can to make that happen sooner rather than later.