Taepodong-2: The Donger down in flames

While this series of North Korean missile tests is genuinely troubling, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the long-range Taepodong-2 missile failed miserably for one reason or another. This test apparently failed earlier in its flight than a 1998 failure, meaning that great strides probably have not been taken in the past eight years.

The other firings were of short-range Scud-type and medium-range Rodong-2 missiles. Still a cause for concern, to be sure, but certainly not a cause for panic. At least not in the US. It’s different for South Korea and Japan, of course. But if the DPRK really does have a mushroom-maker bomb and wants to use it locally, missiles aren’t the only delivery method option anyway. Seoul faces quick obliteration by North Korean artillery and has for some time now, so the real strategic change here seems to be fairly minimal.

For additional background see A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK.

UPDATE: Drezner asks Should you panic about North Korea or not? and has a map showing the ranges of Donger-1 and Donger-2 missiles.

He also points out the, um, Duck of Minerva, who notes:

The US and Japan have made all sorts of dark threats about punitive action if North Korea went ahead with the launch. Now we have to step up to the plate or risk having had our bluff called.

Murdoc must admit that he’s missed a lot of the goings on here, but this is indeed troubling. Having bluffs called doesn’t add any strength to an already-weak position.

I call our position weak because it appears more and more clearly that the only position of strength we have is war, and while probably called for it isn’t a particularly appealing option and there is very little in potential upside for our cause right now by fighting a war with the DPRK.

UPDATE 2: Let me clarify (well, restate differently) what I said about our position. I called it “weak”, which isn’t really what I meant.

What I meant was this: our only options for different courses of action are weak, other than military options. Our bargaining position is rather weak, in terms of reaching some sort of understanding with the DPRK. Our position to actually do things, of course, is pretty strong. And what we’ve been doing is pretty much what I think we should be doing.

It’s our position to effectively deal openly with the North Koreans that is fairly weak, because there is only so much more that sanctions can do, and it won’t be those in power suffering anyway. Sanctions only work when the leadership cares about the welfare of its citizenry, and many decades have shown conclusively that the DPRK’s leadership doesn’t care one bit.

The long-range missile test/show was a complete failure, and the medium-range shows of force didn’t alter the balance any. This display was probably meant more to rally the home team than to “send any message” to enemies or rivals.

Think back to the Iranian “super torpedo” tests. Little substance.


  1. Bah, Japan has an earthquake on average every 3.7 minutes. I think it takes more than a few failed missile launches to rattle their nerves 🙂

  2. True enough – hte US does not have many more bullets in the arsenal vs North Korea (other then war). That said, there is a school of thought that Bush’s latest round of sactions (blocking money transfers to the leadership of NK- hmmm I wonder what program that is?) has been hurting NK where it counts and that’s why they are pushing it for all they are worth. The otherside of the issue – is what does North Korea have in their arsenal? Crude short/medium range missiles, a few long range missiles with a quality control problem, a starving population, an disfunctional economy, and virtually no allies. North Korea’s only card is to play the blackmail card and hope for bribes (reparations). So as weak as the US’s hand is – North Korea’s is worse. Strategy pages has a cute artical on how NK is stealing Chinese trains. Check it out.

  3. By the way – anyone know if HAARP has been active in last couple of days? An ICBM destructing about 35 seconds into flght could be a victim of an EMP effect.

  4. No question……….it’s never a good idea to talk smack without backing it up. Doesn’t make any difference if you’re with your homies on the street, or the only world superpower. Saying you’re ‘gonna’; then not doing it when the other party calls your bluff is changing your name to ‘bitch’ in a very public manner. Better to talk softly, take whatever actions you’re contemplating………….and let the other country think about where they’re going if they continue acting out. I understand the U.S. has very effectively shut off quite a bit, or most of, N. Korea’s access to it’s international funds. This was done quietly and behind the scenes, didn’t front off the NK’s publicly, and removed a significant resource for them. That’s the type of ‘show me’ actions most nations can understand, and clearly avoids the pitfalls of talking smack in public then having to risk war or being the ‘ho’ with no where to go. All these NK missle launches amount to diddly squat. The U.S. should move smartly in concert with Japan, to provide any additional anti missle resources the Japanese might want. Easily brushing aside any missles on an actual trajectory for Japan would be incrdibly demoralizing for the NKs and generate strong support for any subsequent Japanese/US position on the matter. If the NKs want to continue to shoot their missle inventory into the Sea of Japan…………well sooner or later, they won’t have many left.

  5. The thing that makes our negotiating position weak is the snails pace at which our antiballistic missile defenses have developed. Every N Korean missile launch should be an ABM test with those idiots supplying the target. I suppose it is possible that the failure of their first Typodong missile was due to our intervention. I’d like to believe that just maybe one of our lasers punched a hole in it during first stage boost. Of course, Boeing’s airborne laser program hasn’t been a raving success. Hell, I remember when they were modifying a 747 with a big hump on it’s back in the late ’80s on the Airborne Optical Adjunct program. 20 years later and they’re still f’ing around with the same airplane and the same lasers. It’s personally embarrassing to me to be part of an industry that moves this slowly. The only thing that happens quickly is the rate at which we spend your tax dollars.