"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."
Several sources say the launch will send the U.S. and North, which just several weeks ago had negotiators sitting across a table to hammer out the food aid deal, back to their respective corners for at least a year. And during that span of chilly relations, likely sanctions against Pyongyang, and diplomatic silence, North Korean scientists and engineers will be toiling away.
"People talk about the cycle of provocation that we've seen over many decades. And people talk about the status quo," says retired Army Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, who commanded U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula. "I think we've all got to remember you don't return to the same place. While the cycle is going on, they get food aid and they get regime legitimacy inside the country. You then repeat the cycle again.
"All the while they have increased the development of their ballistic missiles, their nuclear capability, and they are a much more dangerous country," says Sharp. "I don't like this term 'status quo' because ... it truly gets worse over time."