While it has amounted to nothing more than mere populist posturing and jawboning, with the occasional entertaining (fabricated) clip of a submarine missile launch thrown in for good measure, North Korea's launches of ballistic missiles have succeeded in provoking anger among the international community, which has so far been unable (or unwilling) to provide an adequate response to Kim Jong Il's periodic "shows of strength", mostly for domestic consumption.
However, Obama now appears ready to respond. In an interview with CBS' Charlie Rose, Obama described the regime as "a massive challenge."
"Our first priority is to protect the American people and our allies, the Republic of Korea, Japan, that are vulnerable to the provocative actions that North Korea is engaging in," Mr. Obama said.
He said North Korea is "erratic enough" and the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, is "irresponsible enough that we don't want them getting close."
"But it's not something that lends itself to an easy solution," Mr. Obama said. "We could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals. But aside from the humanitarian costs of that, they are right next door to our vital ally, Republic of Korea."
So how is Obama preparing to fend off threats from North Korea? It appears that the US will set up a missile defense system to surround North Korea and shoot down any future flying nuisances.
"One of the things that we have been doing is spending a lot more time positioning our missile defense systems, so that even as we try to resolve the underlying problem of nuclear development inside of North Korea, we're also setting up a shield that can at least block the relatively low-level threats that they're posing right now," Obama said.
Which is surprising considering North Korea has no chance of ever launching a fully functioning ICBM, let alone one which can reach the US.
So what is the unsaid impetus for this move? Perhaps it is simply to deploy even more ships and military equipment in the region where recent diplomatic posturing between the US and China over various contested islands in the South China Sea has been the biggest geopolitical threat in recent years.
"How aggressive do you see the action in the South China Sea? And do you worry that they will cross some line, in which you'll have to respond more aggressively?" Rose asked the president.
"I've been consistent, since I've been president, in believing that a productive, candid relationship between the United States and China is vital, not just to our two countries, but to world peace and security," Mr. Obama said.
It's not a zero-sum game, Mr. Obama added.
"What is true, though, is that they have a tendency to view some of the immediate regional issues or disputes as a zero-sum game," he said. "So with respect to the South China Sea, rather than operate under international norms and rules, their attitude is, 'We're the biggest kids around here. And we're gonna push aside the Philippines or the Vietnamese.' ... But it doesn't mean that we're trying to act against China. We just want them to be partners with us. And where they break out of international rules and norms, we're going to hold them to account."
This latest development comes just days after Reuters reported that in an apparent attempt to cement its stronghold on the South China Seas, China is getting closer to building maritime nuclear power platforms that could one day be used to support projects in the disputed islands.
The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said the nuclear power platforms could "sail" to remote areas and provide a stable power supply.
The northwest side of Mischief Reef showing a 1,900 foot seawall and
newly-constructed infrastructure including housing, an artificial turf
parade grounds, cement plants, and docking facilities are shown
China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, the company in charge of designing and building the platforms, is "pushing forward the work", said Liu Zhengguo, the head of its general office.
"The development of nuclear power platforms is a burgeoning trend," Liu told the paper. "The exact number of plants to be built by the company depends on the market demand."
Demand is "pretty strong", he added, without elaborating.
Which means that soon China may have nuclear facilities sailing in close proximity to US ship as they continue to contest Chinese territorial disputes. And now the US will be dispatching even more ships to the region under the pretext of creating a missile shield around North Korea. Hopefully nothing will go wrong.
Obama's full Charlie Rose interview is below.