By Jonathan Beale
BBC state department correspondent, Washington
North Korea's autocratic, secretive, unpredictable leader has defied the international community and reneged on a promise not to test-launch missiles.
No-one knows exactly what North Korea's Kim is thinking
On the face of it Kim Jong-il's launch of seven missiles is alarming.
One was a new long-range missile that could be capable - in theory - of hitting the United States.
North Korea says it already has nuclear weapons. Once again it has shown itself to be a dangerous "rogue nation" that has given the world cause for concern.
Remember North Korea - along with Iran and Iraq - was part of President George W Bush's "axis of evil".
There is understandable worry and anxiety in Washington, but as yet that has not translated into a sense of panic.
The Taepodong-2 missile failed 40 seconds after launch.
And the US does not believe that North Korea has developed the technology to fire a nuclear warhead.
In short - as the Bush administration has made clear - the missile launch did not pose a direct security threat to the United States.
There is no suggestion that North Korea's behaviour will precipitate military action, either from North Korea's neighbours or the United States.
As far as the Bush administration is concerned, this is the time for the international community to present a united front, an opportunity to turn events to their advantage.
The Taepodong-2 missile exploded within a minute of launch
America's goal is the same as that of North Korea's neighbours: to get Pyongyang to return to six-party talks aimed at persuading the communist country to abandon its nuclear programme.
Last year - after initial signs of progress - North Korea walked away from those talks.
The US is refusing to yield to Pyongyang's request for direct talks.
The Bush administration believes this is a regional issue - rather than a bilateral one - that must be sorted out in the framework of the six-party talks.
Washington hopes that North Korea's latest actions will spur the international community into action, at first by issuing a strong condemnation of North Korea from the UN Security Council.
The US is looking to China and South Korea in particular.
Both countries still have considerable economic and some political influence on the communist regime.
Talk of sanctions though is more problematic.
China and South Korea have in the past been reluctant to go down that path.
It is also possible that increased sanctions may backfire.
One reason why North Korea walked away from the six-party talks was the imposition of financial sanctions by the United States.
Though it is impossible to get into the mind of Kim Jong-il, he has clearly been watching the way the world reacts to Iran's less advanced nuclear programme.
The international community has been offering Iran a package of "incentives" to persuade it to suspend its uranium enrichment programme. North Korea will be asking why it has not been offered the same.
While sanctions might deepen North Korea's isolation, they may also increase its unpredictability and therefore increase the danger.
No-one can be certain of North Korea's intentions, but its actions have certainly created a sense of urgency in addressing the threat.