North Korea deserves condemnation for detonating a nuclear test, but the development also represents a colossal failure of U.S. diplomacy and calls for stepped up international pressure on China, North Korea's powerful neighbor and closest ally.

What happened in North Korea is not surprising.  North Koreans have been marching toward this day steadily for five or six years. We've had ineffective policies, so this day was certain to come.

There is no question that North Korea is now the most dangerous and unstable nuclear state.

It is dangerous because they're going to keep the first 12 nuclear weapons to defend themselves against Rumsfield, but the 13th is going to go up on E-Bay - and there are some well-financed terrorist organizations lining up to bid.

Despite years of warning signs, the United States failed to exert meaningful diplomatic and economic pressure on China to rein in its impoverished neighbor.

The Bush administration has hardly even tried to convince China that continued improvement in economic relations with the United States depends on Beijing putting real pressure on Pyongyang to curb its nuclear program. And unless you put trade issues on the table with China, you are not going to change the Chinese policy.

At the same time, the United States should be more forthcoming in discussing incentives for the North Koreans to dismantle their nuclear weapons program. Our approach to North Korea has been to refuse to provide the type of security guarantees - including a non-aggression pact - sought by Pyongyang.

Because some in our government dream of a military invasion of North Korea, we have failed to seriously discuss a very important carrot.

Kim Jong-il has 23 million hostages - the innocent people of North Korea - and in imposing sanctions we have to keep that in mind.  However, we can turn off the luxury goods for his upper crust, and it may be necessary to turn off their supply of oil.

Congressman Brad Sherman is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee and the Ranking Member of the Terrorism and Nonproliferation Subcommittee.