North Korea's long-range missile might have crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff, but the defiant regime got most of what it wanted from the failed launch.
The North set off global geopolitical ripple waves Friday when it fired what it claimed was a rocket carrying aa civilian weather satellite into orbit. The launch drew the immediate ire of Washington and its Asian allies, which had lobbied hard against what they perceive is a test of a long-range missile that could one day contain a nuclear warhead.
North Korean state television admitted Friday the rocket failed to put a Kwangmyongsong-3 earth observation satellite into orbit. U.S. officials said what the North called a rocket really was a Taepo Dong-2 missile that fell into the Yellow Sea.
While some experts were quick to deem the botched launch a failure for new North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, the youthful strongman achieved many of his broader strategic objectives.
A longtime bedrock strategy of so-called rogue regimes with nuclear arms ambitions is to repeatedly buy more time to continue their atomic weapons and missile development program free of outside inspections and other influences that would slow or halt them. North Korea also will use the launch as internal propaganda to show its defiance against its many global foes.
President Obama had hoped a deal hammered out earlier this year that was to send food aid to the North in return for it halting nuclear work and missile tests would lead to U.N. weapons inspectors finally getting a chance to check out Pyongyang's atomic program.
But such unprecedented inspections would require, at the very least, lukewarm relations among the Kim regime and the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and the U.N. Security Council. As soon as the rocket's engines fired, relations cooled--even China, the North's lone ally, is peeved.
"The North Koreans certainly hope they're buying themselves more time," says Jan van Tol, a former senior White House and Pentagon official. "If the U.S. doesn't do something more forcefully this time, the North Koreans--like the Iranians--simply continue to buy time building nuclear weapons and acquiring a ballistic missile capability."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already has warned the North the United States is ready to seek new action from the United Nations.
But van Tol and others say that is unlikely to persuade the North into giving up its atomic and missile programs.
"We have a pattern of setting red lines as warnings that turn out not to be anything of the sort," says van Tol. "We always seem to say, 'This time it'll be different,' but it isn't."
He called Clinton's warning of further U.N. action "merely the usual ballet" that amounts to "Lucy and the football." The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments analyst was referring to the popular "Peanuts" cartoon strip where Charlie Brown's friend promises not to pull away a football when he is ready to kick it, but always does.
"This is very dangerous," says van Tol, who adds the U.S. should step up its actions by targeting Kim Jong-Un's "slush funds." The United States did this with past North Korean leaders, and gained some "valuable leverage," van Tol says.
"It seems we're in a dangerous position of being all talk, no stick," says van Tol, noting George W. Bush's second term featured a similar big rhetoric-small action foreign policy.
All eyes are now on Obama for early clues on just how he will respond. After North Korea so strongly defied the deal his aides struck last month, the launch was a major foreign policy black eye for the president, who many experts say has shown surprising skill on the global chess board.
"President Obama made this deal ... because, arguably, they didn't want any provocations, and they wanted to get eyes on this uranium program, which has been going really completely untouched for really the past decade," says Victor Cha, a former National Security Council official and a North Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "With this missile launch, they're going to get a provocation, and they're not going to get the [U.N.] inspectors. I think it's a real problem."