North Korea has reportedly just tested a ballistic missile. Great early report at Reuters. Details thus far are sketchy, so my analysis is subject to change as information becomes clearer, but this is some of the pertinent info currently at hand.
The missile was launched from North Korea’s west coast, near Panghyon, and travelled east for 500 km into the Sea of Japan.
It appears to be a test of the Musudan MRBM, perhaps on a lofted trajectory. The only successful test of the Musudan to date, June 2016, was a lofted trajectory launch which travelled 400km. This suggests that, if so, the test was a, partial or full, success.
Today’s test *does not* appear to be of an ICBM.
Iran’s version of the Musudan, the Khorramshahr, was recently tested to 1,010 km but the RV did not deploy. It seems that Iran and North Korea are making, albeit slow, progress on engineering medium range missiles based on R-27 or SS-N-6 Soviet era technology.
Media coverage thus far is emphasising that the North Korean missile test is, in essence, a test of Trump and the resolve of the Trump administration.
This is a dangerous view.
A mature ballistic missile programme is a type of scientific experiment. There have been a number of failures of the Musudan MRBM, with the last coming in quick succession late last year. A mature scientific programme would analyse and assess the cause of failure over months, and would thereafter proceed to a further test launch to confirm hypotheses.
This appears to be what North Korea has done. If North Korea was engaging in *primarily* a political act driving by the proximate desire to “test” Trump then going through on a spectacular ICBM test, which would also likely be a spectacular failure, would have been more plausible.
The testing Trump narrative is dangerous because it goads Trump into making a response, and heaven forbid what that could be and what escalatory consequences it may entail.
Notice also that there is no discussion at all of ballistic missile defense activity in relation to the latest test. After much speculation following Trump’s tweet to Kim Jong Un’s new year address, and comments from Obama’s secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, regarding a possible attempt at an interception of a North Korean missile test, admittedly ICBM, BMD was nowhere to be found.
Not a good look for a programme highly dependent upon favourable public relations.
However, the lofted trajectory, assuming it was a lofted trajectory, could well be reflective of Carter’s comments.
More analysis to come as data pours in.