This is, by any standards, the most provocative of North Korea’s recent missile tests.
Launching a rocket over Japanese territory – with at least the possibility that it could break up and deposit debris on Japanese soil – shows that Pyongyang is intent on maintaining its brinkmanship – this was only the third missile test to over-fly Japan within the past two decades. However, this may perhaps be brinkmanship only to a point.
It is noteworthy that North Korea did not make good on its threat to direct a missile towards the US Pacific territory of Guam – something that might well have precipitated a US military response.
But equally clearly it shows that the Trump administration’s assertions earlier this month – after a round of escalating threats between Washington and Pyongyang – that the North Korean regime was now pausing for thought, were premature.
So here we are again, facing the question of what to do about North Korea as it moves rapidly forward with its linked ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes.
Or, to put the question another way, if these programmes cannot be stopped, and Pyongyang eventually gets the ability to target the continental USA with a nuclear-armed missile, can the US and the world live with a nuclear-armed North Korea?
There are five declared nuclear weapons states: Britain, France, the US, China and Russia.
They mostly developed their nuclear weapons arsenals in the aftermath of World War Two, which had seen a frightening demonstration of the power of “the Bomb” with its use by the Americans against two Japanese cities. China was a relative latecomer to the nuclear “club”, joining in the mid-1960s.
Since then, efforts to prevent the spread or proliferation of nuclear…