A few weeks ago, some crackpot in The Daily Beast wrote a column arguing that North Korea’s new ICBM, the one tested on July 4, could travel a lot farther than Alaska. He said that models of the missile based on its size, the type of fuel, and the power of the engine, that North Korea could strike targets throughout the United States, including New York City.
I told you so.
So, while everyone is freaking out that, yes, North Korea’s missile test on Friday really does prove that North Korea can deliver a missile to Trump Tower, that’s old news. What is truly worrisome about the missile launch is that the regime performed it at night, from deep within North Korea.
You may recall that, after North Korea’s missile test on July 4, Ankit Panda reported that the United States had detected launch preparations for the ICBM more than an hour before North Korea fired it. That triggered all sorts of absurd chest thumping in the United States, with keyboard warriors demanding that the United States blow up the missile or try to kill Kim Jong Un. This was not helpful.
I presume the North Koreans noticed all that. And this time, they did something unexpected: They tested from a surprise location deep inside North Korea, near the Chinese border where it would be hard to strike. And they did it at night when satellites that rely on optical images are useless. (That’s not every satellite, but it is a good number of them.) This looks like a test from an operational missile base. You know that Washington Post report that the missile will “will have advanced from prototype to assembly line” sometime in 2018? Surprise!
North Korea may have dispersed a number of ICBMs prior to its first test in July. This is not a capability North Korea will have next year—it is a capability North Korea has now. We’re just getting let in on the secret. It might seem risky to deploy a missile before testing it, but with the the 101st Fighting Editorialists over at The Wall Street Journal still talking about regime change, maybe Kim Jong Un decided that was a risk worth taking. It seems to have worked out for him.
To be fair, I don’t know whether the U.S. was surprised by the location of the launch, but I do notice something disturbing. The press was abuzz with rumors that North Korea was going to launch a missile on July 27, weather permitting. The buzz was so strong that I wore a jacket to the office yesterday and then again today—something that is pretty damn weird in California. But the prelaunch rumors suggested that North Korea was going to do another launch out of Kusong. I am left with the very uncomfortable feeling that North Korea distracted us by setting up to launch from one place, then surprised us by launching from another.
This test, from a missile base deep within North Korea and conducted in the dead of night, helps illustrate precisely why it would have been a terrible mistake to try to attack North Korea before the last test or try to kill Kim Jong Un: because there are more missiles out there, in places we might not expect, and probably armed with nuclear weapons. More hawkish voices sometimes talk about the importance of “preemption” or “preventive war” in regard to countries that threaten to develop nuclear weapon. That’s how we got into Iraq.
The thing is—and I hate to be pedantic—but the “pre-” in “preventive attack” means “before.” If you attack a country after it develops nuclear weapons, like North Korea has, you are just having a plain old nuclear war.