William Arkin has written a silly commentary on North Korea at the Washington Post:
Can North Korea save the day and change the subject for the Bush administration?
Amidst an Iraq withdrawal debate and an Iran nuclear crisis, amidst a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and a grave threat to the Kabul government, amidst growing recognition of al Qaeda gains in Pakistan, The We-Still-Can't-Resist-Putting-Any-Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction-Story-on-the-Front Page Times reported intelligence leaks yesterday that North Korea was imminently going to test an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Idiotic: it is merely refined paranoia that would conclude that this crisis, which involves an actual missile which has been actually fueled, is merely a Rovian ruse. Mr. Arkin has a low opinion of the North Korean capabilities, saying, "[I]n a world of risks and balances is that North Korea's missile, even if it exists, is hardly a threat to us," despite the fact that North Korea has the capacity to fire a missile into the West Coast and they are actively pursuing nuclear weapons (if they don't already have them). He wants us to shrug this off because earlier missile launches were "unsuccessful"? And it is quite cavalier of him to declare the Iranian crisis unrelated: they have done business in the past, and seem to share a mutual friend.
Arkin also relies heavily on South Korean claims that the missile launch is really a satellite launch, and anyway, the thing isn't completely fueled. But the officials he cites are part of a South Korean government keenly interested in propping up North Korea.
It is illogical to take the attitude that Arkin does regarding the value these missiles have: "North Korea, which can barely feed its own people and is not, shall we say, known for its technological prowess, may have succeeded in sinking all of its national treasure into developing a third rate missile." It is in fact the case that North Korea's missile industry is quite valuable to the regime. That he dismisses this value suggests he really does not want to deal with this threat honestly.
Two additional thoughts come to mind about the timing of this launch. The first is that there are currently U.S. operations taking place in the Pacific, as shown by the picture above. What better time to display for the U.S. and the West the missile capacity of North Korea than when dozens of ships are deployed to ocean over which the missile will fly.
The second is that, given recent military buildups around the Persian Gulf, reported by the Counterterrorism Blog here and here, and given the value of the missile program to North Korea, it is not unreasonable to regard the missile launch less as bluster than as an advertisement. North Korea has sold SCUD missiles and missile components to Iran, Syria, and Egypt.
UPDATE: CNN has a comprehensive story that reminds us that the North Koreans will probably launch during the day and in clear weather. It is currently 1:20 am in Pyongyang; sunrise is in about 4 hours. The forecast for Kimchaek, a city near the reported launch site, calls for clouds on Wednesday and Thursday and clear skies on Friday.