Cliff May

Last year, the White House announced a “pivot” toward Asia, a “rebalancing” of what National Security adviser Tom Donilon called “all elements of U.S. power.” There was to be less emphasis on the Middle East, where nothing ever seems to go America’s way, and a new strategic foreign-policy focus on the Far East, where perhaps something might.

When “it comes to the Asia-Pacific,” Donilon said only a month ago, “the United States is ‘all in.’” At the moment, however, “all in” is not working out.

Donilon acknowledged that the totalitarian regime ruling North Korea represents a growing threat, and vowed that the Obama administration would not “stand by” while 29-year-old dictator Kim Jong-Un “seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States.”

But at a congressional hearing last week, it was revealed that the Defense Intelligence Agency now has “moderate confidence” that North Korea has figured out how to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and fit it into a missile warhead. The State Department and CIA have not quite come to that conclusion. James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, attempted to put the controversy to rest by saying, “North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile.”

Far from settling matters, that raises a list of troubling questions. Among them: How long before North Korea does demonstrate the “full range” required to fire a nuclear-armed missile at American and other targets? If the U.S. is not going to “stand by” and let that happen, what actions will be taken? And if those actions fail, what can be done to prevent Kim from transferring such capabilities to Iran’s rulers — North Korea’s longstanding missile- and nuclear-weapons partner?

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.