In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Pyongyang's most capable missile to date made its maiden flight. Christened the Hwasong-15, nuclear experts have gone so far as to call the ICBM a "monster". MIT Associate Professor Vipin Narang said in an interview with NPR, "The missile is so much larger than previous versions that it could carry a powerful thermonuclear weapon, regardless of whether the North has managed to make a compact, missile-friendly version." Moreover, it gives Kim Jong Un the ability to reach Washington – something that just months ago few believed to be possible.
While analysts, media commentators, and policymakers have for months been pushing China to tow a tougher line with North Korea, the latest provocation has intensified the tone – and limited both countries' options. The Washington Post released a pessimistically-titled: If North Korea fires a nuclear missile at the U.S., how could it be stopped? "If it launches such a missile, the United States has a $40 billion system designed to destroy the bomb in space. What's unknown is whether it will succeed," the piece ominously reports.
Meanwhile, others are talking options now that Kim Jong Un has upped the ante. According to Cato Institute Senior Fellow Doug Bandow, "it is time to really negotiate with China over North Korea." Analysts, like Alton Frye of Foreign Policy, have put forth stronger prescriptions: "The only way to stand down from a nuclear confrontation is to reassure Kim Jong Un that the United States won't — and can't — invade. . .China should send 30,000 troops into North Korea." Trump himself said in response to the launch "we will take care of it," but has offered little in the way of clear strategy.
Regardless of the next moves that the Trump and Xi teams elect to make, it is clear that the two fronts remain at odds – and both now face a potential crisis at their backdoor. It is time to find common ground and move steadily in the direction of a cohesive solution.