On August 31, 1998, North Korea conducted its first launch of a multi-stage ballistic missile, which flew over Japan. It failed to deliver a satellite into orbit, notwithstanding the boasts of state broadcasters.
On January 10, 2003, in the course of a dispute with the United States, North Korea declared that it was no longer bound by the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and kicked IAEA inspectors out of the country.
On July 5, 2006, North Korea’s second test of a long-range ballistic missile test ended in catastrophic failure, just seconds into flight.
On October 9, 2006, North Korea conducted its first (and so far only) test of a nuclear explosive device. (It fizzled.) Within days, the UN Security Council had outlawed all exports of nuclear or ballistic missile technology to North Korea.
Despite the technical hiccups, the government of North Korea (or DPRK) seems proud of its accomplishments in the field of strategic weaponry. One statement from 2008 reads:
The DPRK is not such state which will meekly yield to the pressure of someone to unilaterally dismantle the nuclear deterrent, a product of great Songun [i.e., military-first politics] and a shield for justice and peace.
Just recently, in January 2009, North Korean officials told a visiting American scholar that they had weaponized their stock of plutonium:
“They’ve raised the bar and said, ‘We are a nuclear weapons state, and deal with us on that basis,’” Mr. Harrison said at a news conference in the St. Regis Hotel.
So how it is, then, despite all these fearsome bombs and missiles, that North Korea has become the Rodney Dangerfield of rogue states?
Seriously, have you seen the t-shirt?
Compare and Contrast
To see just how little respect the DPRK gets, consider how North Korea is treated compared to its fellow surviving member of the Axis of Evil, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
(Remember, despite the amply justified suspicions of the outside world, and a chain of deceptions, violations, failed negotiations, and Security Council resolutions, Iran remains within the NPT. The Iranian authorities insist on the purely civilian nature of their nuclear facilities, point to continuing IAEA safeguards, and say they are opposed to nuclear weapons.)
So when Iran launched its first multi-stage missile last month, putting a first-generation satellite into orbit, the American response was one of modulated concern.
Let’s see how the Washington Post explained Iran’s space launch:
TEHRAN, Feb. 3 — Iran said Tuesday it had successfully sent its first domestically produced satellite into orbit using an Iranian-made long-distance missile, joining an exclusive club of fewer than a dozen nations with such capabilities.
—compared with how the same publication framed North Korea’s plans to do the exact same thing:
TOKYO, Feb. 24 — By announcing that it is preparing to launch a “communications satellite,” North Korea on Tuesday dressed up its planned test of a long-range ballistic missile — which may be able to reach Alaska — as a benign research project.
Honest, it’s not just the elevator shoes and the bouffant hairdo. The anticipation turns out to be a bigger deal than the reality. When it comes to staring down the Western imperialists, actually having the bomb ain’t everything it’s cracked up to be.