- North Korea takes provocative action against the United States and violent action against a possible domestic threat? Check and check.
- Statements and news conferences in which the U.S. and its regional allies pledge to coordinate against North Korea? Check and check. This might be the most normal thing Trump has done as president, actually.
- The U.N. Security Council clears its throat in disapproval.
- China announces that it’s going to impose new economic sanctions on North Korea, leading to stories suggesting that it might actually be serious this time.
- Follow-up analyses of the Chinese announcement suggest that maybe the sanctions aren’t as potent as first thought.
- A recognition dawns on analysts that as problematic and exasperating as North Korea is to China, an intact DPRK is still better than all the other possible alternatives from Beijing’s point of view.
- Even conservative analyses of the situation on the Korean Peninsula conclude that the United States does not have a lot of great policy alternatives except to tighten sanctions a wee bit more, accelerate the deployment of missile defenses on the peninsula, and pledge support to regional allies.
- Wait a few months, then North Korea triggers Step 1 and the whole cycle repeats.
Sunday’s test is perhaps the clearest signal that North Korea’s interest in voluntary denuclearization is a Western fantasy. Attempting to denuclearize North Korea by force would require a surprise attack by the United States — one that already makes Pyongyang wary of American B-1B Lancer sorties from Andersen Air Force Base at Guam that may one day be a prelude to such an attack. There is no guarantee that the United States could find and destroy all of Kim’s nuclear systems, and thus it leaves the United States and its allies in the region open to unacceptably high conventional and nuclear retaliatory risk. If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now: Any war with North Korea will be a nuclear war. Realistically, this is now out of the question.