The Obama administration is reacting responsibly to a series of provocations from North Korea, shoring up defenses while seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis. But even if North Korea is deterred from attacking South Korea or U.S. forces for the foreseeable future, the defiance it has demonstrated in the last several weeks renders more elusive than ever achievement of the administration's ultimate goal: a Korean peninsula without nuclear weapons.
Last month the U.N. Security Council — including China, North Korea's longtime patron — approved new economic sanctions after North Korea conducted a third nuclear test. Undeterred, the North announced Tuesday that it would restart a plutonium reactor it shuttered in 2007.
The immediate concern for the United States and South Korea is a cascade of statements and actions by North Korea that threaten the military and political status quo on the Korean peninsula. North Korea insists that it's responding to a threat posed by U.S. military aircraft that took part in recent training exercises; the real explanation for its bellicose actions is the ongoing campaign to deprive the North of nuclear weapons.
The North has declared that it is entering a "state of war" with the South and has barred South Korean employees from an industrial park jointly operated by the two Koreas. As for the United States, the regime has announced that its military has been authorized to respond to U.S. aggression with "smaller, lighter and diversified" nuclear weapons. On Thursday, South Korea's defense minister said that the North had moved to the east coast of the country a missile with a "considerable" range.