What North Korea’s Latest Missile Test Means for the US and Its Allies

The Unha launch is hardly the basis for panic, but it is time for certain measures to ensure security and stability.

A reporter once asked President Kennedy the difference between the Atlas rocket that launched John Glenn into orbit and another designed to carry nuclear weapons. “Attitude,” Kennedy is said to have quipped in reply. North Korea has now rung in the Lunar New Year with another successful satellite launch under its belt, an event certainly oriented toward rocket capability of the military persuasion.

Coming on the heels of the North’s fourth nuclear detonation, the launch reflects both continued technical advances and their sustained ICBM ambitions. These recent events mean that active measures to counter North Korea’s missile program will likely take on renewed importance. This will include increased regional missile defense capacity for both the U.S. and its allies, improved homeland missile defense capability, and military postures tailored to quickly defeating North Korea’s strategic forces in the event of a crisis and deterrence failure.

The launch did not come as a surprise. Last week, following increased activity at the Sohae launching station near Tongchang-ri and the Chinese border, Pyongyang gave notice of its launch plans to the International Maritime Organization. On Feb. 7 at 9 a.m. local time, North Korea launched an Unha rocket due south. DPRK state television posted video of the launch, set to triumphant military marches.

Initial reports indicated that the missile might have broken apart after launch, but U.S. Strategic Command detected and tracked the missile “into space.” Perhaps the reported failure was a deliberate detonation of the separated first stage, to avoid recovery. South Korea recovered parts of the 2012 missile launch, which led them to estimate that the missile had a range of 10,000 kilometers.

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