The new diplomatic reality of North Korea's success
This picture received from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 12, 2012 shows the rocket Unha-3, carrying the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, being monitored on a large screen at a satellite control center in North Korea.
December 13th, 2012
12:04 PM ET

The new diplomatic reality of North Korea's success

By Elise Labott

North Korea's success in launching a satellite into orbit has put the Obama administration on unfamiliar ground, no longer able to dismiss North Korea's efforts as failure but loath to acknowledge its success.

Moreover, beyond its typical response of statements of condemnation and efforts at strengthening sanctions, the U.S. does not seem to have a playbook for curbing North Korea's increasingly threatening behavior.

The U.S. government was braced before the launch, with Asia hands across the U.S. government tracking North Korea's preparations and warning against going through with it. Officials have voiced concern that such a feat would prompt an arms race in East Asia.

"We've been very concerned about their firing this missile, in violation of every international standard and rule," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CNN's Erin Burnett. "It's clear that have one of the reasons we're rebalancing in the Pacific is to deal with the threat from North Korea, and we will. We're prepared to do that. We will respond if we have to."

But now the launch has been completed, the Obama administration seems to be struggling with how to respond. Victor Cha, who holds the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that while Washington is not downplaying the test, the administration is sending the wrong signals by not even issuing a statement after the launch.

Success raises stakes for U.S. missile defense system

Comparing the response to President Obama's strong statements last week warning Syria's president not to use chemical weapons, Cha noted that there was no statement of condemnation from the president. Instead, the White House statement condemning the launch was issued by his press secretary, Jay Carney.

"There here has been an unspoken tendency in the United States to discount these tests as yet another foolish attempt by the technologically backward and bizarre country," Cha wrote in a posting on the group's website. "This is no longer acceptable."

Even as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice pushes the U.N. Security Council for a tough resolution condemning the launch, senior U.S. officials seemed loath to acknowledge that the launch was a success.

North Korea managed for the first time to get through all the stages of sending a satellite into space. But when asked whether the launch was a success, Panetta withheld judgment.

"We're still assessing just exactly what happened here to look at each of the stages and determine whether or not it really was a success," Panetta said in the interview on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront."

No matter the public line, North Korea's launch is a big deal and creates a new strategic reality. Launching a payload into space means it has intercontinental ballistic missile capability with the potential to reach Alaska or Hawaii. North Korea is the first country not aligned with the U.S. to be able to do that, other than the Soviet Union and China.

The Security Council swiftly condemned the launch as a violation of resolutions. In April when North Korea first tried, and failed, to launch a satellite, the council promised to "take action accordingly in the event of a further DPRK launch."

U.S. officials say they are encouraged by statements by Russia and, to a lesser extent, China criticizing the launch, but whether that tough talk translates into tough measures in the Security Council remains to be seen.

Although North Korea has made significant advances in its weapons program, officials say the program is still in its rudimentary stages: about where the U.S. was in the 1960s. Sanctions have worked, and officials say more can be done.

Rice is leading discussions in New York about possible sanctions against North Korea's shipping, insurance and banking sectors. But China, whose support on this is critical, could fail to go along with harsher steps, citing the fact that the launch did not rise to the level of the president himself issuing a statement, observed Cha.

Launch causes worries about nukes, Iran and the Pacific

But even if the U.S. can't get past the Russian and Chinese vetoes in the council, it always has the option of working outside the U.N. system to implement a tough sanctions regime with its allies, similar to the crippling measures the world has imposed upon Iran.

"There will be blood," one senior U.S. official said. "It just depends on how it's drawn."

Yet despite being one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world, North Korea's technology is advancing by leaps and bounds and can still demonstrate success.

Officials say the U.S. expects North Korea to now be working on re-entry devices and miniaturization, necessary to convert a rocket into a missile. But even without those developments, the administration fears that North Korea can already hit the United States with a conventional weapon or worse, a chemical weapon. North Korea's chemical weapons stockpile is among the largest in the world.

"They already have a terrorist weapon that can hit the United States, which is exceedingly concerning. And that is what we are telling the Chinese and Russians," one official said. "There is no question North Korea is moving further to the top of the charts when it comes to foreign policy for the administration. They wanted our attention. And now they have got it."

Yet the same old challenge remains: What can the U.S. do, short of taking military action? The Obama administration was burned when Pyongyang attempted the satellite launch in April, after negotiating the so-called Leap Day deal in which the North agreed to stop nuclear activity at its main facility in Yongbyon, impose a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches and allow international inspectors into nuclear sites. Officials say the White House will be hesitant to negotiate with North Korea again.

Opinion: One small step for Kim Jong Un

In lieu of engaging North Korea, officials and experts said, the U.S. could refocus on containment and strengthening efforts to curb its weapons program. In addition to tightening existing sanctions and examining further ones, the U.S. can intensify measures to curb North Korean procurement of sensitive technology, including the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led effort to stem the illicit trafficking of weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems. Close to 100 countries are members of the program.

Moreover, U.S. officials say it's important to get North Korea, and indeed the world, to understand that Washington and Pyongyang are not the only two players in this game. In a globalized world, it's neither possible nor fair for one country to shoulder the security burden, the officials explain.

"There has to be common cause," one senior official said. "Everyone has an interest in Asia, which is now the engine of the world's economic growth. These BRIC economic powers - Brazil, Russia, India and China - out there need to care, because this is coming to affect a market near them."

soundoff (47 Responses)
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  3. Nick

    What you guys don't realize is that it takes an enormous amount of thrust to get into space regardless of it being 100 miles upward. Less fuel is expended from the rocket within the atmosphere and having a successful 3 stage rocket easily puts the United States within range of their rockets. They would simply adjust fuel/ignition ratios and boom, california is hit with nerve gas or worse, nuclear missiles. Even worse if they can figure out how to get to space and reenter above the United States.

    December 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  4. br8302

    nice to see North Korea focusing on space rather than food or electricity for its people

    December 14, 2012 at 9:29 am | Reply
    • RealistReckoner

      Nice to see US spend $$$ on Mars, while there is hunger in USA.

      December 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  5. Nick

    You do realize space is a lot closer to NK than California is? Space is approximately 100 miles up give or take, distance between Cali and NK is almost 6000 miles. I don't see why your so worried about a rockett that just made it to space and may have even failed to fire the 3rd stage. They are so many years away from having an ICBM that can reach 6000 miles its not even funny, not to mention they are still years away from having the tecnology to be able to make a nuke package small enough to fit on a rocket. Stop buying into the fear campaigns

    December 14, 2012 at 7:22 am | Reply
  6. larry5

    North Korea had better be careful. If they keep this up Obama is going to issue a "naughty, naughty" proclamation. And you have to have some sympathy for China. Can you imagine how much trouble they went to to make sure this launch didn't end up in another fireworks display? If I were a Chinese engineer I don't know if I could put up with the chubby and cranky little kid looking over my shoulder. That would be almost as bad as having to listen to Obama or Panetta talking about how the launch although not a failure was not a success, either. For me, I can't wait to see with North Korea comes up with, next.

    December 14, 2012 at 6:42 am | Reply
  7. Gunner

    I think America is sick, why cann't it concentrate on its home affairs than spending usesless time looking at what Nk is doing. NK has a right to excersise its rights like any other nation. Remember the person who aided NASA to develop a satelite in US was a german. Does US want to be like Hitler. Remember the power is shifting from u to ASIA and wait one day u will be powerless in the eyes of all nations.

    December 14, 2012 at 1:47 am | Reply
    • Lou

      No..America is not sick..its extremely diffcult to focus on our own homeland affairs and problems when our own neighbors are running wild and creating problems for us. Take this example you are remodeling your own house and fixing leaking pipes inside your house (focusing on your own problem)...and your house is surrounded by heavily density trees, it happens to be on a hot and dry day that your neighbor is experimenting with a long lasting flammable compounds outside which poses risks of burning down the trees and ulimately your beloved home...he has continued to do so despite many warnings from you..what would u do? Wait for the house/trees to get burned down or take actions to prevent this from happening? So is America sick? I think not. I think it is doing the next most logical thing one would do. Do u feel safe sleeping tonight? If so..then u should be grateful for what America is doing..if not..well, take a sleeping pill and hush.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:08 am | Reply
      • Nick

        You do know NK is not your neighbour right? Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. Your an idiot

        December 14, 2012 at 6:59 am |
      • Mike Michael


        December 14, 2012 at 7:14 am |
      • Lou

        Nick sounds like u enjoy calling people idiots. u should take a long look at yourself in the mirror. We all are neighbors since we all live on this planet. look the word "neighbor" up...idiot.

        December 14, 2012 at 7:39 am |
      • Alex279

        Lou, Thought Nick may sound not polite, but he is basically right in this context.

        As for word "neighbour" this is just the correct British spelling of this word. There is nothing wrong here.

        December 15, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • J.C.

      How dare you commend this disgusting oppressive regime, North Korea has allowed millions of their own citizens to starve. You are a terrible person to think that this country is worth any respect. People like you allowed Hitler to murder his own civilians, the north korean regime must be stopped and people like you should be silent because your opinion is so appalling that is not worth hearing. How dare you support a government that has starved millions of its own people! You should be ashamed and I have no respect for you.

      December 14, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
    • Alex279

      Well, see what happened in school yesterday. A gunmen show up in schools/colleges/universities and kill people randomly. Not a single year has passed without this kind of event. Remember Columbine? What about summer 2012? Is it still fresh in memory. Or it is in too distant past to remember? US is definitely sick. Focus on internal problems and stop offering that crack cocaine called "democracy" to others.

      December 15, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  8. RLTJ's

    UN provision against development of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles simply does not hold water. A hole big enough for one to pass, is big enough for all.

    December 13, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  9. Skipper Sam

    Trusting North Korea, is kinda like trusting your neighbor's 6 year old kid, with a loaded gun, in his own back yard.

    Sure the police could take him down in a shoot out, but do we have to wait until he shoots someone first ?

    December 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Reply
    • Jimi

      Trusting nk is like clapping with one hand!

      December 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Reply
  10. Rico

    Bible prophecy, can't stop it. Not saying I'm happy about everyone getting nuclear bombs but we were warned.

    December 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Reply
    • Nick

      Your an idiot

      December 14, 2012 at 7:01 am | Reply
    • J.C.

      Your are an stupid, evil, disgusting person for wishing and looking forward to the end. Your more than welcome to get killed in holy wars, but as for me i wish to stay out of your bs, religious, ficional, self-fulfilling prophecy. Keep us rational people out of your self destruction

      December 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  11. trex

    .......Way to GO, if anything nuclear bad happens to us, get a new volcano where your capital was.

    December 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  12. Lou

    The Obama adm. has done nothing but constantly send out formal warnings to countries like Iran and N. Korea, they have done this a total of 47 times and no actions have been taken. Dont u think its obviously that they arent taking our warnings seriously abd laughing at every warning we send them. My dad once told me..u cannot tap people on the shoulder and ask them kindly to no..u have to hit them with a selder hammer and then surely they will listen. US has to take actions to show the seriousness of their warnings. They need to know we are not going to stand idle by and wait for a nuclear 9/11 to happen before we take actions. We need to take the Israelis policy as an example. Abide by our warnings or live with the consquence

    December 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Reply
    • Man in the Mirror

      Do you really hear what you're saying? One just needs to ask why so many countries hate the US.
      They are bullies and impose their morals and values onto other countries and its culture.

      Last time I checked the US doesn't OWN space, neither does the UN. Plus how can the media mix up a Rocket (to launch a satellite) mixed up with a Missile?! And for the record, US was the only country to ACTUALLY use nuclear weapons on another country in history of mankind.

      December 13, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Reply
      • Lou

        No im not hearing what im deaf (seriously). I dont think its a matter of us imposing morals and value upon others...i do know that its a matter of us protecting ourselves..and unfortuntely our interests as well...and we do it very well is why other countries hate us so much. The NK launching a satelite isnt the problem..its what they will use their launching technologies for in the not too distant future. A nuclear bomb perphas? Chemical bombs? With vx nerve gas..u spasm so bad that you break your own back..pretty huh? I think not and rather prevent them from acquiring such technologies. hmmm?

        December 14, 2012 at 1:06 am |
      • Mike Michael

        Great! Except that the US is not imposing 'morals and values'; it couldn't impose what it doesn't have, it's just a bully.

        December 14, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  13. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    "Peace Through Strength"
    –President Ronald Reagan
    I was never a fan of Chamberlain, and this is a time to focus on guns, not butter.

    December 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
    • Jason

      Peace through strength. That almost sounds like N Korea is practicing that philosophy

      December 13, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  14. Ghette Jones

    You know what ? Sometimes I'm sick of America calling others crazy because they want THE Bomb .Umm America is the only country crazy enuff to have dropped the bomb..TWICE . Maybe other countries are sane to git The bomb to deter America the THIRD DROP ..UMM.

    December 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
    • FutureSEAL

      Um okay 1 million American soldiers were projected to be KIA if we didn't drop those bombs and had a ground invasion. Not even a quarter million died in the bombs. Ignorant statement

      December 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Reply
      • Mike Michael

        Keep believing nonsense,, you'll go and waste your life.

        December 14, 2012 at 7:24 am |
  15. Jimi

    Innocence is just a word for someone who really understands plausible deniability

    December 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  16. Ghette Jones

    One foolio suggested nuking NK since their starving N E way and put them outta their misery . Let us remember that NK has a dictator and to punish millions of innocent people because one meglomaniac has a hard on suggests that North Koreans aren't human in GODS eyes . How dare you go there ! Here let's put you and all your family and friends in the microwave and make popcorn.

    December 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  17. Jimi

    Obama won't do anything ! He's nothing more then a figurehead no policy no budget nothing serious this guy is going to cause more problems so all you nobama supporters when the the s!?' Hits forward momentum who ya gonna blame? Hmmmm? This president is going to sit back watch nk create a program big enough to be an issue if its not already and wonder what to do as we all start glowing in the dark but hey he's always got his witty sense of humor to keep us all safe

    December 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Reply
    • josh rogen

      sure he will...he'll go on the view or have a campaign style rally explaining how it's someone else's fault

      December 13, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  18. juggalo soldier

    just nuke them all, there all starvin anyway. Put them out of there misery

    December 13, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Reply
    • Shoot All Mindless

      Juggalo? What are you, ten? Gonna dance around like a little fairy-boy now? It's a shame no one nuked your mamma's womb.

      December 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  19. Artemis Coole

    Why is the media hyping this like this suddenly makes NK a superpower? Regardless of launch capability, the NK's ability to fight a sustained war is laughable.

    In the US we've gotten too used ti having all the advantages. Who cares if their range increased? They still wouldn't win by a long shot.

    The NK was FAAAAARRRRRR stronger when they had Soviet allies, and it took way more to shake us back then. Now we shudder over a half decent 'missile test'. pfft

    December 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Reply
  20. Unphased

    Launching a satellite is not "threatening behavior." Many countries exhibit this kind of "threatening behavior" and have done so since the early 1960's. North Korea can't even feed its own population. North Korea would lose a fight even with South Korea. North Korea knows this. It's why North Korea has spent nearly half a century trying to get a non-aggression treaty with the U.S. North Korea is weak and paranoid. We really shouldn't fret every time they seek attention.

    December 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  21. Tembisa

    Reblogged this on World Chaos.

    December 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  22. Hahahahaha

    Whatever it is, I'm sure it involves "Tax Breaks For The Rich!!!!!!!" Hahahahahahahahah

    December 13, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  23. wjmccartan

    Didn't those idiots in Washington ever hear of diplomacy? Evidently not!!!

    December 13, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
    • Star-Spangled Bullsh!t

      In this country, diplomacy is merely another name for appeasement.

      December 13, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  24. Nick

    Your an idiot look into things before you speak, your rhetoric is factually untrue and based on nothing

    December 16, 2012 at 7:04 am | Reply

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