Pretty serious stuff.
Any ideas on WHY N Korea might have done this?
Distract people from the hardships of home?
There's a good article in today's NY Times that addresses this question
Like a street gang showing off its power to run amok in a well-heeled neighborhood, the North Koreans launch a missile over Japan or set off a nuclear test or stage an attack " as strong evidence indicates they did in March, when a South Korean warship was torpedoed. Expressions of outrage follow. So do vows that this time, the North Koreans will pay a steep price.
In time, though, the United States and North Korea’s neighbors " China, Japan, South Korea and Russia " remind one another that they have nothing to gain from a prolonged confrontation, much less a war. Gradually, sanctions get watered down. Negotiations reconvene. Soon the North hints it can be enticed or bribed into giving up a slice of its nuclear program. Eventually, the cycle repeats.
The author goes on to explain why this crisis may not be part of this infuriating, but heretofore containable cycle.
Rogue states like North Korea and Iran are extremely dangerous, because they cannot be relied upon to always step back from the brink.
The price of militarily putting an end to North Korea's provocations and threat is not something the South Koreans are willing to pay, and who can blame them.
The dilemma is that any one of these provocations can escalate into a situation where the price will be paid despite what saner minds want. I would even suggest that as long as the current regime is in power the odds are that at some point provocation will
escalate into much broader military action.
There seems to be little hope that the regime will pass away on its own, or that the populace has any ability to send it packing, and so we are faced with the continued Russian Roulette that is trying to contain a nuclear North Korea, hoping that Kim Jung Un is a little less unstable than his father Kim Jung Il.
I suppose our best hope is that the regime will undergo an internal power conflict that results in someone other than a Kim running the show. Although it seems like just about everyone in Korea is named Kim, Park or Lee, so the chances of another dictator named Kim, albeit unrelated to the current mad dwarf, are pretty good. This is, in essence though, the problem. Whether a Kim, a Park or some other name, whoever rises to power after Kim Jung Il is not likely to be anything of a reformer, and will continue to rule North Korea with an iron fist. Perhaps a little less insanely though.
There is no good, let alone simple, solution to North Korea because they have nuclear weapons.
This is why the United States should do everything in its power - including military intervention - to stop Iran from obtaining the means to create the same insoluble dilemma in the Middle East.
North Korea threatens our interests only to the extent it threatens our allies in the region - South Korea primarily, but Japan as well. Indeed, its threat as a source of black market nuke technology is of serious concern, not to mention its efforts to develop long range missiles, but, at present, it cannot really do anything that will immediately or directly bring us to our knees. Not so with a nuclear armed Iran.