1a. DPRK Missile Test: US Reaction
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (“ALBRIGHT ON ABC-TV’s ‘GOOD MORNING AMERICA’,” USIA Transcript, 08/01/98) said that the US will have to wait and see how the DPRK missile test will affect the light-water reactor project. She stated, “Obviously, the firing the missile is a serious issue, and we have been warned about that for some time. What we’re looking for is to make sure that they live up to the elements of the Agreed Framework in terms of freezing their nuclear materials for nuclear weapons. So far they have, in fact, from all indications that we have, they’re living up to their part of it.” She added, “I think that they fired it off … in order to show that they’re a functional place when there’s a lot of question as to whether they are. The people are hungry; the system is not working very well; and I think that they wanted to show that they have military power.”
The Unites States Information Agency (Jane A. Morse, “NORTH KOREA’S LATEST MISSILE TEST RAISES US CONCERN,” Washington, 08/31/98) reported that Lee McClenny, Director of the US State Department’s Office of Press Relations, told a press briefing Monday that the DPRK’s missile test is raising serious concern in the US. McClenny said that US authorities were aware for “some time” that the DPRK was working on the missile, adding, “We weren’t surprised by the test.” He said that the Taepodong 1 utilized upgraded Russian Scud missile technology. He stated that the development of the Taepodong 1 is “of deep concern to the United States because of its potentially destabilizing impact in Northeast Asia and beyond.” He noted that not only are countries located near the DPRK at risk but so are nations within range of those countries that might eventually buy the missile. He stated, “We have been expressing our concern during our ongoing bilateral talks with the DPRK in New York. We will continue to raise this subject.” He said that the missile test is not linked to the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework. McClenny said, “We don’t have any reason to conclude that the North Koreans are out of compliance with the Agreed Framework. We think the Agreed Framework is a win-win arrangement. It is in the interest of the North Koreans as well as the United States and other allied countries to move forward with it. We’ve indicated publicly and privately our intention to comply with our portions of the Agreed Framework.”
Reuters (Charles Aldinger, “SENIOR PENTAGON OFFICIAL VISITING CHINA, JAPAN,” Washington, 09/01/98) reported that the US Defense Department said Tuesday that Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Kurt Campbell is meeting with PRC officials in Beijing and will go to Japan later this week for talks on the DPRK missile test. Marine Corps Major Bryan Salas, a Defense Department spokesman, stated, “The trip was scheduled to discuss regional issues and Monday’s missile test will be included.” He said he did not know whether Campbell would make an unscheduled stop in the ROK. Meanwhile, a source close to the US-DPRK talks confirmed that the talks resumed Monday at the US mission to the UN in New York.
Reuters (Charles Aldinger, “U.S. CONCERNED AT N.KOREA MISSILE TEST – ALBRIGHT,” Washington, 08/31/98), the Washington Post (Dana Priest and Sandra Sugawara, “NORTH KOREA MISSILE TEST THREATENS NUCLEAR PACT,” 09/01/98, A15), and the Associated Press (Susanne M. Schafer, “U.S. CONCERNED OVER N. KOREA LAUNCH,” Washington, 08/31/98) reported that Defense Department spokesman US Army Colonel Richard Bridges said that the DPRK missile test had been expected and was monitored by US intelligence. Bridges said that the second stage of the liquid-fuel missile passed over Japan and landed in the open Pacific Ocean. Other unnamed defense officials also said privately that they did not know if firing the missile over Japan’s main island was intentional or accidental. One anonymous senior military officer said that officials were puzzling over the timing of the launch, adding that the intentions of the DPRK have always been difficult to ascertain. Representative Bob Livingston (R-La.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that the missile test was grounds for US withdrawal from the 1994 Agreed Framework. He stated, “I think we ought to stop talking to them, stop appeasing them. I see this as a pretty good excuse just to get out of this.”
The New York Times (Steven Lee Myers, “MISSILE TEST BY NORTH KOREA: DARK OMEN FOR WASHINGTON,” Washington, 09/01/98) reported that US administration officials and arms control experts said on Monday that the DPRK’s missile test represents a technological breakthrough that raises new fears of the spread of ballistic missiles. Henry D. Sokolski, the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, said that the ability to build rockets in stages opens the door to intercontinental missiles. Sokolski stated, “This can no longer be dismissed as some crude welding of Scud technology. We’re entering a new era.” Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, said the missile test was “a clear sign” of the DPRK’s intent to develop nuclear weapons. He stated, “It means they plan to put a nuclear warhead on it or export it to somebody who will. The missile makes no sense otherwise.”
The Los Angeles Times (Sonni Efron and Norman Kempster, “N. KOREA’S LATEST PROVOCATION MAY BE LAST STRAW,” Tokyo, 09/01/98) reported that US Representative Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.), chairman of the House Asia and Pacific subcommittee, said that the Monday’s test demonstrates the extent of the DPRK’s missile threat. Bereuter stated, “North Korea can now deploy the Taepodong missile rapidly with very little warning, just like they deployed the earlier, shorter-range, single-stage Rodong missile after only one test.” He added, “The speed with which the Taepodong was developed suggests that it is only a matter of time before North Korea possesses truly long-range ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles].” Representative Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), chairman of the foreign operations Appropriations subcommittee, said that the test doomed the Clinton administration’s hopes for getting Congress to continue funding the light-water reactor project. An anonymous Republican House staff member who specializes in policy toward the Koreas complained, “The administration has taught them that they can extort benefits from the United States. They know this administration will try to take the path of least resistance.” Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington argued, “The North Korean government does not want to be regarded as a humanitarian problem, it wants to be regarded as an arms control problem because countries regarded as arms control problems get more respect.” He added, however, “it’s not impossible that North Korea will miscalculate and exceed Congress’ patience.” Robert A. Manning of the Council on Foreign Relations said that US policy toward the DPRK rewards “bad behavior.” He stated, “There is a terrible negative cycle where the only time the United States takes them seriously is when they do something provocative. But when they do something provocative, it becomes much more difficult to give them anything. This is taking blackmail to a new level.”
1b. DPRK Missile Test: Japanese Reaction
Reuters (Yvonne Chang, “ANGRY JAPAN SETS MEASURES AGAINST NORTH KOREA,” Tokyo, 09/01/98) and Dow Jones Newswires (“JAPAN TO ABANDON DIPLOMATIC TIES EFFORT WITH N. KOREA -KYODO,” Tokyo, 09/01/98) reported that Japan said Tuesday that it would break off diplomatic talks with the DPRK and refuse to give any food aid following Monday’s missile test over Japanese territory. The Japanese government said in a statement, “We had been prepared to engage in talks to normalize bilateral relations unconditionally but we will change this policy.” It also said it would suspend contributions to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). The statement said, “Depending on future developments, the government is ready to consider further measures.” Japan also said it would seek to raise the issue in some fashion at the opening of the UN General Assembly later this month. Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura stated, “I think the ties between our country and North Korea will grow more difficult from now on.” Komura said that Japan will decide its further course of action on both the KEDO issue and how to respond to the missile launch through consultations with the ROK and the US. Meanwhile, the Japanese Defense Agency dispatched ships to the area in hopes of recovering debris to give scientists a better idea of the missile’s capability. Yoshiro Mori, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, stated, “If the firing was intentional, it’s quite fair to say that a war could have broken out.”
Reuters (“JAPAN UNSURE IF N.KOREA MISSILE VIOLATED AIRSPACE,” Tokyo, 09/01/98) reported that chief Japanese government spokesman Hiromu Nonaka said Tuesday that, because Japan does not know exactly how high the DPRK missile flew when it passed over Japan, the government could not confirm whether or not it was a violation of the country’s airspace. Military commentator Tadasu Kumagae stated, “You can generally determine whether the missile crossed Japan or not by calculating where it was launched and where it landed, but it could easily have been at a height of 100 kilometers or more.” He added, “As it is now, without knowing exactly how high the missile flew, Japan can do nothing.”
Reuters (“JAPAN SAYS SEVEN PLANES IN AREA WHEN MISSILE FELL,” Tokyo, 09/01/98) reported that the Japanese Transport Ministry expressed concern Tuesday that the second stage of the DPRK missile may have come down close to busy flight lanes used by commercial planes. A ministry spokesman said there were seven international flights passing through an area close to where one part of the missile may have landed off the Pacific coast of northern Japan. He stated, “It is hard to say how much of an actual danger the missile could have been, since we don’t know where it came down, but from the point of view of commercial flying, it was a potential danger.”
Reuters (“JAPAN MAY REEXAMINE EXPORTS AFTER N. KOREA MISSILE,” Tokyo, 08/31/98) reported that Japanese Trade Minister Kaoru Yosano said on Tuesday that Japan may reexamine exports of dual-use technology in the wake of the DPRK’s missile test. Yosano stated, “There are sophisticated goods which are used both by civilians and the military which also could be used to build missiles or facilities where missiles are made. The ministry is not reexamining these at the moment but it is necessary to think about these goods.”
1c. DPRK Missile Test: ROK-Japan Cooperation
Reuters (“JAPAN, S KOREA TO STUDY N KOREA MISSILE PROGRAMME,” Tokyo, 09/01/98) reported that Japanese defense officials said that Japan Defense Agency head Fukushiro Nukaga and ROK Defense Minister Cheon Yong- taek agreed on Tuesday to jointly study the DPRK’s missile development program. Cheon was quoted by officials as telling Nukaga, “North Korea’s missile development is a threat to the security of both Japan and South Korea.” Japanese officials said that the timing and details of the working-level meeting to study the DPRK missile program have yet to be worked out, “but we want to do it as soon as possible.” Cheon offered some theories his government has come up with on why the DPRK took such an action, including the possibility that the test was designed to strengthen Kim Jong-il’s position ahead of his expected ascension to the presidency later in the month, or to demonstrate the DPRK’s defense capability as a bargaining chip in talks with the US. The ministers also discussed overall defense cooperation between the two nations, and Nukaga agreed to visit Seoul next year as part of continued efforts to promote defense ties.
1d. DPRK Missile Test: PRC Reaction
Reuters (Benjamin Kang Lim, “CHINA CALLS FOR TALKS OVER N. KOREAN MISSILE TEST,” Beijing, 09/01/98) reported that PRC Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said Tuesday that the PRC had no prior knowledge of the DPRK’s plan to test-fire a ballistic missile. Zhu stated, “We did not receive notification.” He added, “China hopes all relevant sides negotiate to appropriately resolve this problem and safeguard peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.” Zhu noted, “At present, relevant sides already have a channel for negotiations regarding the question of North Korean missiles.”
2. DPRK Missile Exports
Reuters (Bill Tarrant, “N.KOREA SEEN AS WORLD’S BIGGEST MISSILE EXPORTER,” Seoul, 09/01/98) reported that the US Central Intelligence Agency said that the DPRK has become the world’s biggest missile exporter. Analysts said that the business could be worth up to US$1 billion, although some of it was probably barter deals for oil. Robert Karniol, Asia/Pacific Editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly in Bangkok, stated, “It could be they earned $1.0 billion one year and nothing the next.” According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, unconfirmed reports said that Iran has received 150 Rodong medium-range missiles from the DPRK. Libya, Syria, and Pakistan have also bought Rodong missiles, the reports said. Defense analysts said that the DPRK has also sold Soviet-era Scuds to countries in the Middle East, including Iraq.
3. Japanese TMD Development
Reuters (Teruaki Ueno, “NKOREA MISSILE THREAT TO BOOST US-JAPAN DEFENCE TIES,” Tokyo, 09/01/98) reported that officials and analysts said on Tuesday that the DPRK missile test could give Japan an excuse to join the US Theater Missile Defense (TMD) project. Japanese Defense Vice Director General Toru Kawajiri that Japan was not capable of defending itself from missile attacks other than those launched from ships and aircraft. Military analyst Haruo Fujii said that Japan has been looking for a “decisive excuse” for joining in the TMD project. He added that, together with recent nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, growing security concerns over the DPRK’s missile capability would likely cause Japan to “think more seriously” about the project. Hideshi Takesada, professor at the National Institute for Defense Studies, argued, “North Korea is undoubtedly one of the destabilizing factors in Asia. Therefore, Japan should actively promote the TMD project which is the only way to respond to weapons of mass destruction.”
4. DPRK Famine
Reuters (“CONFLICTING REPORTS EMERGE ON N.KOREA FOOD, FLOODS,” Seoul, 08/31/98) reported that ROK actress Kim Hye-ja returned Friday from a five-day visit to the DPRK and said that the country has not suffered flood damage this year. Kim stated, “North Koreans I met told me there were no floods or droughts this year and they expected to have a good harvest.” She added, “That is a relief amid all the misfortune.” Kim toured noodle factories owned by the Christian relief group World Vision. She stated, “Part of the tour was to ensure that the noodles were going to the children who need the food. The noodles are supposed to feed 60,000 people, but I have been told that there is not enough food and sometimes hungry children come for food and leave with an empty stomach.”
5. ROK Labor Unrest
The Associated Press (“HYUNDAI WORKERS REJECT LAYOFF PACT,” Seoul, 09/01/98) reported that rank-and-file members of the Hyundai Motor Co. labor union overruled their leadership Tuesday and voted by a 2-to-1 margin to reject a pact that would allow management to lay off workers. The vote has no legal effect on the agreement. Union members, however, began calling for the resignation of the union leaders and threatened to organize new strikes to prevent layoffs.
6. Taiwan-PRC Relations
The New York Times (Nicholas D. Kristof, “TAIWAN PRESIDENT REJECTS IDEA OF CHINA TIES,” Taipei, 09/01/98) reported that Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui said Monday that he was seeking to break out of the diplomatic isolation imposed by the PRC. Lee reiterated his official position that Taiwan wants to reunify with the mainland once the PRC achieves democracy. He added, however, “What the final form will be — a federal form, a commonwealth — we don’t know. It’s too early to say.” He also made it clear that he thought it would take decades for the PRC to achieve true democracy. Lee stated, “We prefer the status quo. We prefer to stay single. Why get engaged if engagement is equivalent to becoming a local government and making ourselves slaves?” He also said, “I’m a Taiwan person first and a Chinese person second. All of us came a long time ago from mainland China, and we spend our lives here. So we love this place. But of course, we are all Chinese as well.” Lee said that he believed assurances that US policy toward Taiwan had not changed despite President Clinton’s statements during his PRC trip. He argued, “Taiwan’s destiny isn’t China’s to decide. It’s for the 21 million people on Taiwan to decide their destiny.” In the latest government- sponsored poll, only 18 percent of people on Taiwan say they want to reunify with the PRC.
7. Taiwanese Military Exercises
The Associated Press (“TAIWANESE ARMY STAGES EXERCISES, MORE DISPLAYS IN OCTOBER,” Taipei, 09/01/98) reported that the Taiwanese Defense Ministry said that military gunners staged a live firing exercise on the Penghu Island group Tuesday to simulate repelling a PRC invasion. The ministry added that further live firing exercise are scheduled for October 2-7 to put the air force and navy’s newly acquired weaponry on display. Mo Jen- kuo, commander of the exercises, stated, “Over recent years, China has frequently staged landing exercises and tri-service combined exercises. Only by practicing, can we learn to defeat the enemy and meet the task of defending Penghu.” Tuesday’s exercise was originally planned for June, but was delayed until after US President Bill Clinton’s visit to the PRC in late June.
8. US-Russian Summit
Reuters (Patrick Worsnip, “CLINTON, YELTSIN TO SIGN TWO ARMS PACTS,” Moscow, 09/01/98) and the Washington Post (Walter Pincus, “U.S., RUSSIA MAY SWAP DATA ON THIRD-PARTY MISSILES,” 09/01/98, A15) reported that US officials said Tuesday that US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin are scheduled to sign two arms pacts at their summit Wednesday. Robert Bell, Clinton’s special assistant for national security affairs, said that the two sides will sign an agreement to provide each other with early warning on missile and rocket launches. Bell said that the agreement extends to long-range strategic missiles a pact previously agreed for shorter-range theater missiles. He said a key aim of the early warning pact was to avoid a country firing a missile in anger after misinterpreting an innocuous launch by another country. US National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said last week, “Since the most likely threats in the future, or at least in the foreseeable future, come from third countries, the extent to which we can make arrangements to share that data on a real-time basis would obviously be enormously stabilizing.” Bruce Blair of the Brookings Institution said that, with Russia’s ballistic missile system on high alert, US sharing of its real- time detection information “will alleviate danger of false alarms in the Russian network.” He added, “It will also bring Moscow and Washington together in a nonproliferation venture to monitor the development and testing of missiles in other countries such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq.” The deal was announced after US officials said they had no hope of progress this week on getting the 1993 START II strategic arms treaty ratified by the Russian Duma. Gary Samore, a National Security Council specialist on arms proliferation, said that the second agreement to be signed Wednesday will spell out ways of disposing of 50 tons of excess plutonium from nuclear weapons that the two countries agreed in July to dismantle. Under the deal, the US and Russia have agreed that the plutonium will either be used for civil power plants or mixed with radioactive waste and stored. He added that the 50 tons each side will dispose of is about one quarter of Russian holdings and about one half of US holdings. Samore acknowledged the deal would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and said that the US hoped other industrialized countries would help share the financial burden.
9. Indian Nuclear Command
The Associated Press (“INDIA MILITARY SUGGESTS PANEL SHOULD CONTROL NUCLEAR ARSENAL,” New Delhi, 09/01/98) reported the Indian Express said Tuesday that Indian military leaders have suggested that the government set up a panel of top cabinet ministers and defense officials to control the country’s nuclear arsenal. The newspaper said that army, navy, and air force officials have approved the proposal in a study titled, “Options for India – Formation of a Strategic Nuclear Command.” The study calls for the formation of a National Command Authority, to be headed by the prime minister, which would advise a panel of the three service chiefs on the use of nuclear weapons if the necessity arises. The orders would then be executed by a command post.
1. DPRK Missile Test
ROK Government sources said Monday that the DPRK at 12:07 p.m. on Monday test-fired a missile which appeared to have hit open sea off Japan’s Tsugaru straits, 1,380 km away from the firing site in Taepo-dong, located along the east coast of Hamkyongbuk Province. The sources speculated that the missile was a new type called Taepodong No. 1. Although the DPRK is known to have been developing Taepodong No.1 and No.2 class of missiles, this is the first known instance of a test- firing. The ROK government sources analyzed that the missile launch is, firstly, intended as a show of military strength to the international community ahead of the DPRK’s foundation anniversary on September 9. Secondly, it is possible that the launch is part of a strategy to secure a better bargaining position in on-going negotiations with the US. Taepodong No.1 is known to have a range between 1,700 km and 2,200 km, with a warhead load capacity of one ton. (Chosun Ilbo, “NORTH KOREA TESTS LONG RANGE MISSILE,” 09/01/98)
The missile that the DPRK on Monday test-fired toward the East Sea was a Taepodong 1 missile, which, with an estimated range of 2,000 km, could hit not only the ROK, but Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and the PRC, an informed ROK military source in Seoul said. It was the first test-fire of a Taepodong missile, which the DPRK has been developing since 1995, the source said. The missile was fired from the DPRK’s east coast at around 12:07 p.m. and fell into waters in the East Sea some 1,380 km away, the source added. It was not known why the DPRK fired the missile. The source noted, however, that the test-firing took place amid speculations that DPRK leader Kim Jong-il may be sworn in as the country’s president, possibly on September 9, which marks the 50th anniversary of the regime’s foundation. The Taepodong 1 is a longer- range version of the much-publicized Rodong-1 missile, with an estimated range of 1,000-1,300 km. (Korea Herald, “PYONGYANG’S TEST-FIRE ALERTS NEIGHBORS; MILITARY SOURCES SAY TAEPO-DONG 1 MISSILE COULD REACH HONG KONG, TAIWAN,” 09/01/98)
2. Funding for Light-Water Reactor
The Japanese government at 8:00pm Monday refused to sign the resolution for sharing the cost of the reactors being built for the DPRK because of the DPRK’s missile test earlier the same day. An official of the Light Water Reactor Group (LWRG) said that the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) was to adopt the resolution prepared in written form by US, ROK, EU, and Japanese board members. Japanese director Takahashi notified the group that he had been instructed not to sign at this point because of the missile. (Chosun Ilbo, “TOKYO REFUSES TO SIGN REACTOR AGREEMENT,” 09/01/98)
The ROK will pay the equivalent of US$3.22 billion in won to finance the construction of the two light-water nuclear reactors for the DPRK, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) announced Monday. (Chosun Ilbo, “KEDO FINALIZES COST SHARING PLAN FOR TWO NUCLEAR REACTORS IN NORTH KOREA,” 09/01/98)
3. Kissinger to Visit ROK
Henry Kissinger, former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under presidents Nixon and Ford, is scheduled to visit the ROK between September 4 and 6, the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) announced Monday. Kissinger is visiting the ROK on his way home from visiting the PRC. The former secretary plans to pay a courtesy call to ROK President Kim Dae-jung and ROK Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil and have a meeting with Hong Soon-young, the minister in charge of MOFAT. Kissinger’s last visit to the ROK was last May, when he met with then- president Kim Young-sam. (Chosun Ilbo, “HENRY KISSINGER TO VISIT KOREA,” 09/01/98)
4. ROK-DPRK Talks
The DPRK on Monday officially rejected ROK President Kim Dae-jung’s proposal to exchange special envoys between the ROK and DPRK to promote bilateral dialogue. According to the DPRK broadcast organ the Central News Agency, monitored in Seoul, the DPRK called Kim’s proposal absurd, self-contradictory, and unbelievable, insisting that, with 37,000 US soldiers stationed in the ROK, the DPRK finds the proposal deceitful and unacceptable. (Chosun Ilbo, “PYONGYANG OFFICIALLY REJECTS DIALOGUE PROPOSAL,” 09/01/98)
1. DPRK Missile Test
[Ed note: The following is an analysis of Monday’s DPRK missile test provided by David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Dr. Wright has written extensively regarding DPRK missile capabilities. An executive summary of his earlier article, Will North Korea Negotiate Away Its Missiles, appeared as NAPSNet Policy Forum Online #16 on April 8, 1998.]
North Korea apparently tested a Taepodong 1 (TD-1) missile around noon local time (0300 GMT) on August 31.
The missile is probably a two-stage missile that uses the Rodong as its first stage and modified Scud as the second stage. This combination is the obvious next step in missile development once North Korea had a working Rodong. My modeling of this missile gives a range of 1,500-2,000 km with a one-ton payload, depending on details like how heavy the missile casing is, what fuel it uses, etc.
The second stage of the missile reportedly overflew Japan, apparently passing over the northern part of the main Japanese island of Honshu. While some news reports are quoting the range as 2,000 km, the actual range was apparently closer to 1,500 km. This is based on a conversation with a Japanese reporter who was told the range was 1,400 km, and from press statements that the missile landed in the Pacific a couple hundred miles beyond Japan. I have also been told that the US Pentagon has given a 1,500 km range for the test.
One source of confusion has been that some press reports state that the missile landed in the Sea of Japan, 400-500 km from North Korea. My calculations show that this is where you would expect the first stage booster to land after it burned out, so these reports are consistent with a two-stage missile that could overfly Japan.
There are also reports that two objects landed in the Pacific Ocean after passing over Japan, which is consistent with the missile having a separable warhead. I would expect that a missile of this range would have a separable warhead, for two reasons. First, this missile would reenter the atmosphere at high enough speeds that it would break up if it were still attached to the warhead, just as the 600-km-range al Husayn missiles did during the 1991 Gulf War. Such a breakup can cause the warhead to spiral erratically. Second, if North Korea had developed the technology required to separate the two missile stages, it could presumably use similar technology to allow the warhead to separate.
Japanese and US intelligence apparently were expecting the test to take place. They were therefore able to have ships and planes in the area to watch the test and presumably got a good look at it.
The TD-1 is still essentially Scud technology. However, the most important aspect of the test is that for the first time North Korea has demonstrated the capability to launch a two-stage missile, and therefore shows that North Korea has developed staging technology. It has thus crossed an important technical hurdle. Multiple stages are necessary for North Korea to develop longer-range missiles. To reach longer ranges, North Korea would need to develop a more powerful booster.
It is worth pointing out that while the TD-1 might be a step toward longer-range missiles, the TD-1 in itself does not really increase North Korea’s capabilities, e.g., against Japan. These missiles are so inaccurate that they can only be used for terror strikes against cities, which North Korea could already carry out in other ways. A smuggled bomb or a bomb on a ship in a harbor could not only deliver the weapon more accurately, but would not pinpoint the source of the attack.
However, the additional range might be seen as more important by other countries, such as Pakistan. Following the Ghauri missile test in April, there were press reports that Pakistan was interested in acquring a 2,000 km-range missile, which would allow it to target more of India. This might help explain the timing of the TD-1 test. North Korea may have decided to move ahead with testing the missile if it had a willing buyer.
The timing may instead have primarily been driven by domestic North Korean concerns, or by an attempt to increase pressure on the US to get more serious about missile negotiations, or more likely by a combination of these three.