If you don't find it terribly disconcerting that the North Korean government confirmed it has defied U.N. warnings and conducted its third -- apparently successful -- nuclear test, then you clearly don't understand the situation.

The underground test of what the North Korean government called a miniature-sized nuclear weapon appears to be the latest critical step toward development of a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the United States.

Even China, which is North Korea's only major world ally, is upset about the news. Officials in China called the North Korean ambassador in for a little chat that may have been more of a monologue than a dialogue. That alone speaks volumes about the gravity of the matter.

A South Korean soldier watches a TV screen reporting seismic waves of North Korea’s nuclear test at Seoul train station in Seoul, South Korea,
A South Korean soldier watches a TV screen reporting seismic waves of North Korea's nuclear test at Seoul train station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. Defying U.N. warnings, North Korea on Tuesday conducted an underground nuclear test in the remote, snowy northeast, taking a crucial step toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on a missile capable of striking the United States. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The United Nations had ordered North Korea to shut down its nuclear weapons efforts or face further sanctions and even greater international isolation. Such sanctions, especially ones that might be imposed by the United States, would devastate North Korea's already-dismal economy.

By all accounts, current life in North Korea makes the rugged days of life in the former Soviet Union seem like a vacation on the French Riviera.

That being the case, one might think that the government in Pyongyang would at least attempt to cool tensions. But it has a history of strange and unpredictable actions that inure to the overall detriment of its own people.

For its part, the North Korean government argues that the test is simply a response to various U.S. threats against it. It called the test its "first response" to U.S. threats and promised that should those threats continue, it would resort to "second and third measures of great intensity." One can only imagine what that might entail.

The U.N. issued sanctions against North Korea in December following its launch of a rocket that the U.N. said was a cover for a banned missile test. Pyongyang, of course, claimed that the missile was simply trying to send a satellite into space.

There are myriad things the world does not understand about North Korea, which has been a closed society for more than half a century. The rogue nation reminds us of the petulant child who throws its tantrum at the most inopportune time in front of the largest audience possible.

Time and again the country's leadership has proved that it will not allow itself to be ignored.

We are certain that the timing of the test was no accident. The announcement about it came only hours before President Barack Obama was set to deliver his annual State of the Union address. Not to mention that Saturday is the birthday of the late Kim Jong Il, the notorious father of current leader Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Il rattled sabers -- nuclear and otherwise -- for decades, what more fitting tribute could his son offer than to put North Korea's nuclear ambitions back on the front page of the world's newspapers.

The best-case scenario here is that this is little more than a pathetic melodrama. But, the worst-case scenario is, well, we don't even want to go there.