Yet the same old challenge remains: What can the U.S. do, short of taking military action? The Obama administration was burned when Pyongyang attempted the satellite launch in April, after negotiating the so-called Leap Day deal in which the North agreed to stop nuclear activity at its main facility in Yongbyon, impose a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches and allow international inspectors into nuclear sites. Officials say the White House will be hesitant to negotiate with North Korea again.
In lieu of engaging North Korea, officials and experts said, the U.S. could refocus on containment and strengthening efforts to curb its weapons program. In addition to tightening existing sanctions and examining further ones, the U.S. can intensify measures to curb North Korean procurement of sensitive technology, including the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led effort to stem the illicit trafficking of weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems. Close to 100 countries are members of the program.
Moreover, U.S. officials say it's important to get North Korea, and indeed the world, to understand that Washington and Pyongyang are not the only two players in this game. In a globalized world, it's neither possible nor fair for one country to shoulder the security burden, the officials explain.
"There has to be common cause," one senior official said. "Everyone has an interest in Asia, which is now the engine of the world's economic growth. These BRIC economic powers -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- out there need to care, because this is coming to affect a market near them."