For years the North Koreans have unsuccessfully launched ballistic missiles and drawing the ire of the international community, especially U.S. and Japanese leaders. In every other missile test, the North Koreans the rocket either didn’t launch or it took off and quickly fell into the sea.
Wednesday’s test was by all accounts successful. The North American Aerospace Defense Command reported that “initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.”
There is no report if the satellite launched into orbit is working, but North Korea joins a class of 11 other nations that have launched a satellite into orbit. As recently as April, the North Koreans failed to launch a missile when the second stage reportedly did not ignite.
The successful launch is a sign of progress, but defense analysts cautioned that it’s not a sign that North Korea is close to operating an intercontinental ballistic missile program that could threaten the U.S. North Korea’s neighbors in the Pacific region are more concerned to include the Chinese.
Jim Miller, U.S. undersecretary of defense for Policy, and Chinese Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army general staff, met Wednesday and discussed the North Korean launch among other topics. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei expressed “regret” that the North Koreans, a staunch Chinese ally, launched the missile.
The White House called it a “highly provocative act that threatens regional security.”
The North Koreans have to show they can repeatedly successfully launch a rocket consistently before their military can declare success. They are also still far away from the capability of firing a rocket that threatens the U.S. mainland.
“It is definitely a step forward towards potentially having the capability. But it does not mean they have it now, nor that they are guaranteed to get it in the future,” Brian Weeden, a former officer with the U.S. Air Force Space Command, said in an e-mail to Danger Room. “Last night (or this morning for them) was the first time they’ve gotten a long-range rocket to work right in 14 years (counting from their first attempt in 1998). One success indicates progress, but not victory.”