The Cable

North Korea Launch Brings Tough Talk From GOP

North Korea’s long-range rocket launch on Sunday prompted global outrage and thrust the Hermit Kingdom into the 2016 election cycle -- forcing candidates to explain how they would respond to Pyongyang’s nuclear provocations.

Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump (L) and Ted Cruz (R) participate in the Republican Presidential Candidates Debate on February 6, 2016 at St. Anselm's College Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire. 
Seven Republicans campaigning to be US president are in a fight for survival in their last debate Saturday before the New Hampshire primary, battling to win over a significant number of undecided voters. / AFP / Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump (L) and Ted Cruz (R) participate in the Republican Presidential Candidates Debate on February 6, 2016 at St. Anselm's College Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire. Seven Republicans campaigning to be US president are in a fight for survival in their last debate Saturday before the New Hampshire primary, battling to win over a significant number of undecided voters. / AFP / Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korea’s long-range rocket launch on Sunday prompted global outrage and thrust the Hermit Kingdom into the 2016 election cycle — forcing candidates to explain how they would respond to Pyongyang’s nuclear provocations.

North Korean state television said the country put a satellite into orbit  “legitimately exercising  the right to use space for independent and peaceful purposes.” But a wide swath of countries, including the United States, France, Japan, and South Korea condemned the launch as a thinly-disguised test of a ballistic missile that could potentially deliver a nuclear warhead.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the move was “deeply deplorable” and convened an emergency meeting of the U.N Security Council on Sunday in New York. Following the meeting, the council reportedly said it would move to adopt new sanctions in response to the launch.

Even China, North Korea’s sole big power ally, expressed disapproval about the launch.

Still, it’s unclear if Beijing — which has blocked sanctions in the past — would allow them through this time.

The launch came just before Saturday night’s televised Republican debate, the final one before Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire. And the candidates wasted little time condemning Pyongyang — and trying to outdo each other with macho talk about how they’d treat North Korea.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, when asked how he would respond as president to North Korea’s launch, said he would “expand our missile defense capacity,” by placing interceptors in South Korea.

“The fact that we’re seeing the launch and we’re seeing the launch from a nuclear North Korea is a result of the failures of the first Clinton administration” for loosening sanctions against the nation, Cruz said. “What we are seeing with North Korea is foreshadowing of where we should be with Iran.”

Debate moderator Martha Raddatz followed up by asking Cruz if he would take out a North Korean missile on the launch pad through a preemptive strike.

“At this point I’m not going to speculate on that without the intelligence briefing that any commander-in-chief would have,” he said.

In response to the same question, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said “if a preemptive strike is necessary to keep us safe, then we should do it.” Ohio Governor John Kasich said the United States should signal to Japan that it would have America’s blessing to respond militarily to the launch.

Businessman Donald Trump said he would get China on the phone and force Beijing to resolve the problem. “They can do it quickly and surgically,” he said.

Flexing his tough guy persona, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Washington must “engage in a much different way with these folks. They do not understand anything but toughness and strength.”

The Pentagon said the rocket went straight into space and “did not pose a threat to the U.S. or our allies.” At the same time, the U.S. and South Korea announced that they would begin formal consultations on deploying the THAAD missile defense system — a move that China opposes because it views it as a threat to its own security.

In a statement on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said North Korea’s launch was a “a flagrant violation of UN Security Council Resolutions” and vowed to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang at the Security Council.

“Now is the time to do so in a firm and united way, with measures that make clear the determination of the international community to ‎address the pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities by the DPRK and this most recent destabilizing and unacceptable challenge to our common peace and security,” he said.

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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