American and South Korean military officials are reporting that North Korea’s latest missile test, timed to coincide with the 104th birthday of “Eternal President” Kim Il Sung, was an embarrassing failure.
The Washington Post reports that what appears to have been a Musudan BM-25 intermediate-range ballistic missile, theoretically capable of hitting the U.S. territory of Guam with a 1.3-ton nuclear warhead, was launched from North Korea’s East Coast over the Sea of Japan.
The South Korean military said the missile deviated from its “normal” trajectory, so the test is “presumed to have failed.” The U.S. Strategic Command also tracked the missile, and assessed the launch as a failure.
A source within the U.S. government told Reuters the missile “never got off the launch pad, instead bursting into flames on the ground.”
The Associated Press suggests the Musudan launch, which was the first known test of this weapons system, could have been meant as a demonstration of strength for internal audiences ahead of the upcoming once-in-a-generation Party congress in North Korea, or possibly as part of Pyongyang’s temper tantrum over joint U.S.-South Korean military drills.
Reuters notes that Chinese state media was remarkably antagonistic toward the North Korean missile launch, in keeping with Beijing’s growing exasperation over their unruly client state’s behavior.
“The firing of a mid-range ballistic missile on Friday by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), though failed, marks the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere,” sneered China’s Xinhua news agency.
“Nuclear weapons will not make Pyongyang safer. On the contrary, its costly military endeavors will keep on suffocating its economy,” Xinhua added. There are widespread concerns that North Korea is preparing for new nuclear bomb tests.
Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California suggested it would be a mistake to underestimate North Korea’s capabilities based on this failed missile test.
“They will have learned a lot from this launch,” said Lewis. “Not as much as they would have learned if it had succeeded, but still something.”