While the origins of this present escalating tit for tat confrontation between the two Koreas goes back to the Korean War of 1950-1953, and the fact only a truce was agreed upon back then. the current danger of conflict has been intensified by geopolitical shifts since 2011, a pivotal year in global history.
As Obama has shifted the focus of US foreign policy towards Asia and containing China, Beijing has become all the more concerned to secure its influence in geopolitically volatile frontier regions as part of its 'One China Policy',from Xinjiang in the West to Manchuria in the Far East.
War would be a disaster for China and South Korea should the North Korean state implode or if it exploded all out into full war. That's precisely why Kim Jong Un ratchets up the threat level because it means China has to make concessions, supply oil and so help preserve the regime from collapse.
For the thinking behind the Obama administration's strategy in Asia is focused on controlling energy supply routes to China by sea or land where possible to as to retain its power political clout in the face of the rising Chinese economic superpower. Beijing fears that while Washington denies 'containment' is the goal.
Joint US-South Korean naval manoeuvres have increased. A controversial new US base at Ganjeong is set to open later in 2015 to advance South Korean control over the Socotra Islands against China and so aid its strategic reach over the oil and gas reserves in disputed maritime waters in the East China Sea.
The Jeju naval base is just 300km from mainland China and contain US Aegis missiles aimed at China. Yoon Yong-taek at Jeju National University states that the base could damage relations with China so “worsening rather than improving national security”. This despite the increased economic ties and trade.
This strategic ambiguity on the part of the US towards China has ensured that the Obama administration has simply neglected the issue of North Korea and its weapons programmes as part of a 'wait and see' approach. It has been far more focused on the Greater Middle East and sorting the nuclear deal with Iran first.
The danger is this has made Beijing more insecure and insistent on shoring up North Korea without restraining it, through fear that regime collapse would create chaos, huge numbers of migrants and an unpredictable instability and war in which South Korea, backed by the US, would advance up to the Chinese border.
North Korean insecurity was heightened when George Bush II made his messianic 'Axis of Evil' speech.The invasion of Iraq in 2003 clearly made Pyongyang even more paranoid about the US threat of military attack. The regime is fixated on nuclear missiles as the one sure last way to survive in power.
Kim Jong Il also developed trade ties with China to provide hard currency to buy off the elites with consumer goods. The creation of a 'selectocracy' continued under Kim Jong Un, who is said to look more like his grandfather Kim Il Sung and promise a return to the relatively better times of the 1960s and 70s.
Consequently, the economic downturn in China, plunging commodity prices, the fall in Chinese investments and 'tourism',and so diminished earnings, directly threatens the regime in Pyongyang. But China lacks the leverage over the nuclear weapons issue because it is forced to prop up North Korea.
Kim Jong Un may have calculated that escalating the crisis to the point just short of all out war is the last strategy left to ensure China does not pull the plug on the regime. Drought has dried up the supply of water to North Korea's hydroelectric power plants. Climate change is set to ensure this is a recurring phenomenon.
The terrible danger is that the crisis does in fact escalate into an actual war. It should not be understimated how North Korea's military elite are even more paranoid versions of the Soviet elites who, back in 1983, were convinced the US was about to launch an all out war against them as Hitler had in 1941.
With the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War Two in Asia being commemorated and China aligning closer with South Korea for economic reasons, the elites, indoctrinated with the idea Kim Il Sung alone had to forge the state out of a war against fascist enemies and treacherous Chinese, will be edgy.
It is often forgotten that the US bombing in the Korean War devastated the north. Bruce Cumings inThe Korean War : A History cites the appalling scale of the destruction. Pyongyang 75% destroyed, Sariwon 95%, Sinanju 100%. Fear of South Korea and the US is not based only on propaganda.
China and the US are not co-operating enough to find a diplomatic solution to the problem of North Korea, a regime which could very soon be in the process of 'regime collapse' should the Chinese economy go into full recession. A global slump could raise tensions further in the region as in the 1930s.
Across East Asia, growing nationalism, historical animosities, struggles for control over oil and an accelerating arms race threaten the looming possibility of conflict. The fate of North Korea, if badly managed, could be a flashpoint that triggers off a wider sense of insecurity and set the course for a wider war.