The Washington Post is reporting that North Korea has tested a new missile that national security experts fear is one step closer to a working ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear weapon. The missile was launched from a site near the North Korean border with China, flew in a high arc of 1240 miles, and then hit the ocean 435 miles away from the launch pad.

Why is the missile test a problem?

The missile, Hwasong-12, was a smaller version of the KN-08 ICBM, a single-stage, liquid fuel rocket. The flight tested a reentry vehicle capable of delivering a nuclear warhead from outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

If the missile had been launched on a flatter trajectory, it would have had a range of 2,800 miles, placing much of Asia, including the American territory of Guam, within range.

However, North Korea does not yet have a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on top of a rocket. Nevertheless, the North Koreans may be a year away from developing a working ICBM capable of reaching the United States.

What is the United States and her allies doing about the North Korean missile threat?

The United States, under President Donald Trump, is mulling a range of diplomatic, economic, and military options in dealing with North Korea. While a number of economic sanctions are still available to put pressure on Pyongyang, Washington is placing much of its hopes of stopping North Korea on diplomatic pressure from China.

The idea is that Beijing will come to recognize that a nuclear-armed neighbor to its immediate south is as much a threat to China as it is to South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

Japan is very concerned about the prospect of a North Korea with nuclear-tipped missiles and has joined in a military buildup. The newly elected leader of South Korea, however, has expressed a preference for a diplomatic solution.

On the military front, the United States has started a military buildup around North Korea, with navy ships off shore and assets in South Korea, including a THAAD anti-missile battery.

The American military is also planning a test of a long-range anti-ICBM system that it hopes will ensure the North Koreans that it is capable of stopping a nuclear strike.

The one option that the Trump administration would like to avoid is the first strike on North Korean missile and nuclear sites. Such an attack would also likely include artillery batteries that North Korea has deployed that could level Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is they are not suppressed. Any war on the Korean peninsula would be a bloodbath on both sides. Nevertheless, the United States may launch such an attack if it is the only way to stop a nuclear attack.