North Korea has proved this week yet another time that it is the worst, and most dangerous, actor on the international stage. It escalated a tense situation by using its artillery to fire on South Korean territory. South Korea fired back, and we can only hope that will conclude the actual use of armaments, instead of just aggressive posturing (the US and S. Korea were conducting joint maneuvers prior to the gunplay, while the US is maneuvering an aircraft carrier into the area to show its support for South Korea, while North Korea's threats and provocations are just their normal bodily function).
North Korea's dictatorship cares not a whit for its people, but one has to believe its rulers will not seek open, unlimited conflict. While they can cause great damage to South Korea, the response would be complete destruction of their own country, no doubt with a priority placed on wiping out all government and military facilities. It would bring some pleasure to permanently eliminate this ugly blot on the governance of humanity, and I suspect the US has the war plan mapped out in full detail, but the cost to our South Korean allies would be too great, not to mention that it could cause a greater escalation involving North Korea's solitary backer, China.
I don't really believe a regime of sanctions would have much deterrent effect, though denial of the aid this beggar regime usually seeks could be inconvenient (especially to China, who'd have to make up the difference), and a proposal to impose them in the U.N. would be vetoed by China, anyway. Like a dog closed in a room alone that tears up the furniture, North Korea's misbehavior is a plea for attention.
We cannot appease the North Koreans during this period of madness, but we should assure them that if they will only quit acting up we will be willing to meet with them. Of course, they are completely untrustworthy when it comes to their agreements, but if we can get sufficient access for verification, we can once again resume efforts to reduce the harm they cause to the region through their threats and ambitions to produce nuclear weapons.
In a month or so, President Obama could perhaps nominate our state's current governor Bill Richardson to be the point man of our negotiating team. He is one American they are willing to trust--he has a fairly long history of dealing with them, going back to his days as US Ambassador to the U.N.--and Richardson is leaving his job at the end of the year. He's about as popular as a North Korean dictator around these parts right now, but he's an experienced negotiator, discreet, and an ally of President Obama that he could trust.