"ASK ME, ASK ME, ASK ME
Because if it's not love
Then it's the bomb
the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb
That will bring us together" - The Smiths' song 'Ask'
On America's Independence Day, the North Korean Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, attempted and succeeded in some fireworks of his own, with a failed ballistic missile launch. I couldn't help but imagine frizzy hair, bugged-eyed Kim, in some North Korean bunker, listening to the Smiths' "Ask" song, once again miscalculating the world around him outside of his Hermit Kingdom. While neither the world, or Kim's neighbors, may love him, his desire for a bomb surely can bring the world together.
The United States had tracked the fueling and preparation of a potential test launch of the North Korean Taepodong 2 ICBM over the past weeks. This missile is an upgrade to the 1998 Taepodong 1 missile fired over Japan. The Taepodong 2 has an estimated range of 6,700 km (4,200 miles) and can carry up to a 1,000 kg warhead. (For a history of North Korean missile development and its arsenal, see this excellent Asia Times story). The North Koreans fired this missile along with 6 others (of lesser strategic value) over a two-day period. This is in violation of their 2002 pledge not to test missiles.
What Does it All Mean?
1. North Korea's ability to sell "sophisticated" weapons for hard currency may be in greater jeopardy than before the test firing. The failure of the test is a great humiliation to the North Koreans. Possibly more North Korean missiles will rust in warehouses of weary buyers, like with the UAE in 1989.
2. North Korea has given the populations of South Korea and Japan one more great reminder of why a military partnership with the United States is in their strategic national interest. While Russia and China will not support economic sanctions for the test firing, the international community has roundly condemned the launch.
3. Missile defense will only increase by regional players, including India, which is deciding between the US Patriot-3 system and the Israeli (with American support) Arrow missile defense system.
4. China, which blocked any UN announcement after the 1998 test firing, has allowed the issue before the whole Security Council, especially as they hold a critical seat as a sponsor of the 6-party talks that the North Koreans refuse to attend.
5. US defense coordination with its allies in the region will only continue, along with the R&D required to continue to field a viable defense.
6. North Korean promises, statements and agreements are less reliable than their Taepodong 2 missile.
It is hard to see how the North Korean regime comes out ahead, based on this failed display of power. For people who had no interest in the realpolitik arguments of deterrence and national security, they are taking another look and seeking protection from their governments. This can only lead to greater international security cooperation in Asia with the United States. A growing consensus is emerging that the threat of a North Korean nuclear "bomb" is bringing the world together.
International Commentary for additional reading
Philippines - "Politicians agree N. Korea missile launch worrisome"
India - "North Korean Missile tests Suit India"