The North Koreans decided to commemorate #American Independence Day in their unique way by launching a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan the day before the holiday. The North Koreans claimed that the Hwasong-14 was an ICBM that could potentially reach Alaska. #President Donald Trump was, understandably, not amused.

How did the missile behave?

The flight path of the missile is a matter of some dispute among various interested countries. American, Japanese, and South Koreans agree that the rocket flew to a height of 1,500 miles and a distance of 580 miles for 40 minutes before landing in the Sea of Japan. The North Koreans claimed that it flew slightly higher and farther while the Russians asserted that the missile went considerably lower and shorter than the other claim.

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In any case, had the rocket been fired at a normal, flatter trajectory, it might have reached as far as Alaska.

President Trump reacts

When informed of the North Korean missile launch, President Trump tweeted, "#North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?" The guy in question, Kim Jong-un certainly does not feel that he has anything better to do than to threaten his country’s neighbors and the United States with missiles and nuclear weapons. He went on to wonder if China might finally be moved to fix the problem at its doorstep once and for all, thus sparring Trump the bother.

China, on the other hand, is faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, Beijing rather enjoys the spectacle of Kim disconcerting its rivals. On the other hand, the Chinese must be aware that the North Korean leader is insane and might launch a nuclear strike against China as he would the United States, Japan, or South Korea.

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What to do about a problem like Kim Jong-un?

Kim can behave the way he does because a serious effort to deal with him would likely result in a catastrophe of biblical proportions. A war on the Korean peninsula would cause millions of deaths, mainly innocent civilians, and an untold amount of damage to infrastructure. Think of the North Korean leader as standing in a room knee-deep in gasoline with the people he is threatening and brandishing a match.

The best or perhaps the least bad option is to continue to exert economic and diplomatic pressure while developing missile defense systems. Thus, far the technology to shoot down a ballistic missile in flight has proven to be iffy at best. That situation needs to change: the sooner, the better.