Rocket science: The U.S. must keep the pressure on North Korea

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The latest episode in the saga of North Korea is its launch Wednesday of a rocket that successfully put a satellite into orbit.

A previous effort to achieve this in April failed when the delivery rocket disintegrated. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has made a career in recent years of provocative behavior which alarms its neighbors -- Japan, Russia, South Korea and, to a degree, China -- as well as the United States. America has 28,500 troops in South Korea nearly 60 years after the Korean War. Recently it expanded South Korea's ballistic missile capacity to cover all of North Korea.

South Korea, in 2011 the world's 15th largest economy, is capable of providing for its own national security. The U.S. troops remain there as a tripwire to deter a possible attack from the North and to serve as host to 15 U.S. bases and a four-star general command for the U.S. Army. The security guarantee provided by U.S. forces is also a deterrent to South Korea developing its own nuclear weapons program.

North Korea's feat in launching the rocket, which could, after much more development, serve as the platform for a nuclear warhead, is limited in scope although annoying to its neighbors. Its level of nuclear weapons development is roughly where the United States and the Soviet Union were in the 1950s.

So-called six-party talks with North Korea, including China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, included discussion of a halt to its nuclear weapons development program. Unfortunately, the negotiations have been on hold for five years. The idea was that Pyongyang would stop work on the program in return for economic development and humanitarian aid. It was thought that the arrival of a new leader with a declared focus on bettering the lives of the country's 25 million citizens would lead to a constructive resumption of the talks.

Now, unless he was firing the rocket as a prelude to talking, there is little prospect for progress in relations with North Korea at this time. Even so, that is no reason for President Barack Obama to give up. North Korea with deliverable nuclear weapons is a distressing thought.

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