Let’s just get the bad news out of the way up front. We’ve known for quite a while now that North Korea has been working on miniaturizing their nuclear weapons while simultaneously sharing technology with Iran to develop reliable ICBMs. Recent intelligence analysis seemed to indicate that they were making progress, but it was probably still a few years away, giving us time to work on a diplomatic solution. But now our own intelligence community is briefing the Senate and letting them know that the timetable has moved up. Kim Jong-un could have a reliable, nuclear tipped ICBM ready to go by next year. And yes, it could potentially reach the lower 48. (Associated Press)

Intelligence officials believe North Korea will have a reliable, intercontinental missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon as early as next year, according to a report published Tuesday amid a warning from a top Republican lawmaker who says he has grown increasingly alarmed about Pyongyang’s weapons program.

The Washington Post reported that a new confidential assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency trims two years off the timeline for when North Korea could strike North American cities with atomic weapons. The assessment was triggered by recent North Korean missile tests that indicated the nation’s program was further along than expected.

This apparently came as a result of the full analysis of footage from the July 4th test launch that North Korea managed to pull off. And even worse, while their previous weapons have all been one-off prototypes, the IC guys believe that Kim will shortly be ready to move to “the production line” and have multiple weapons.

Obviously this adds impetus to the ticking clock in terms of action. So what are we going to do about it? Nikki Haley says that we’re making progress with the Chinese in terms of new sanctions against the North Korean regime, but the wildcard will be Russia and how much they’re willing to push their friend Kim Jong-un. (Reuters)

The United States is making progress in talks with North Korean ally China on imposing new U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang over its latest missile test, but the “true test” will be what measures Russia agrees to, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Tuesday.

Haley told reporters she was pleased with the initial response from China on a U.S. proposal for new U.N. sanctions and said China had showed ‘seriousness.’

“We know that China has been sharing and negotiating with Russia,” said Haley, adding that the “true test will be what they worked out with Russia.”

A couple of quick points on this, even though we’ve discussed the matter at length here before. First of all, as to the sanctions, it’s still possible that such an action might (heavy emphasis on “might”) still convince Kim to turn away from his nuclear ICBM program, but that comes with a lot of ifs. If everyone isn’t onboard, particularly including China and Russia, then it’s not going to work. The diminutive dictator has already shown that he’s more than willing to let his own people starve to death or die in his concentration camps if they dare complain about the lack of food. Unless he thinks that he will be entirely cut off from all supplies of every type it’s not hard to imagine him thumbing his nose at any additional sanctions. Further, he would have to be completely convinced and terrified of the possibility of the Chinese becoming active enemies of his rather than neutral observers, if not allies. As long as he can be convinced that China has his back he has zero incentive to back down.

So let’s say that some new package of sanctions either doesn’t happen or doesn’t work if it does. Where does that leave us? The real question to be answered is… exactly how crazy is Kim? If we run out of diplomatic options this winter we’re left with essentially two choices. Can we live with a fully armed, nuclear North Korea with the capability of striking us? By completing his science project, does Kim get to join the international nuclear club alongside Pakistan, India and all the rest? Or do we take the final step to stop him with a military strike?

I’ve written here before about the general consensus in the military community regarding precisely how bad a war with North Korea would be. (We would win but it would be a bloody disaster.) And that’s why it’s important to know precisely how crazy Kim Jong-un is. It would obviously be national suicide for him to nuke us – or any of our allies or his neighbors for that matter. It would open the floodgates to a war which would leave his entire nation a smoldering field of ashes. But is he at least sane enough to know that and keep his fingers off the trigger, assuming we don’t go for a preemptive decapitation strike?

I certainly hope somebody in our intelligence agencies knows the answer to that one. And if not, to steal the same old line from GoT… I wish you all good fortune in the wars to come.