Nuclear-armed North Korea's recent missile launch into space-a provocation that brings Pyongyang closer to fielding a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can reach the continental United States-is a wake-up call. It demonstrates not only the inadequacies of Washington's counterproliferation efforts towards Pyongyang over the last two decades, but also the need for the Obama administration to take a bold new approach to U.S. policy towards the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
To begin with, North Korea's missile launch only strengthens the case for the United States to work more closely with its allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific to develop and deploy a truly robust system of ballistic missiles defense in the region. Missile interceptors in Asia will help to decrease the vulnerability of U.S. and allied military forces, as well as civilian populaces in the Pacific, to the DPRK's growing regional-range missile threats.
The controversy surrounding the missile launch also offers Washington an opportunity to elevate Pyongyang's atrocious human rights violations to the front and center of the international stage. Well over 200,000 political prisoners are held in the Kim regime's gulags. The testimony of North Korean dissidents like Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped the country's nightmarish system of prison camps, dramatically illustrates the horrors of life there. Perspectives like Mr. Shin's should be elevated to the forefront of any long-term international effort to confront North Korea, with the aim of further highlighting the DPRK's status as a pariah state, and pressuring its patrons in China to abandon their support of this reprehensible rogue regime.
At the same time, Washington must recognize that the days of lampooning North Korea in the wake of failed missile launches have ended. Pyongyang has just crossed a major milestone in its continuing quest to threaten and thereby blackmail the international community into ensuring the longevity of its regime. Indeed, decades of international negotiations and grand bargains with Pyongyang have failed to stop the emergence of a North Korea that is nuclear-armed, increasingly missile-capable, and has established a worrisome record of technologically cooperating with Syria's Assad regime, Iran's mullahs and other rogue nations.
To prevent a fatal rupture in the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific, and-eventually-free the tens of millions of North Koreans held captive by their own government, the United States and its partners should now forge and steadfastly implement a policy that, rather than continuing to ignore or accommodate Pyongyang's petulant provocations, sets as an aspirational goal an end of the country's authoritarianism.