WASHINGTON — Just shy of eight months after a humiliating failure, the successful long-range-missile launch Wednesday by Kim Jong-Un's North Korean ballistic-missile program gave the world a reason to re-evaluate the threat from his rogue nation.
In doing so, Kim elevated not only his stature among his own people but also the global threat level, and therefore North Korea's spot on the second-term agenda of President Barack Obama, one already crowded with foreign-policy concerns. "A highly provocative act" is how National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor described the launch.
"We will continue to work with our international partners to ensure that the North Korean regime is further isolated, that it is further punished for its flagrant violations of international obligations," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
The United Nations also condemned the launch, which violated sanctions that the world body had imposed on North Korea for its possession of nuclear weapons. The U.N. Security Council planned to discuss "an appropriate response."
The launch early Wednesday, after several failed attempts, caught the world by surprise. The long-range rocket was successful in sending a satellite into orbit.
While NORAD noted that the missile never posed a threat to North America, those who study North Korea, also known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, agree that its success does just that.
"The world just became a little more dangerous," said Bruce Bennett, an expert on North Korea and security at the Rand Corp. "American foreign policy towards North Korea had been one of strategic neglect. Those days are over."
Bennett noted that concern didn't arise simply from the fact that the missile worked. Kim had publicly admitted failure after a missile broke apart shortly after takeoff April 13. The failure and the admission were thought to have weakened his support within the North Korean political power structure.
Further signs that Kim was being challenged came from the talk of defectors and what appeared to be a purge of a number of the nation's old military leaders. In a poor nation with a history of missile failures, it all looked chaotic.
Last weekend, there were signs that North Koreans had to repair the missile on the launchpad, reinforcing international doubts. "No one expected them to be able to fix it and be successful so quickly," Bennett said. "That they did is not good news."
Ellen Kim, an expert on North Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a defense research center, said the speed of the repairs was a concern. Although it's clear that North Korea still has scientific hurdles to solve before it can threaten the United States with a nuclear missile, the timeline just got shorter, she said.