Still, the idea of essentially bribing North Korea not to cause trouble has become part of Washington’s playbook since a 1994 deal that dismantled Pyongyang’s weapons-grade nuclear energy program in exchange for substantial energy and food aid from Japan, South Korea and the U.S. "We may be buying them off, but that’s the cheapest thing we can do at the moment," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "Even if we were to send troops and threaten them, that would be unlikely to ease tensions. And the money does influence them." In these wacky post-Cold War times, it seems, one way for states short of funds and friends to get invited back to the party is simply to act a little crazy.
Memo to Moscow: Want a bit of cash for those depleted Kremlin coffers? It's easy — just dust off the missile silos. The U.S. Monday announced a new breakthrough with North Korea, after the two sides agreed at talks in Berlin that Pyongyang would suspend missile tests in exchange for Washington's moving to ease economic sanctions on the impoverished communist state. Thus far, North Korea has agreed only to refrain from firing another missile while talks last, but observers believe it’s the first step toward a comprehensive agreement to end the missile program in exchange for economic assistance. And extortion may have actually been the objective of North Korea’s missile rattling. "They keep cranking up their threat as high as it can go and we keep paying, so why shouldn’t they?" says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson.