SEOUL, South Korea — After 14 years of painstaking labor, North Korea finally has a rocket that can put a satellite in orbit. But that doesn't mean the reclusive country is close to having an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Experts say Pyongyang is years from even having a shot at developing reliable missiles that could bombard the American mainland and other distant targets, though it did gain attention and the outrage of world leaders Wednesday with its first successful launch of a three-stage, long-range rocket. A missile program is built on decades of systematic, intricate testing, something extremely difficult for economically struggling Pyongyang, which faces guaranteed sanctions and world disapproval each time it stages an expensive launch. North Korea will need larger and more dependable missiles, and more advanced nuclear weapons, to threaten U.S. shores, though it already poses a threat to its neighbors.
One success indicates progress, but not victory, and there is a huge gap between being able to make a system work once and having a system that is reliable enough to be militarily useful, said Brian Weeden, a former U.S. Air Force Space Command officer and a technical adviser to the Secure World Foundation, a think tank on space policy.
North Korea's satellite launch came only after repeated failures and hundreds of millions of dollars. It is an achievement for young authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un, whose late father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, made development of missiles and nuclear weapons a priority despite international opposition and his nation's poverty.