The dangers involved are now on clear display in the escalating crisis in North Korea as the United States seeks to strike a delicate balance between deterring an unknown adversary and reassuring a nervous ally. What's more, the drama plays out in full view of an international audience, some of whom are watching for clues about the utility of nuclear weapons in the 21st Century.
Wednesday 12 December marked the first successful attempt by North Korea to launch a rocket into space. Calling it a triumph for the year old Administration of Kim Jong - Un, North Korean officials such as Kim Ki-nam have stated that the rocket launch was a Satellite and it's launch was an "independent right" that should not be condemned by the international community.
In short, does he choose the chance of victory but risk his party, or privately concede the result in order to guarantee the unity of his base. It is a difficult judgement call that only he can make - but too many more half-measures and he may end up with the worst of both options, and the comforts of neither.
Leon Trotsky, not someone I usually quote, once said that people may not be interested in politics but politics is often interested in them. British people may be wary of foreign interventions but foreign crises can profoundly affect domestic politics. The suffering that we see every day in Syria won't go away and will have to be addressed, sooner rather than later.