Over the next few days, the MSM is likely to cast the North Korean missile launchers as something of a propaganda coup. On the very day "The Imperialist Yankee Clique" celebrates its most important national holiday, Pyongyang managed to steal the media spotlight, by launching as many as six missiles toward Japan (and U.S. bases in the Far East), including a long-range TD-2. Using that logic, the fact that the TD-2 failed 35 seconds into its flight becomes a secondary consideration, almost irrelevant. With his Fourth of July stunt, Kim Jong-il managed to thumb his nose at Washington (again), and compel the world community to focus its attention on North Korea and its demands.
But if Kim's missile spectacular was a "success" in that respect, it was also a colossal failure on other, equally important levels. For almost a decade, Kim Jong-il has wanted a platform that can put a satellite into orbit, or (if used an ICBM), threaten the United States. Today's TD-2 failure reminds everyone that the TD program has been almost a complete bust, consuming scarce resources that might have been devoted to other programs. It's hard to imagine that Pyongyang will actually pull the plug on the TD-2, but it may be a decade before a re-worked long-range missile reaches the launch pad. North Korea can't afford any more failures on the scale of the 1998 TD-1 launch, or today's failed effort.
That's because ballistic missiles are Pyongyang's most important product--and one of their few viable sources of hard currency. North Korea has enjoyed tremendous success in marketing short-range SCUDs to various Middle Eastern clients, and its technology from its medium-range No Dong has made its way into missiles developed by Iran (Shahab-3) and Pakistan. Now, those clients are anxious for a missile with a little more oomph, something that could give them a crude ICBM capability. With today's TD-2 failure, those customers are still waiting, and may look to other sources for the technology. Fewer missile sales would represent another blow to North Korea's already-bankrupt economy, and slow the pace of upgrades for Pyongyang's own missile forces.
Usually known for its bombast, look for Pyongyang to be remarkably quiet in the coming days, as they try determine the cause of the failure--and persuade Pakistan, Iran and other customers to keep investing in their missile program. Ironically, today's TD-2 debacle may provide a boost for North Korea's BM-25 missile program, which is based on old Russian SLBM technology. The BM-25/SS-N-6 is a proven weapons system, which can easily accomodate a nuclear warhead. Iran has reportedly acquired the BM-25 in recent months, and other clients may be interested as well. With the TD-2 in trouble, the BM-25 may become the only game in town for North Korean client states interested in a longer-range missile.