UPDATE – North Korea tested five missiles, one of them a long-range weapon of the type that could reach the United States. This missile, a Taepodong Type 2, failed 40 seconds into its flight, in all probability due to a fuel system breakdown.
The liquid hydrogen fuel system is one of the most failure-prone areas of a rocket engine. Nevertheless, the fact that this test was carried out at a time when North Korea is striving to perfect nuclear weapons represents a provocative negative change in policy. Last week, US State Departmentofficials took the unusual step of making direct contact with North Korean UN diplomats to underscore American concern about the test. The US and Japan are likely to increase their missile defense programs in response to the test, and Japan is considering the acquisition of nuclear weapons. A North Korean medium range missile could strike major Japanese cities in seven to ten minutes, or Seoul, South Korea in three minutes. A long-range missile could impact northern parts of the US West Coast within 22 minutes of launch.
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