As everyone knows, North Korea's long-range Taepo Dong II missile test has failed. The effect, of course, will be to strengthen links between Japan, South Korea, and the US, and to make possible North Korean allies China and Russia nervous. According to Slate:
Kim Jong-il, these past few years, has adroitly played his otherwise miserable hand because of two cards that everyone believes he holds—nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Yesterday's dud raises the possibility that the missile card's a bluff, that there may be (as Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland) "no there there." The next tempting step is to wonder about the nukes. We know that he has enough plutonium to build some bombs, but has he built them? Can he build them?
From a strictly objective viewpoint, the test would have meant little, even had it succeeded. In Cold War days, the United States and the Soviet Union would each test-launch a new intercontinental ballistic missile 20 times before deeming it "operational." The North Koreans, until yesterday, hadn't fired a long-range missile since 1998, and no serious analyst thinks they can make a nuclear weapon small enough to fit inside a missile's nose cone.
Looks to me like Kim has been left with No Dong in his hands.
Rafael Poch, La Vanguardia's completely insane correspondent in Peking, says:
The question why North Korea is so stubborn about launching missiles is almost banal, because of the fact that it is not prohibited and everybody launches them, the Russians and the Americans, even France.
What?!? North Korea doesn't give a rat's ass what international law permits and prohibits, and the fact that Country X test-launches missiles itself does not mean that Country X will not consider itself threatened if Country Y test-launches a missile, especially if Country Y is run by a bunch of crazies led by a certifiable lunatic. North Korea launched those missiles in order to threaten its neighbors, Mr. Poch, you dope, and it's the United States's business because two of those neighbors are close allies of ours.
Mr. Poch adds:
In the Middle East there is a crisis, they say because Iran wants to develop nuclear arms, but in Israel those very arms, some 200 bombs, have existed since the 1970s, though they are not talked about. In the middle of this general irresponsibility, it can be affirmed with some security that the North Koreans are not the only inhabitants in the global insane asylum.
Note the moral equivalence here that Mr. Poch is making between Israel and the US on the one hand and Iran and North Korea on the other. The difference between the two is clear: North Korea and Iran are aggressive totalitarian dictatorships. The US and Israel are not. The US and Israel would be happy to leave North Korea and Iran alone if those countries stopped behaving aggressively. North Korea and Iran have no intention of stopping their aggressive behavior. To quote the Slate article:
"The missile launch is an issue that is entirely within our sovereignty," a (North Korean) foreign ministry official said. "No one has the right to dispute it. … We are not bound by any agreement." The statement is true but beside the point. The worrisome thing about the prospect of North Korean nukes isn't so much the nukes as the North Korean. The missile launch confirms the worst fears about Kim Jong-il—not merely that he's a guerrilla diplomat who takes wild gambles but that sometimes the gambles go awry.
But Mr. Poch continues:
North Korea is not a threat except to its own population, which suffers from one of the toughest regimes in the world. But while the only choice offered to them is regime change, its only play will be missiles and ambitions for a nuclear bomb, for which the real evidence is zero, according to the most trustworthy observers.
Who are those trustworthy observers, Mr. Poch? A few drunks at the hotel bar in Peking? As for being a threat to no one, Mr. Poch, then what are the missiles and warheads and enormous army on the South Korean frontier for?
This was La Vanguardia's page three international lead news story today, not an opinion peace. People, this is not news, it is analysis, and pretty stupid analysis at that.