By all appearances, North Korea’s Kim Jong-il is a dictator in a hurry.

“North Korea has positioned its most sophisticated long-range ballistic missile at a launch site for a test firing that could come within weeks,” the Los Angeles Times reports from Seoul, citing a South Korean newspaper account.

So no sooner did Kim’s repressive regime observe Memorial Day weekend by detonating a nuclear device underground than it began to get ready above ground to test-launch another long-range missile.

It would be just Kim’s style to go for maximum drama by test-firing a missile or missiles June 16 — when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington.

Among Kim’s obvious goals is for Pyongyang to be able to threaten Washington and other major American cities with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) armed with nuclear warheads.

For now, that remains a future threat. But, as this chart shows, the consequences of just one such missile strike – on Seattle – include nearly 80,000 dead and 42,000 wounded in the initial 48 hours.

Pyongyang’s recent activities “underscore the critical need for America to develop and deploy a missile defense system,” Bruce Klingner, Heritage’s expert on North Korea, writes in outlining concrete steps the U.S. should take to counter Kim.

Dong-a Ilbo, a newspaper in Seoul, first reported the expected launch likely involves a version of the Taepodong-2 rocket fired by Pyongyang in April — and theoretically capable of reaching Alaska if not Seattle.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reacted by saying he may not continue to recommend deep cuts in the still-developing missile defense program if North Korea keeps up such belligerence.

In a visit Monday to the Missile Defense Complex at Fort Greeley in Alaska, the Associated Press reports, Gates said:

If anything, I think what the North Koreans have done has won more adherence to the importance of our having at least a unified missile defense capability.”

Evidence of a new realism setting in? After all, President Obama has said he remains skeptical of missile defense technology, despite a high success rate in U.S. military tests. That technology, if deployed in full, could render obsolete what Klingner calls “the dangerously inadequate policy choices of pre-emption or retaliation.”

As Peter Brookes, Heritage national security expert, observed in the New York Post about Kim’s nuke show over the Memorial Day weekend:

The threat that a North Korean nuke could reach us is on the horizon. We don’t know how distant that horizon is, but it appears to have moved closer.”