North Korea's Fireworks

While Americans were celebrating Independence Day, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, with a potential range that some experts estimate could reach the United States. As The Wall Street Journal reports in an editorial headlined "The North Korean Missile Crisis":

Tuesday's missile, dubbed the Hwasong-14, has an estimated range of 6,700 kilometers, which puts Alaska within range. America's lower 48 states may still be out of reach, but the test shows the North has overcome most of the obstacles to a long-range missile.

Enough, already. There is no safe way to end the North Korean menace, but the threats from Kim Jong Un's regime are amplifying at a clip that suggests it is even more dangerous to allow the Kim regime to carry on. While the world has watched, for years — and while the United Nations Security Council has passed one sanctions resolution after another — North Korea has not only been carrying out ballistic missile and nuclear tests, but enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium to amass ever more bomb fuel. As the Journal editorial also notes, North Korea by now "has an estimated 20 nuclear warheads as well as chemical and biological weapons."

The threat is not solely that North Korea — well versed in shakedown rackets — could target the U.S. with nuclear-tipped ICBMs, or that North Korea can add nuclear weapons to the massive arsenal with which it has long threatened Seoul.

A further danger is that North Korea could proliferate its advancing nuclear missile technology, or even the weapons themselves, to other rogue states, such as Iran — with which Pyongyang has trafficked and cooperated for decades in missile development, and according to some press accounts (please see my discussion of reporting by Douglas Frantz), in nuclear weapons development as well.

The Pyongyang regime was part of Pakistan's A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network, supplied taboo nuclear-related materials to Qaddafi's Libya, and has a record of proliferating nuclear technology (the clandestine Al-Kibar reactor built with North Korean help in Syria destroyed by a 2007 Israeli air strike). It is alarmingly plausible that when Pyongyang brags up its missile and nuclear tests, the global headlines double as North Korean advertising to actors around the globe who might be interested in North Korea's illicit wares.

A further danger, as long as the Kim regime survives, is that North Korea is setting an example all too likely to encourage other countries to pursue nuclear weapons — whether in self-defense (Japan comes right to mind) or for their own predatory purposes (for instance, Iran). Beyond that, North Korea has been setting an increasingly dangerous example worldwide, for years, of just how far a predatory regime can push the envelope of any civilized world order — and get away with it. If impoverished and bizarre North Korea, with its military and nuclear games of chicken, can force the U.S. to repeatedly blink, what ambitions might that encourage in Moscow and Beijing?