Just how bad was the North Korea missile launch last night?

This story actually broke just as we were warming up for the debate last night and our readers were discussing it in comments while most of the political sphere was focused on New Hampshire. Ahead of their original schedule, Kim Jong-un launched a missile into orbit allegedly carrying an “Earth observing satellite” over the objections of pretty much everyone else on the planet. Like we needed this on top of everything else that’s going on.(WaPo)

North Korea on Sunday declared that it had successfully put an “earth observation satellite” into orbit under the direct orders of leader Kim Jong Un, and said it planned to launch “many more.”

Both the South Korean defense ministry and the Pentagon said that the rocket, launched at 9 a.m. North Korean time from a launch pad near the Chinese border, appeared to have successfully reached space.

The United States, Japan and South Korea immediately condemned the launch, a move widely seen as another step toward North Korea mastering the technology for making a missile capable of striking the mainland United States. The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting for later Sunday to discuss how to respond to the country’s latest provocation.

It certainly looks like they put something into space, though how much of an actual satellite it is remains to be seen. The particularly bad news is that this was a long range launch, passing directly over Okinawa, and could hit any number of targets if it wasn’t heading for space. Couple that with their most recent nuclear weapons testing and you’ve got a recipe for some furrowed brows in all the western nations. For that matter, even China condemned the launch (though in rather mild tones) and they’re Kim’s only remaining friends in the world with any real power.

Even though the news was still fresh off the press it showed up at the GOP debate. Ted Cruz offered a few dire words on the subject when asked.

With respect to North Korea and what we should do now, one of the first things we should do is expand our missile defense capacity. We ought to put missile defense interceptors in South Korea. South Korea wants them. One of the real risks of this launch, North Korea wants to launch a satellite, and one of the greatest risks of the satellite is they would place a nuclear device in the satellite. As it would orbit around the Earth, and as it got over the United States they would detonate that nuclear weapon and set of what’s called an EMP, and electromagnetic pulse which could take down the entire electrical grid on the Eastern seaboard, potentially killing millions.

We need to harden the grid to defend ourselves, and we need missile defense to protect ourselves against North Korea.

There’s been plenty of discussion of the threat of a North Korean EMP attack on the United States for years now with varying opinions on just how effective it would be. The overwhelming consensus is that it certainly wouldn’t be good, but precisely how bad it would be depends on a lot of factors including the efficacy of the bomb, where it was relative to the continent, altitude and other questions which can’t be answered up front. Perhaps the bigger question is just how up to date our intelligence is and if we would really know for sure if they had developed the ability to load a bomb on such a mission.

The second, more obvious worry is that it wouldn’t be heading into space, but directly for Seattle. So what do we do about it? Missile defense systems in South Korea sound good, but there are logistic and political hurdles to that, mostly involving China. I’d love to have a definitive answer here short of wiping out Pyongyang preemptively, but I don’t. Thankfully I’m not running for president. Let’s hope whoever wins this election has something in mind, because North Korea is no longer just a hypothetical problem.


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