In the end, maybe it was better to have North Korea demonstrate its ineptitude at rocket science. According to every source but Pyongyang, the latest version of the Taepodong-2 had as much success as its predecessor in reaching orbit: none. The failure undermines yet again the inability of North Korea to mount a legitimate threat against the US, but it wasn’t the only display of impotence this weekend:
North Korea failed in its highly vaunted effort to fire a satellite into orbit, military and private experts said Sunday after reviewing detailed tracking data that showed the missile and payload fell into the sea. Some said the failure undercut the North Korean campaign to come across as a fearsome adversary able to hurl deadly warheads halfway around the globe. …
But looking at the launching from a purely technical vantage point, space experts said the failure represented a blow that in all likelihood would seriously delay the missile’s debut.
“It’s got to be embarrassing,” said Geoffrey E. Forden, a missile expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I can imagine heads flying if the ‘Dear Leader’ finds out the satellite didn’t fly into orbit,” he said, referring to the name North Koreans are obliged to use when speaking of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s reclusive leader.
The real threat from North Korea doesn’t come directly to the US. The DPRK has more than enough technical capability in short-range missiles and rockets, and the main threat comes to South Korea and Seoul, which lies just a few short miles from the DMZ. No one doubts that Kim Jong-Il could ravage the South in an attack, and that would require the US to fight Pyongyang in defense of Seoul — and might bring China back in on Kim’s side. It would pull the entire Pacific Rim into the conflict.
The threat of nuclear weapons, backed with missile technology, is bad enough to make it the focus of American diplomacy for over 15 years, though. The DPRK violated yet another agreement in testing the Taepodong system for the second time in ten years, which demonstrates yet again the folly of trusting a dictator who clearly desires extortionist leverage over the US and Japan. What do you do when someone extorts you? You call the cops, but what happens when the cops don’t want to enforce the law — and they’re mostly on the side of the extortionist? Barack Obama just discovered that problem at the UN. The rocket wasn’t the only fizzle yesterday:
The U.S. and its allies sought punishment Sunday for North Korea’s defiant launch of a rocket that apparently fizzled into the Pacific, holding an emergency U.N. meeting in response to the “provocative act” that some believe was a long-range missile test.
President Barack Obama, faced with his first global security crisis, called for an international response and condemned North Korea for threatening the peace and stability of nations “near and far.” Minutes after liftoff, Japan requested the emergency Security Council session in New York. …
Council members met for three hours, seeking above all a unified response, but broke up for the night without issuing even a customary preliminary statement of condemnation. Diplomats privy to the closed-door talks say China, Russia, Libya and Vietnam were concerned about further alienating and destabilizing North Korea.
“We’re now in a very sensitive moment,” Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui said after the talks concluded. “Our position is that all countries concerned should show restraint, and refrain from taking actions that might lead to increased tensions.”
“All countries concerned should show restraint,” Zhang says, but he doesn’t want to do anything when one of them doesn’t — by launching an ICBM in the direction of the US. Not only did China and Russia block UNSC action again, this time the Security Council couldn’t even bring itself to wag its finger at Kim. Even the spoof version of the UN would write a strongly-worded memo (definitely not safe for work):
The UN once again proves its uselessness in enforcing international agreements. People criticized the US and the Bush administration for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein, but the UN — and specifically Russia and China — left us no choice. Had the UN taken Saddam’s violations of 17 UNSC resolutions seriously (and had they not participated in the multibillion-dollar corruption of the Oil-for-Food program), Saddam and his sons would have left the stage years before, and we could have been rebuilding Iraq in the 1990s. Now the UNSC can’t even be bothered to issue resolutions when tinpot dictators defy them.
We now have two instructional fizzles. Unfortunately, only one of them will result in serious effort to improve, and it won’t be at Turtle Bay.
Update: A commenter wonders whether we’re buying into the NK satellite launch explanation in calling this a dud. No, but perhaps people don’t understand why. An ICB has to reach space in order to achieve its ballistic arc and to hit a long-range target. If it can’t hit space, it fails as an ICBM. Kim has failed twice in ten years to reach high enough for the ballistic arc needed for an ICBM.