"For Pyongyang, it pays to provoke," Sung-Yoon Lee, Korean Studies professor, The Fletcher School at Tufts University, told CNBC on Monday. "Whereas good behavior buys only indifference from its richer neighbors, being a bad apple buys leverage and billions in aid."
The same countries admonishing North Korea leader Kim Jong Un for nuclear belligerence still shell out large sums of diplomatic aid under the motive of "damage-control diplomacy, i.e. getting the North to back off and stay out of the headlines for a while," Lee said. "Exporting insecurity is [Pyongyang's] time-tested means to reaping concessions."
Over the past quarter-century, the pariah state has amassed $20 billion worth of cash, food, fuel, and medicine from the U.S., Japan, China and South Korea. That's come from "repeated lies of denuclearization," according to Lee, who has testified as an expert witness at U.S. government hearings on North Korea policy.
Pyongyang has often promised to get rid of its nuclear weapons — in 2007, the communist state agreed to disable all nuclear facilities in return for fuel oil or economic aid. Evidently, disarmament never materialized.
More recently, Kim's regime said it was willing to freeze nuclear and missile testing if Washington halts joint military exercises with Seoul.
North Korea has been engaged in a "crafty" cycle in which it commits hostile acts that are typically followed by negotiations and concessions from the international community, explained Lee, who added that he expects "that tired old tale to continue for the foreseeable future."