North Korea, the world's poorest, most maddeningly opaque nuclear power, has just launched a long-range rocket. Or at least it was supposed to be a long-range rocket.
Both the Pentagon and the South Korean defense ministry have confirmed that the rocket was launched at 7:39am Seoul time, or 6:49pm Washington, D.C. time; a spokesman for the South Korean defense ministry said that a few minutes after the launch the rocket had broken up and crashed into the sea. North Korea hasn't commented yet, either through official channels or the usually feisty (and congratulatory) Korean Central News Agency of the DPRK.
North Korea announced the plan for the satellite launch, which it claimed was for peaceful purposes, on March 16, less than three weeks after it had signed a deal with the United States in which it promised to stop nuclear and long-range missile tests. Even U.S. officials and long-term North Korea watchers used to dealing with a mercurial Pyongyang were surprised by the speed at which the country reneged on the agreement.
The fear is that, were Pyongyang successful in actually launching a long-range missile, North Korea could eventually load a nuclear warhead on a rocket and send it as far as Alaska or Hawaii. Seoul, the South Korean capital of over ten million people which is only dozens of miles from the DMZ, has been well within striking range of North Korea's artillery for decades.