North Korea's Lessons for (Not) Building an Atomic Bomb

The Predictable Missile Mishap That No One Predicted

The dismal failure of North Korea's April 13 long-range missile test -- it broke into pieces after 81 seconds of flight time -- has also exposed the poverty of standard proliferation analyses. In the days leading up to the test, most commentators apparently took Pyongyang's technological forward march for granted. Even the more sober voices evinced little doubt that this test would go at least as well as the country's 2009 effort, which managed to put a rocket into flight for about fifteen minutes before it malfunctioned. Meanwhile, other technical experts regaled readers with tales of the "emerging" bona fide North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile force, which might soon be able to target the continental United States. And there were renewed calls for the United States and its East Asian allies to embrace the "Israeli option": pre-emptive military strikes against North Korean strategic weapons facilities. The actual results of the test, however, demonstrate that the analysts' nightmare scenarios were hardly more credible than North Korea's own propaganda volleys.


Half of all Foreign Affairs content is now published online only. So if you don’t check out ForeignAffairs.com daily or sign up for our weekly e-mail newsletter, you’re missing half the story.

Register Now
Non-Subscriber
Register now to get three articles each month. Join us as a paid subscriber and get unrestricted access to all of Foreign Affairs, including on our iPad app.
Please note that we will never share your email address with a third party. Read our privacy policy.
Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis