North Korea successfully launched a missile early Wednesday—a big step toward achieving the capability to hit targets in the United States.

Under the transparent public cover story of a satellite launch, North Korea tested a missile that is the same as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Even though the missile was not armed, the launch violates U.N. Security Council resolutions.

And the country has been claiming that it is close to arming this type of missile with a nuclear warhead that could reach U.S. territory.

Bruce Klingner, Heritage’s Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia, wrote this morning that “The international community must take firm action against North Korea’s provocative act.”

The U.N. Security Council will consult on the launch today, and Klingner says the U.S. should submit a new resolution that “allows for enforcement by military means. This would enable naval ships to intercept and board North Korean ships suspected of transporting precluded nuclear, missile, and conventional arms, components, or technology.” This would be in addition to other sanctions:

Washington should lead the charge for more comprehensive international sanctions against Pyongyang as well as the banks, businesses, and countries that facilitate North Korean nuclear and missile proliferation. The U.S. should also work with its allies toward a comprehensive integrated missile defense network in Asia.

As Klingner notes, coordinating the response with the United Nations will be a challenge for Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., who has been in the hot seat since her media appearances on the Benghazi terrorist attack. She has been rumored a favorite of President Obama’s for Secretary of State in his second term. One of Rice’s main problems will be the Administration’s China policy, Klingner explains, because “Beijing has been the principal roadblock to meaningful action. China blocked any meaningful U.N. action in 2010 in response to North Korea’s two acts of war against South Korea and Pyongyang’s unveiling of a uranium enrichment facility.”

North Korea’s aggression should drive home the necessity of robust missile defense systems for the U.S. and South Korea. Klingner says:

The United States should encourage South Korea to deploy a multilayered missile defense system. This system should be interoperable with a U.S. regional missile network to provide for a more coherent and effective defense of allied military facilities and the South Korean populace. The U.S. should also encourage Seoul to engage in trilateral missile defense cooperation and exercises with the U.S. and Japan.

>>> 33 Minutes: The time it could take for a missile to hit the U.S.

The international community will be watching closely. While the missile launch was timed to mark important dates in North Korea—the December 17 anniversary of the death of previous leader Kim Jong-il and the ascension to power of new leader Kim Jong-un—it will also have broad effects in the region, as both Japan and South Korea have national elections in just a few days.

It is clear that the young leader Kim Jong-un is taking an aggressive stance toward the rest of the world. The international response should be just as clear.


North Korean Missile Launch Challenges U.S. Foreign Policy by Bruce Klingner

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