As anticipated for some time, the government of North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile despite U.N. Security Council demands that Pyongyang's leaders "not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology."
This, the second long-range ballistic missile test launch this year, appears to have been more successful than North Korea's four earlier such tests, dating back to 1998, and it is clearly a setback to already stalled efforts to curb North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons ambitions.
Appropriately enough, Pyongyang's missile test has already been condemned by key international leaders. The U.N. Security Council will issue a statement, and the United States and allies will consider still tougher sanctions against the already isolated regime.
But the name, shame, and sanction approach has been tried before by the Obama administration and, at times, by the George W. Bush administration with little effect.
Kim Jong Il and his son, 29-year-old strongman Kim Jong Un, have shown they are more than willing to push forward with costly and counterproductive missile and nuclear programs while the vast majority of North Korea's people suffer and the country's international isolation deepens.
The latest missile launch is, in part, an effort to build internal support for Pyongyang's new leader and distract the North Korean people from the grinding poverty, food shortages, and economic stagnation that affects all but a few of the country's elite. The South Korean defense ministry said it believed that the purpose of the launch was to show that Kim Jong Un's regime is in "firm control and stable." It is also most likely an attempt to improve the North's position in any future negotiation with Washington and other members of the Six-Party Talks.
Ed Royce, a Republican from California and incoming chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a Dec. 11 statement, "I've been calling for a North Korea policy with energy, creativity and focus. Instead, the Obama Administration's approach continues to be unimaginative and moribund. We can either take a different approach, or watch as the North Korean threat to the region and the U.S. grows."
He's right. President Obama's policy of "strategic patience" has failed to seize fleeting diplomatic opportunities and has, unsurprisingly, not worked. It's time to make a mid-course adjustment by resuming earlier efforts to negotiate curbs on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, and imposing further sanctions to affect Pyongyang's bargaining calculus.
The Unha-3, a liquid-fueled three-stage rocket carrying an observation satellite, was launched just before 10 a.m. Korean time on Dec. 12. Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency announced shortly after the launch that the third stage of the missile, also known as the Taepo Dong-2, had lifted the payload into orbit.
Around the same time, the North American Aerospace Defense Command issued a statement saying that it had detected and tracked the missile and that it had deployed an object that "appeared to achieve orbit."
No matter whether the latest test was entirely successful or not, it has provided North Korean technicians with valuable new information. It is a significant technical accomplishment that only 10 other countries have achieved.