North Korea launched a multistage rocket Friday morning, again defying countries that want it to stop pursuing advanced weapons, but it blew up less than two minutes into flight and parts crashed in the Yellow Sea off South Korea.
Despite the failure, the U.S. and its allies quickly condemned the launch, with the White House saying that a food agreement it had reached with Pyongyang in February was dead. But the launch also denied North Korea a key propaganda victory and raised questions about the state of its ballistic missile technology.(Pause for laughter.)
The rocket took off at 7:39 a.m. local time from a new launch facility in the country's northwest corner and flew south toward Japan's Ryukyu Islands, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia.
It apparently exploded about 80 seconds into flight, roughly the time its first stage should have burned out and second stage kicked in, U.S. and South Korean defense officials said.
Pyongyang issued a brief statement saying, "The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit," and added that its scientists were "looking into the cause of the failure."
The admission of failure, which came more than four hours after the launch, is a sign that North Korea's government recognizes that its ability to control information has weakened. It contrasts with its past launch attempts, which it declared to be successful despite clear evidence of failure.
The North American Aerospace Command, which tracked the rocket's flight, said debris began falling into the Yellow Sea about 100 miles west of Seoul.
South Korea's military said the rocket broke in two parts. The first part split into 10 pieces that fell in waters west and slightly south of Seoul. The second part flew a bit farther south, then broke into three pieces that fell in waters west of Gunsan.
The South's navy recovered some large debris off the coast of Gunsan Friday afternoon, but officials said they weren't certain it was from the rocket.
"The North Koreans are now zero for three," said a U.S. official, in reference to earlier rocket launch attempts that either failed after launch or were doubted to have successfully delivered satellites into orbit. [...]
A top Senate Republican, Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, said that even a failed launch could still offer "useful information on North Korea's development of technology capable of delivering a nuclear weapon that can threaten American cities tomorrow."And that, Ron Paul, is why we need US forces in the Western Pacific.
A successful flight would have lasted about 10 minutes, with the rocket's third stage entering space somewhere above the Philippines and Indonesia, according to plans sent by North Korean space officials to international aviation and maritime authorities.I have noticed that some media outlets have begun putting the term "missile test" in quotes.
Three previous attempts to fire a long-range missile also failed. On two of those occasions, North Korea's authoritarian government told its people that it sent a rocket carrying a satellite into space.
The senior administration official said that the failure of the latest launch shows that the North Korean missile program hasn't advanced since its last launch attempt in 2009, welcome news to U.S. officials.
"They're not moving forward. If anything they're stuck in place or moved backwards," he said. "It does demonstrate that they are not advancing their ballistic missile technology."
He said that this may be due to sanctions that are designed to restrict North Korea's ability to acquire or trade technologies that support the nuclear program. But he said it was impossible to say for certain if there is a link.
In any case, he said, the failure will make it harder for the North Koreans to sell their nuclear technology elsewhere, more welcome news for the U.S. and its allies.
North Korea, since announcing the launch last month, portrayed it as an attempt to send a satellite into space and said it was timed to coincide with celebrations of the 100th anniversary on Sunday of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung.
"It was a high-risk gamble, not only putting itself before the world but also during this week of the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung," said Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow and Korea specialist at the Heritage Foundation.
The U.S. and other countries viewed the launch as a disguised test of long-range missile technology and urged North Korea not to go through with it. [...]
Among the loudest critics were Japan and the Philippines, which had territory along the rocket's projected course that might be hit by spent parts.
The specter of North Korea's military ambitions has been especially worrying for Japan, which had seen previous North Korean launches over its territory. Its self-defense force had deployed antimissile interceptors on land and at sea ahead of the launch with orders to destroy the rocket or any of its parts if they posed any threat to Japanese land. The planned trajectory was to take the rocket over some small Japanese islands.Yo, Kim and friends. Do you really want to make the Japanese mad? You remember what happened the last time Asian countries made the Japanese mad, don't you?
"Even if the launch ended up a failure, it violates U.N. resolutions and is a major provocation to Japan. We will protest to Pyongyang through diplomatic channels," chief government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said at a morning news conference.
Pyongyang's conflict with other countries over the launch has played out in the same fashion as the previous three times it fired a long-range rocket—in August 1998, July 2006 and April 2009. It said it sent satellites into space with the 1998 and 2009 launches, though none have ever been found by international authorities.I suspect China is not entirely flummoxed about this. They enjoy their North Korean clients sticking it to the West, or at least trying to do so.
North Korea's rocket program is part of a larger effort it started in the 1970s to develop weapons of mass destruction. The work has proceeded slowly due to the country's poverty and isolation from the rest of the imposed by its authoritarian leaders.
At the same time, efforts by other countries to persuade North Korea to halt such activities have failed. North Korea's regime has based its survival on military, rather than economic, strength, rendering international penalties on the North's economy ineffective.
Military options are limited due to the North's proximity to prosperous South Korea. And the country with the most influence on the North, China, fears that too much pressure will lead to instability, creating problems in its provinces that border the country. Authorities in Beijing summoned North Korean representatives twice in recent weeks to protest launch preparations.
After the launch, China reiterated its calls for calm on the Korean peninsula, in a statement from Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin. "China has noticed [North Korea's] launch of its satellite and noted the reaction of relevant parties," the statement said. "We hope that relevant parties remain calm and restrained, don't do anything to damage peninsular and regional peace and stability, adhere to contact and dialogue, and jointly maintain peace and stability."
"They cannot do much because they face a choice between bad and even worse," said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea specialist at Kookmin University in Seoul.
U.S. President Barack Obama, in a visit to Seoul two weeks ago, said North Korea would likely have to endure tougher economic sanctions if it went ahead with the launch.Give Obama credit. He's being tough with North Korea. Tougher than Jimmy Carter or even George Bush, for instance. Very out of character for him. Wonder if he has an angle to this. But for now, give him credit for not putting up with this.
"Every time North Korea has violated a Security Council resolution it's resulted in further isolation, tightening of sanctions," Mr. Obama said. "I suspect that will happen this time as well."
Last month, U.S. officials said the launch would force it to halt a plan announced on Feb. 29 to provide food assistance to North Korea, which was linked to a promise of a moratorium on weapons tests and other development activities.Riiiiiiiight. I suspect this argument was not made with a straight face. Probably a lot of giggling on the NoKo side.
Pyongyang has also argued that it made clear during negotiations with the U.S. that it would promise not to test a missile but not agree to restrict the launch of a space vehicle.
What is very surprising here is North Korea actually admitting that the test failed. Allahpundit also finds that curious and speculates as to the reasons why they would do so:
Let me float two theories, one highly implausible yet entertaining and the other more plausible and intriguing. Highly implausible yet entertaining: Maybe there really is a quiet power struggle going on at the top in the aftermath of Kim Jong-un’s succession and somehow one of the factions managed to get this onto state TV to embarrass the other. Can’t bring myself to believe that, though. If the rift was so deep that the regime had actually lost control of the information being transmitted on its own state TV mouthpiece, it would mean chaos behind the scenes. Surely there’d be other signs of it besides this. Which means it’s onto theory two, the more plausible and intriguing: The regime suspects it’s lost its monopoly of information inside the country due to radio broadcasts or other media from China and South Korea filtering in. They know the public — or a good chunk of it — is going to find out from outside media that the missile failed, which means they have two options. Either they can lie about it and lose credibility as North Koreans start to wonder about what other lies they’ve been told or they can tell the truth and preserve some of their credibility. They’re going to look weak either way as the news about the launch failure filters in; they might as well own it and try to maximize their retention of the people’s trust. The important point here, though, is that to force a confession like this the amount of foreign media now penetrating the country must be much bigger than we think. If that’s so, how long until the whole facade starts to crack? You can’t have a totalitarian state without total control.Meanwhile, Red State's Jeff Emanuel beat me to the obvious silver lining of this "missile test":
"solace we can take from this is that Iranian missiles are mostly DPRK designed w/ great Iranian manufacturing & quality control"