A friend mentioned that rather than the cycle of provocation that Andrei Lankov recently described, the north's provocation strategy is more like a Ponzi scheme and that got me thinking about the famed Linda Robinson question (used in another context of course - Iraq) "Tell me how this ends?"
Ponzi scheme is a good one. The problem now is that the north has a demonstrated (though nascent) nuclear capability (of which everyone seems deathly afraid) with a growing missile capability. While up through Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il their capabilities were conventional and asymmetric in many ways, they really did not have a significant nuclear capability until the very end of Kim Jong-il's lifetime. I would be less worried if Kim Jong-il were still alive because while we would still be seeing the same provocations and bellicosity I think he had a potentially better grip on reality and how far he could go (though of course he really pushed the limits in 2010 and this is the problem with the Ponzi framework laid out - Kim Jong-un seemingly has to do something worse).
However, I think for now though the near term end game might be to try to solidify the north as a nuclear power (de facto). I am leaning toward the scenario of a Musadan missile test launch around April 15 (Kim Il-sung's birthday) toward the end of the ROK/US joint exercises. Then the propaganda narrative that because of the strength of the north Korean military and its nuclear might the ROK and US were forced to deploy their most sophisticated weapons systems to try to stand up to the north and and when they fired their Musadan missile it brought the Alliance to its knees and the ROK and US ended their provocative exercises. It will be interesting to see if the combined counter-provocation plan will deter them somewhat from a direct "kinetic" provocation against ROK territory but of course that type of provocation remains a real possibility. But the north is probably trying to assess what type of provocation they think will bring the US to the negotiating table and they are probably leaning toward a test vice a strike. But they are going to come at us with negotiations for mutual disarmament or reduction talks now that they have a nuclear capability and they will not come to the table to solely negotiate about their nuclear program.