Initially reports suggested the North Koreans fired a Daepondong I ballistic missile over Japan into the Pacific. Later State Department bulletins indicated it was merely an attempt to launch a satellite.
Any way you look at it, many disturbing questions about American policy toward North Korea and stability on the Korean peninsula are raised. State Department spokesmen said firing a missile over Japan and into the Pacific did not violate a 1994 agreement freezing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, since this was ostensibly a satellite launch. However the failed satellite launch was tracked for 4000 miles into the Pacific Ocean, a range that could make Alaska and Hawaii vulnerable to a North Korean attack. Although it is not easy to determine motives, the launching of this missile may be designed for Iraq, Iran and Pakistan as much as South Korea. As the leading supplier of nuclear technology to rogue states, North Korea depends on these sales for the only hard currency to be found in this largely impoverished nation.
The launch also raises the ante in the “international game of chicken.” North Korea delivered a message: If the nuclear plants promised by the U.S. are not built soon and if gifts of oil don’t arrive, the next missile fired may be more than a mere satellite launch.
Within hours of the missile’s Pacific splashdown, State Department Asia hands confirmed the need to underwrite the nuclear plants – a decision that prompted the South Korean government to release $4.6 billion to its neighbor to the north. Like much of what occurs in American life at the moment, intimidation even if indirect, is rewarded. The North Koreans may be facing technical problems for a long range missile, such as not having enough propellant for a third stage, but as former Pentagon officials noted this is not an insuperable problem if they are intent on delivering afirst strike to noncontiguous parts of the United S..