Eight months ago, North Korea conducted another in a series of failed missile launches. That familiar flop provided welcome comic relief from the ominous endurance – and belligerence – of a Stalinist dynasty, which has been threatening its neighbors and starving its own people for more than half a century.

Five months ago, dancers in Disney costumes (without that company’s approval, of course) entertained Kim Jong Un, who became North Korea’s dictator after his “Fearless Leader” dad Kim Jong Il died late last year. That bizarre spectacle also was funny in a twisted way.

But last week, North Korea’s successful launch of a long-range rocket was no laughing matter. Simply put, it appears the rogue nation’s missile program is no longer a Mickey Mouse operation.

North Korean officials insist that the purpose of the launch was peaceful – to put a satellite in orbit. Yet missile experts correctly point out that the technology for that task matches the technology for launching long-range armed missiles.

Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, did offer this reassurance in comments to Reuters.

And as Professor Andrei Lankov, a Korean studies specialist at South Korea’s Kookmin University, put it in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times: “The North Koreans will continue to develop their missile and nuclear technology and, eventually, whether it takes 10 years or 20, they will have a reliable ICBM with nuclear warheads.”

ICBM stands for intercontinental ballistic missile – as in a missile that could menace not just South Korea and Japan but America’s West Coast.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor aptly condemned the launch as “a highly provocative act.”

Clearly, the U.S. must keep trying to form a more united front against this ascending menace, even as it works to curb the nuclear ambitions of a bellicose Iran.

Meanwhile, North Korea is all too relentlessly shifting from occasionally amusing to increasingly alarming.