North Korea just showed the world how it could start a war

Well, it looks as if North Korea is once again up to its usual tricks—firing missiles and scaring the world half to death.

But this time, Kim Jong Un, the devilish dictator of the so-called “hermit kingdom,” decided to take it a step further, shooting a missile over Japan.

Just when I thought I had a few days off to relax, and a little time to catch up on some much-needed rest from the last North Korea crisis—as in last weekend.  

To be fair, I should have known better.

Practice they say makes perfect, or in this case, ensures you can kill millions of people at a moment notice. What makes these tests dangerous is the possibility of a failure, the chance that one of these tests goes wrong—and starts a war that won’t be easy to stop.

You see, the nature of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs is the same as every other nation who has gone down this road. To build atomic weapons and the missiles to carry them to a target you need to test them—over and over and over again. Pyongyang will need to test the range, guidance and tracking, telemetry and heatshield technology of its missiles. And every time the world will hold its breathe. 

Practice they say makes perfect, or in this case, ensures you can kill millions of people at a moment notice. And know this: North Korea won’t stop until they feel that have perfected their nuclear arsenal and can hit most points in Asia and the U.S. homeland. Kim wants to make sure that in case we ever get any ideas of invading his communist paradise he can take millions to the grave with him.

Pyongyang will also likely test in the coming weeks another nuclear weapon. In fact, if I was a betting man, mark your calendars for September 9th, North Korea’s founding date, as the day Kim Jong Un might just rattle Asia with a nuclear earthquake. He did last year, and very well could do it again.

Indeed, the world seems fated to endure what I would call mini “Sputnik moments,” or demonstrations that show North Korea has the power to attack not only our allies but our homeland as well. What makes these dangerous is the possibility of a failure, the chance that one of these tests goes wrong—and starts a war that won’t be easy to stop.

For example, let’s say North Korea’s test over Japan did not splash down in the Pacific Ocean, but instead landed in a populated area. The images of carnage and death, especially if the missile came down on a major city would be horrific. Tokyo would be hard pressed to do nothing, and would likely strike back in some sort of kinetic manner. Japan could even evoke the U.S.-Japan defense treaty, asking for U.S. aide and assistance.

This is where things would get dangerous.

After Japan strikes back, don’t believe for one second that North Korea would not respond in kind. Such a dangerous and escalatory spiral is how wars start, and keep in mind, some of the most horrid wars in human history have started in August. And with the amount of weapons currently in Northeast Asia, all it would take is a relatively minor incident to start a conflict that could easily kill millions of people.

The good news, if any in such a situation, is that we know how to deal with rogue nations like North Korea—we just need to reopen our history books.

We know how to deal with states that are rising nuclear powers, developing missiles and atomic weapons to place on them. The Soviet Union at one point had almost 40,000 nuclear warheads and the ability to destroy the world several times over. Moscow’s missiles could have wiped out the planet several times over and turned America into an atomic ash heap.

We successfully contained the USSR and won the Cold War—we need not give North Korea the power to make us afraid or guide our actions or the actions of our allies.

Sure, we went through moments of panic and fear, feeling a sense of uneasiness knowing the America’s geostrategic safety blanket—the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans—could not save us from nuclear war. But we do know how to push back against those who would hurt us or our allies. 

Our policy when it comes to North Korea should be clear—we must ensure they are contained and isolated.

Now, to be fair, the containment we will need to seek when it comes to Pyongyang will be different for a different age.

We must do all we can to limit the amount of money that can flow into North Korea, ensuring the price for Kim’s nukes and missiles rises exponentially. Since Kim’s economy is the size of Laos—tiny compared to his brethren in the south—taking away every dollar available to him could force him to slow dramatically his nuclear and missile programs growth and advances, maybe even halting future expansion. That would really be progress.

The key will be China and to a lesser extent Russia. Both nations must continue to implement UN Security Council resolutions and agree to even tougher sanctions.

There is only one way to rein in North Korea—to make it as painful as possible for Kim to build the weapons he seeks. But if the world continues to stick its head in the sand, or if we continue to think we have more time when it comes to Pyongyang’s intentions to develop the most powerful of weapons, we will wake up to a world where North Korea will have not only a nuclear weapon but Hydrogen Bombs, missiles that can hit all of America and submarines armed with long-range nuclear missiles.

We must do all we can to ensure that day never comes.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded by former President Richard M. Nixon. Click here, for more on Mr. Kazianis.