THE WORLD has just become more dangerous.
For decades, the United States has been wary of the rogue state of North Korea. The country's leaders have been intent on becoming a nuclear power, even while they have been unable to feed their own people.
Their highly touted efforts to launch long-range rockets, which usually fell harmlessly out of the sky, have drawn concern but no serious worry -- until now.
North Korea was apparently successful in launching a missile last week that operated as intended and seems to have been capable of sending a satellite into orbit. That development indicates its new leader, Kim Jong Un, has no intention of listening to the rest of the world's pleas to cease and desist.
South Korea is not the only country that is alarmed. If ultimately successful, North Korea's ballistic missiles potentially could reach the West Coast of the United States.
Even China, which has not-so-surreptitiously been helping North Korea, has expressed concern. North Korea has nuclear stockpiles, but the West does not know if they are capable of being miniaturized and weaponized.
Another concern is that if North Korea is successful in mastering missile technology, Kim could sell it to Iran and, potentially, other terrorists. North Korea is desperately poor.
Also worrisome is the apparent lack of knowledge by American intelligence experts that North Korea, despite its isolation and backwardness, had overcome key technical hurdles and was preparing to launch this multistage rocket, the Galaxy-3, earlier than it had indicated.
The rocket test is also discouraging diplomats who had hoped that Kim Jong Un, in power for only a year, would emerge as a reformer who would lead his country into a new, less aggressive era. But Kim seems to want only to be feared at home and by the rest of the world.
The United States has been trying for years to find a way to threaten, cajole, punish, reward or somehow persuade North Korea to give up its ambitions to be a nuclear power -- without success. North Korea's duplicity has been remarkable. Time after time, it has deliberately provoked one U.S. president after another.
President Barack Obama's main hope now is to persuade China to join in international efforts to punish North Korea.