So who looks more foolish here?

A. Kim Jong-Il for staging a July 4th fireworks display that blew up in his face;

B. William Perry and Ash Carter for hyperventilating that we had to blow up this missile on the launch pad, instead of waiting for it to blow itself up 40 seconds after launch;

C. All those reporter who repeated the Pentagon palbum about how until the launch failure “we were ready to do what was necessary to defend the country,” as if the interceptors in Alaska had any chance of intercepting anything; or

D. All of the above.

You can guess my choice.

Let’s be clear what this means. The North Korean have now blown it by actually testing a system that was always worth much more as a bargaining chip than as a military capability. Continued attempts to hype the threat (by either the DPRK or the National Missile Defense Agency) will now be much harder to make with a straight face. (Good thing the Senate added funds to the anti-missile program last week, before it became clear Kim was drawing to an inside straight). Finally, all those reporters and analysts who have been talking about both the North Korean missiles and the US anti-missiles as if both were proven capabilities should slap themselves in the face and snap out of it.

Remember the 1995 NIE on the ballistic missile threat to the United States? The one that said that any country other than Russia or China was a good 15 years away from the ability to strike America with a ballistic missile? The one that drove the Gingrich Republicans so nuts that they created the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission that predicted such a capability within 5 years and then pressured the intelligence agencies to conform their assesments to the party line?

Doesn’t look so bad eleven years later, does it?


  1. b (History)

    Any idea what nkind of missile that realy was?

    Two Scuds and three Nodong and one Taepodong-2 the US military says.
    Any way to verify that?

    How could they differentiate between Taepodong 1 or 2? How to verfify the claim?

  2. DC Loser

    The 95 NIE looks more and more prescient as time goes by. The people who wrote that report were vilified by Congressional Republicans, but they will be vindicated when 2010 comes around and all their predictions come true. The Rumsfeld Commission had the intelligence relax its rules on projecting foreign missile capabilities to support their pet missile defense projects. But the process was never broken to begin with.

  3. Lugo (History)

    Ummmm… it ain’t 2010 yet.

  4. Rob (History)

    I wonder how many scientists and missile technicians are being shot as “wreckers” this morning.

  5. mark gubrud (History)

    Does it occur to anyone else that, given the alternatives of either backing down under threat, or provoking a harsh and hysterical US/Japanese/etc. response with a successful test, a failed Taepodong 2 launch, coupled with successful tests of their real missiles, and timed to the US shuttle launch to make a point (about such things as fairness, hypocrisy, law and sovereignty), is not a bad outcome for North Korea? Could the launch have been intentionally sabotaged? Well, why not?

  6. Cernig (History)

    The Pentagon and the Japanese at first seemed confident the failed launch wasn’t a Taepongdo-2. Then some faceless guy from State pops up and says it was – and everyone else scurries to get “on message”. Color me sceptical.

    Where’s the proof the only missile that failed is the one that all the fearmongering has been about? Without that hard proof, I will take the Occam’s Razor explanation – it was another Scud copy that just happened to fail on takeoff. The administration then decided to make political hay while the sun shines and the Pentagon and Japanese for a while got caught behind the story curve. It fits not only the events of yesterday but also this administration’s history.

    It amazes me that the invertebrate press corps, having been lied to over Iraqi WMD intelligence and so much more, goes on blithely presenting this administration as being trustable when it says anything at all. They should be picking at the gaps in the administration’s storyline and demanding explanations. Instead they will take the administration at its belated word.

  7. CKR (History)

    At least the North Korean fizzle saved the United States from having to demonstrate a fizzle of its own missile defense.

  8. yale

    A failure in an early test of an advanced intercontinental range missile is not a laughable boo-boo by a bunch of goofus boobs.

    It is the norm, not the exception, for normal missile development by any and all of the most advanced technical societies.

    The test was a partial success. A 40 second burn occurred with some type of midboost failure.

    Does anyone doubt that the NKs won’t engineer out the problem?

    This isn’t a joke.

    NK has plutonium. It is enrichiching uranium. It is certainly capable of building weapons equivalent to the devices that brought unspeakable Hell to Earth over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Even without the newest rocket, their other missiles can reach all their neighbors.

    NK is closed, paranoid totalitarian military camp run by what appears to be a total loon.

    As a card-carrying lifelong progressive, I despise Bush and his pathetic neo-con buddies, and I would be struck with lightening if I ever voted republican.
    However.. I still can look past my politics to see a real threat.

    Mr. Cirincione, as I have heard him on radio and read his works, appears to be totally blinded by his anti-right beliefs, incapable of evaluating a situation except in terms of political plots.

  9. Max Postman (History)

    While I don’t agree with Mr. Gubrud’s conspiracy theory above, I think the central point is fair: this is not a horrible outcome for KJI. First, the test, successful or not, was the sort of “bold” defiance of the international community that KJI really gets off on. But perhaps more importantly, the test may facilitate NK’s ICBM program. That is, after all, what missile tests are designed to do. Of course, the “test” could also have been a stunt with little scientific value. But insofar as it was useful to the people working on the TD-2, the test ultimately constitutes a compromising of the deterrent value of the system in the short term in exchange for the long-term gains that will be secured when and if NK develops a workable ICBM. (Interesting parallel w/ the US’ anti-ballistic missile system and the deterrent cost of public tests)

    I also think that The Nuts (Perry and Carter) aren’t going to be quite as cowed by this incident as Mr. Cirincione argues here. A failed test is better than no test for The Nuts, I would say. After all, this launch makes clear that KJI cannot be contained diplomatically, even by a large number of important countries working together and with significant resolve (I think this is a fair characterization of the pre-test diplomatic situation). I believe that another pre-test standoff will occur between North Korea and the world’s powers, and when that standoff does occur I believe that the failure of diplomacy here is ultimately going to lend credence to the inevitable Perry and Carter-type arguments. Of course, an increased skepticism about North Korean military capabilities will also diminish the appeal of this sort of argument, so maybe it’s a wash.

    My ultimate point here: This is anything but a clear-cut victory for the good guys. There are yards and yards of silver lining in this thing for both KJI and The Nuts.

  10. Andy (History)

    b: IR data combined with Cobra Ball and Cobra Judy data can easily determine what missiles they were, even if they weren’t imaged pre-launch, which they probably were. I don’t know for sure if Ball and Judy were in the area, but I’d be very surpised if they weren’t.

    And I agree that politicians of all stripes need to stay out of the intelligence process. Unfortunately, almost all of them don’t have the first clue about what objective intelligence means and how it’s created.

  11. Will (History)

    Yet another bout of blindness for the press….
    Not only did the mainstream media happily smile and suck this report from the sippy cup given to them by the pentagon without any confirmation, it asked for more. For the last several weeks all the hype in the mainstream press was about a single Taepodong 2 missile being fueled and ready to go on a North Korean launch pad. So what happens when it takes weeks and not days for the launch? What happens when the press finds out that not only was this missile launched, but up to 6 others all of different range capabilities? That’s right’s it doesn’t ask if anyone had a possible clue about this before, instead they simply report that all is well because immediately after each individual missile was launched they were tracked. I’m sorry but despite the actual lack of success I’m not comfortable knowing that our fourth branch of government still isn’t asking the hard questions about why we didn’t have better intelligence earlier. Perhaps the worst and equally scary part of this mess is we have a president who was comfortable enough to keep reading a children’s book when airplanes where flying into building on American soil. What do you think would happen when he finds out America has multiple missile threats flying over Japan towards the west coast.

  12. megaton1 (History)

    “Yet another bout of blindness for the press….’

    perhaps…but i’m afraid you’ve only demonstrated that the leading cause of “blindness” is ones’ own biases.

  13. Andy (History)

    Will, do you have any evidence we didn’t know about the other missiles? No, you don’t. Not all our secrets get leaked to the press, thankfully. I can say from past personal experience that we watch this type of activity very closely, and I have no doubt things have not changed in the past few years.

    Finally, this is really the first full launch of a TD-2. What’s surprising is not that the launch was ultimately a failure, but that the missile didn’t explode on the pad. “Rocket science” rarely progresses without setbacks.

  14. Allen Thomson (History)

    > “What do you think would happen when he finds out America has multiple missile threats flying over Japan towards the west coast.”

    Just a point of detail, but shots from NK to the Left Coast of America don’t go over Japan. They cross Russian territory—Primorskiy Kray, Sakhalin, Kamchatka.

    Shots to Hawaii would cross Japan, coincidentally near Tsugaru were we’ve recently installed the FBX-T radar.

    You can do these trajectories yourself with Google Earth’s ruler tool: just use it to draw a line between the launch site and target, and that will be fairly close to the actual trajectory. (It’s easy! It’s fun!)