IT was the 57th birthday of Kim II Sung, Premier of North Korea. The downed U.S. Navy aircraft and the 31 American victims were in a way a grim birthday present from his own armed forces. Some analysts believe that he requested the present—that he issued instructions for another incident at the right moment, a sort of flying Pueblo. What makes Kim and his regime act that way?

Partly it is opportunism. Kim understands what might be called "Small-Power Power." Minor countries can now act recklessly toward each other or major nations because, given...

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