Governments and news centers have reacted with caution to North Korea's most recent missile launching and nuclear tests, but Asian BYU-Hawaii students said they aren't worried about the sword rattling because it’s been happening for a long time.
Mijin Jang, a senior from South Korea majoring in accounting, said, "We know the purpose of their missile provocations are because they want attention.”
Rodger Jin, a senior from South Korea majoring in biology, said, “I don’t think anything will actually happen."
Political Science Professor Rand Blimes explained these students’ feelings with a surfing analogy. He said, “The first time you ever go out in the water to surf you’re worried about sharks. By the hundredth time you’re not as worried about sharks. You’ve surfed a 100 times and you haven’t had your foot bitten off yet. You know in theory something could happen, but it goes in the back of your head."
Jang added, “They need more funds and attention from the international community, and sometimes the political parties in South Korea and Japan use the North Korean regime to facilitate their interests so they can swerve attention away from their internal political situations.
"They all have a mutual interest. North Korea needs funds and the political parties have their interest by gaining internal power."
The purpose of North Korea's provocations isn't to start any wars, said Blimes, but to receive international aide.
Blimes explained North Korea's tactics with an analogy from now-deceased economist Thomas Schelling of two people sitting in a small row boat in the North Sea off the Alaskan coast. One person threatens the other. If they don't transfer all their money to the other’s bank account, they'll flip the boat. Blimes said this would never happen because of self preservation.
He explained North Korea’s current situation being in the boat, but instead of threatening to flip the boat, they rock the boat.
"Now while I'm rocking the boat, I'm not trying to flip us over," said Blimes. "I don't want to die, but when I rock it I increase the likelihood of an accident and we both die, so North Korea has been doing this for a long time. They pretty much make their international living off of rocking the boat.
“Things are tense and when things are tense accidents can happen, wars can start, maybe even nuclear bombs can fall, so they rock the boat. They launch missiles… make a lot of threats and they rock the boat and then expect the international community will do things. People say, 'come on guys stop rocking the boat, what are you guys doing?' And that's what they do."
Jin added, "If North Korea does something, every South Korean knows America is going to attack North Korea, so Kim Jong-un would be gone."
According to Blimes, the United States is allied with South Korea and Japan. This means the two countries fall underneath the United States nuclear umbrella, meaning if North Korea were to launch a nuclear attack against either nation, the U.S. response would be the launching of nuclear weapons at North Korea.
Blimes explained, "The U.S. doctrine is if you launch one nuke at us, our goal is to completely destroy you. That's a deterrent threat because you realize if I blow up Tokyo then my country is completely gone, so they never blow up Tokyo. The idea is you make a deterrent so war never happens.
"War is always a cost-benefit analysis. What can I gain out of this war and what will it cost me? Nuclear war means you're completely destroyed so you ask 'what is there that could possibly be worth that much?' So you always pick ‘not war.’"
Yoshito Miura, a sophomore from Japan majoring in supply chain, said she is not as passive about North Korea's launching of missiles, two of which have passed directly over Japan.
"These tests mean nothing but a threat to us," said Miura. "It's scary because it's a test, so there is a possibility to hit Japan when they meant to aim the missile to the Pacific Ocean.
"I still don't know the best response to this. People who are smarter than me will come up with a great idea."
Blimes said President Donald Trump's administration’s "mixed signals" towards North Korea are a possibility for why Japan and South Korea may become more self-sufficient in their nuclear defense.
Jang said, "It's getting a little bit worrisome, because it's not only the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, who is a little crazy, but also the American president. Both of them are confronting each other and we don’t know what will happen, if they actually fight each other. There is some uncertainty we have, which we haven’t experienced until recently."
The situation is further complicated by the regional ambitions of China, who is the main actor in the region, explained Blimes.
Blimes described how China does not support North Korea’s actions, but the alternative of a U.S. military presence on their southern border is worse than the current underdeveloped nation.
Taylor Lam, a senior from Hong Kong majoring in accounting, said, "[The Chinese] think they are foolish to make these moves with the missile testing. It is nonsense because why [would you] provoke America so much."
Lam mentioned Trump's demand for Chinese pressure on North Korea and how China did nothing. "The reason why is China and North Korea are partners," said Lam. "If we wanted, we could take them down right now with one button. Now we are trying to use softer tactics to resolve this peacefully."
Blimes said, "North Korea is more important to China than it is to the U.S. and when you really tangle with somebody, the one who wins is the one to whom the thing is most important to."
"If you try to come up with any East Asian solution that China is not a partner, then it's not going to work."