A man watches a TV news program showing a file footage of a missile launch conducted by North Korea, at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, April 23, 2016. North Korea on Saturday fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile from a submarine off its northeast coast, South Korean defense officials said, Pyongyang's latest effort to expand its military might in the face of pressure by its neighbors and Washington. The Korean letters at top left read: "North Korea fires a submarine-launched ballistic missile or SLBM." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

This evening our time, North Korea fired an intermediate range ballistic missile that passed over the northern part of the northernmost Japanese home island of Hokkaido.

It has all the hallmarks of a provocation. Just a week ago, Secretary of State Tillerson commended North Korea on its “restraint.” The launch site was unusual.

There is a major exercise underway in the ROK, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, and a much smaller exercise, Northern Viper, underway in Hokkaido

As always there is a dissenting view, but it was pretty obvious today that Japan wanted some serious cuddle time with the US. So I’m not sure this assessment makes a lot of sense.

If you look at the flight path, it passed over Japan, barely, and was aimed well away from US possessions in the Pacific such as Guam and the Marianas because North Korea did not want to inadvertently look like it was firing at the US. And this is very important, it passed over Japan at a sufficient altitude that it did not technically impinge upon Japanese sovereignty  but it kicked their pride pretty hard.

This is not the first time a North Korean missile has been fired across Japan.

But this time is different. The previous three launches were what are known as expendable carrier rockets. Their mission is to toss satellites into orbit, they don’t carry warheads. This was an IRBM.

And because the flight trajectory was outside the launch parameters for a Patriot PAC-3, which is a point defense system.

The pace of North Korean launches is accelerating.

Quality control on terminal trajectory still seems to be an issue. But, as I’ve said before, this is an engineering and manufacturing problem the North Koreans will inevitably fix.

What comes next is important.

In summary, this seems to have been a carefully calculated exercise at flipping off the United States and Japan. It doesn’t change anything materially.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting a couple of interesting things:

South Korea’s intelligence agency told lawmakers on Monday that North Korea appeared ready to conduct a sixth nuclear test, according to a lawmaker who attended the closed-door session.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.), who is leading a U.S. congressional delegation to South Korea, said officials in Seoul had told him that North Korea had successfully miniaturized a nuclear weapon and continues to improve its long-range missile capabilities. “This is very concerning,” Mr. Royce said in an interview following a meeting with Mr. Moon. “We need to be focused right now on keeping up this pressure.”

Putting aside the efficacy of attending a closed door intel briefing when you immediately tell the WSJ what went on behind said closed doors, the fact that the South Koreans believe that the North has a miniaturized weapon and that a sixth nuke test may be imminent indicates the risk it heightening.

We can predict that there will be some kind of ratcheting up of pressure on this. But because North Korea went out of its way to avoid simulating an attack, I wouldn’t look for much. Probably some more businesses associated with North Korea evading sanctions will get hit by US and allied sanctions. This will go before the UN Security Council.

This is how to tell that we are serious: when US nationals are ordered out of Japan and South Korea, buckle your seat belt. That will probably be seen by North Korea as a declaration of war.