North Korea has tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

It's a big moment. As David Wright of All Things Nuclear explains, this launch suggests North Korea now has the potential of striking Alaska.

While North Korea might not yet be able to weaponize its ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, we cannot assume that's the case.

Correspondingly, this is a defining moment in U.S.-North Korean relations. It requires a U.S. response.

First off, this ICBM test shows that current U.S. policy has failed to restrain North Korea. Kim Jong Un has shown he has no intention of backing down. Moreover, he is prepared to risk his regime's survival on this program. Showing he can target Alaska, the North Korean leader knows he is making U.S. military action more likely.

He is gambling, however, that he can perfect his ICBM capability before the U.S. or anyone else (China), does anything about it. He believes his ICBMs are his path to long-term survival. No one, after all, wants to go to war with a nuclear deterrent power.

But Kim must recognize he has crossed a line. And to do that, China must also acknowledge a line has been crossed.

As I've noted, China is the critical element in compelling North Korea to end its nuclear ballistic missile strategy. Trump knows this and tweeted as much on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, to get Chinese and North Korean attention, the U.S. must escalate its force presence so as to make both nations uncomfortable. Specifically, the U.S. must deploy assets that suggest preparation for war. From my point of view, the following deployments would do the job.

  • Deploy another carrier strike group (Theodore Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower appear to be available), to join the Nimitz and Ronald Reagan groups in the Pacific.
  • Deploy the 509th Bomb Wing (B-2) from Missouri to Guam.
  • Deploy the 2nd Bomb Wing (B-52) from Louisiana to Guam, South Korea, or Japan.
  • Deploy elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps (maneuver-infantry focus) and III Corps (armored-focus) to South Korea.
  • Seek the deployment of major elements of foreign allied military power. President Emanuel Macron of France might be of major support here, perhaps he would send France's Charles de Gaulle carrier group to the Pacific.
  • Trump must also use this week's G-20 summit to ensure China's president, Xi Jinping, knows he's ready to use force against Kim Jong Un.

Simultaneously, the U.S. should increase its military pressure on China. That might take the form of new freedom of navigation deployments in the South and East China Seas. But it also requires Trump to do the exact opposite of what China and Russia called for this weekend. The two nations demanded the U.S. de-escalate on the Korean peninsula. The simple point here is that China must understand that the U.S. believes North Korea poses an intolerable threat. In turn, China must believe that the U.S. is willing, in the event of war, to send millions of refugees flooding across the Chinese border, while also destroying China's northern buffer (North Korea) against pro-American democratic governance.

This is the only path — diplomatically — to get China and North Korea to alter their strategic calculations. And to be sure, it's high-risk. Yet, Trump cannot allow North Korea to dangle nuclear devastation over American heads.