Just hours ago North Korea successfully tested what many consider to be intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology, underscoring the failure of two decades of U.S. policy. How Washington expected to halt Pyongyang’s missile development program without taking serious steps to do so remains a mystery. While ineffective policies date back to the previous Bush and Clinton administrations, the current administration bears its fair share of the blame.
President Obama made a serious error when he failed to order that the rocket launched in April be shot down — if not destroyed on the launch pad, admittedly a highly provocative act. Had he done so, he would have deprived the North Koreans of the lessons it learned from that missile’s failure and we might not be where we are today. In fact, had the president established a new precedent — the United States simply does not allow North Korea to conduct unfettered missile tests — he might have quickly made such tests a thing of the past.
But for whatever reason, when Pyongyang launched its rocket in April, the president chose to stick to an old playbook full of defensive formations that has never given North Korea pause. The State Department unwittingly admitted last week that the old approach — stern warnings before a launch, stepped up sanctions after — has all but failed. As spokesman Mark Toner explained at last Wednesday’s press briefing, “there’s always ways to toughen enforcement of sanctions. They can always be tweaked or modified so that there’s better enforcement of existing sanctions.”