Cultural Revolutions

Failure to Launch

North Korea’s failed missile launch has created a pervasive sense of relief and a little smirking in U.S. and East Asian policy circles.  The latest episode was Pyongyang’s fourth unsuccessful launch of a satellite since 1998, and it confirmed that the country’s missile program still faces some daunting challenges.

Even though the North Korean regime contended that the purpose of the attempt was solely to place a satellite in orbit, officials in Washington and East Asia believed that it was a thinly disguised effort to test a multistage missile as a delivery system for nuclear warheads.  That was the reason for the feeling of relief when the test failed.  But such complacency is misplaced.  With respect to both its nuclear- and ballistic-missile programs, Pyongyang is seeking to master technology that is nearly seven-decades old.  Sooner or later, even a decrepit economic and scientific system like North Korea’s will succeed in attaining the twin goals of a nuclear arsenal and an effective delivery system.  Indeed, most experts believe that Pyongyang has processed enough plutonium to build perhaps as many as a half-dozen nuclear weapons and probably has built two or three already.

Unfortunately, the United States has no credible policy for dealing with a North Korea that will possess nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. ...

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