More on the North Korean Launch

Yesterday’s New York Times cites competition with South Korea as a possible motive for the North’s weekend space launch attempt. Also, a reminder that a North Korean nuclear ICBM, even if it existed, would not pose a huge incremental threat to the US, compared to other delivery means that are available that would be more reliable and less detectable.

Mark is right to point out that North Korean technology still stinks.

But perhaps the most interesting perspective on the launch was in yesterday’s NYT story, not repeated in the story Mark links to. This pointed to a peninsular motive for the launch, in addition to whatever missile-sales promotion or attention-getting purposes the North may have had.

While many analysts have looked at the launching through a military lens, some say another perspective involves political rivalries on the Korean peninsula. For years, South Korea has been gearing up to fire a satellite into orbit and join the space club. Its spaceport of Oinarodo is nearly ready, but a launching scheduled for this month was delayed, giving North Korea an opening.

“They’re racing to beat the South Koreans,” said Tim Brown, a senior fellow at, a private group in Alexandria, Va

It’s worth reminding ourselves that if North Korea wanted to deliver an atomic device to America, there would be lots of more reliable and less traceable ways to do so than via one of their missiles. The missile in question could also have easily been destroyed on the launch pad. This is not an effective deterrent.

Because of North Korea’s well known penchant for attention-seeking behavior, it’s a master stroke that Secretary of State Clinton has chosen a very experienced diplomat, Stephen Bosworth, as her special envoy for North Korea, and announced that it’s okay that he will be doing the job part time. (As my daughter asked, how much of diplomacy is like High School?)

Update On WAMU’s Diane Rehm show, Selig Harrison, a long-time expert on North Korea, reminded listeners that the current launch occurred just before the Supreme People’s Assembly session, echoing the 1998 launch just prior to the 50th anniversary celebration. This seems to have been an overdetermined event.