U.S. intelligence agencies are still collecting data from an array of high-tech equipment, but analysts have little doubt that North Korea did detonate a nuclear device yesterday. The Pyongyang regime also test-fired two missiles today despite a U.N. Security Council condemnation of their nuclear test. These actions come just five days after Iran tested a two-stage ballistic missile and just six weeks after North Korea fired their own ballistic missile, the Taepo-Dong-2, which landed 2,390 miles from the launch site.

Since President Barack Obama was sworn in, North Korea has refused to meet with the new administration, rejected six party talks about its nuclear program, kicked U.N. nuclear inspectors out of the country, and restarted a plutonium factory. This rapid pace of provocation shows that Pyongyang is playing a new game. Heritage fellow Bruce Klingner explains:

Previous North Korean tactics were to engage in a slow buildup prior to an escalatory act in order to allow the US and its allies sufficient time to offer new diplomatic or economic inducements to buy Pyongyang back from the brink. On those occasions when North Korea carried out the act, it followed with several months of calm to allow all countries to become accustomed to the new elevated status quo prior to initiating the next lengthy provocation process.

Since the beginning of 2009, however, North Korea has engaged in a series of provocations against the US, South Korea, and Japan without allowing any time for diplomatic outreach. It is evident that Pyongyang is now intent on achieving strategic technological achievements rather than gaining tactical negotiating leverage. As such, North Korea is likely to continue additional missile and nuclear activity during 2009 impervious to naive initiatives such as offering a senior-level presidential envoy for bilateral discussion.

It is becoming clear that North Korea’s true goal is achieving formal recognition as a nuclear weapons state. The United States should:

  1. Continue to develop and deploy a missile defense system to protect the United States and our allies. President Obama slashed missile defense funding by 16%. Congress should restore the $1.4 billion in missile defense funding cut from the budget and state explicitly that it is doing so because defeating missile attacks on the U.S. and its allies is essential now and for the near term.
  2. Demand China and Russia agree to stronger punitive measures in the UN Security Council. Along with South Korea and Japan, the U.S. should cease the charade of praising Beijing’s behavior in the Six Party Talks and instead criticize its obstructionism to carrying out the will of the international community as expressed in two UN resolutions.
  3. Press for additional North Korean as well as foreign companies and government agencies to be added to the UN sanctions list and insist on active enforcement.

This will not be North Korea’s last advancement towards nuclear weapons and their deployment. The need for missile defense is now more apparent than ever.

Quick Hits: