North Korea has threatened a nuclear war if the United States and South Korea continue to cooperate on military exercises and coordinate diplomacy with Japan in seeking to disarm the regime. North Korea has made similar threats in the past and has yet to carry them out. In fact, the recent shelling of civilians and South Korean marines on a border island is one of the most aggressive and open actions North Korea has taken since the end of open conflict between the two Koreas in 1953.
In other words, Kim Jon Il has become a modern day Boy Who Cried Wolf. Unable any longer to garner the attention of the villagers, the Boy has now begun slaughtering a few of his neighbor's flock to gain more attention.
Ever since former Presdient Jimmy Carter offered North Korea food, fuel and other bribes in his supposedly "historic" peace mission, the dictatorship has defied international pressure at every turn. They still developed nuclear weapons. They still export weapons technology. They still attack South Korean military forces. If, say, Canada treated the United States in this manner, the United States would have added about a dozen new northern territories.
The fact is North Korea has no honest interest in nuclear war. Their weapons are defensive in nature: "Don't attack us, or we'll use Nukes! You can't hurt us without setting off nuclear armaggedon!!!" This is because the Koreans know that in any nuclear conflict, they will lose. The United States has technology capable of defending against most missile attacks and enough nuclear weapons to leave a mile-deep crater covering the entire area of what is now North Korea (that's a rough estimate). So North Korea has no interest in starting a nuclear war. Their interest is in getting greater and greater economic and other aid from the developed world so they can continue saber-rattling.
North Korea's economy essentially collapsed many years ago. The nation can't make enough food to sustain itself, as its farmers are barely able to make more than subsistence. While it has the technology to manufacture nuclear weapons, it can't provide electrical power in any significant amount outside of its capital, Pyongyang. In fact, the "Worker's Paradise" has an economy smaller than the state of Idaho's (conversely, South Korea is roughly equivalent to Pennsylvania's economy). The only reason it hasn't politically collapsed is due to international aid, mostly from us. Meanwhile the people of the North live in poverty and Kim Jong Il resides in a palace. The dichotomy between Kim and his subjects is as stark as between Louis XVI and the 18th century Parisian underclass.
The main problem with North Korea is no one knows what the fallout will be if Kim Jong Il's regime collapses. The man has established himself in the minds of the North Koreans as a veritable God. When he dies, no one is quite certain who will take his place (at least one of his sons has stated publicly that he doesn't want the job). So allowing the North to collapse is seen by politicians and diplomats as being just as dangerous as showing force, leaving the Korean Penninsula in a permanent stale-mate.
All of this, of course, is ridiculous. The United States worring about North Korea is like a Kodiak Bear meeting a miniature chihuahua and being frightened of its trembling, nervous yapping.
The United States needs to make a decision: Do we continue to appease Kim Jong Il just because he has nuclear weapons, or do we stand up to a dictator who has no intention of respecting human life? Do we continue to send aid that largely feeds his military machine, or do we take the painful steps necessary to end the suffering of the North Koreans and eliminate the need for the Demilitarized Zone? Do we accept North Korea's saber-rattling as honest, or do we dismiss it as crazed desperation by a lunatic dictator?
In my mind, America must stand on the side of freedom and against appeasement, even if it means destabilizing the Korean Penninsula. Continuing to prop-up a corrupt and oppressive military dictatorship under the idea that it maintains peace is no different than proping up a military dictatorship to hold down the price of oil or to maintain the National Strategic Banana Supply. In the end, it's still suborning evil.