The threat of war on the Korean peninsula does not stem from North Korean irrationality or implosion, as often presumed. The true danger lies in the crystallization of conditions under which Pyongyang could calculate war as an entirely 'rational' course of action, even if victory were impossible. The more the North Korean leadership frames today'. situation as a losing one, the greater the danger of pre-emptive attack grows. The successful strategy for the USA and South Korea is one that avoids situations in which the DPRK sees belligerence as the 'rational' option, even if there is little hope of victory. Containment and isolation only exacerbate the North's motives for striking first. Conditional engagement reduces such incentives by giving Pyongyang a stake in the status quo and raising the benefits of peace. Engagement answers the aims of both the hawks and the doves in the US political establishment and is, by default, the best policy for dealing with North Korea.