UPDATE: news reports now suggest North Korea launched at least seven missiles. Why so many? The Glittering Eye is taking suggestions.

Top story on Reuters:

TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea launched up to four missiles on Wednesday, including a long-range Taepodong 2 that appeared to fail in flight, a U.S. official and media reports said.

A Pentagon official in Washington told Reuters two of the missiles launched by Stalinist and secretive North Korea appeared to have been small Scud-type models.

Experts say the Taepodong 2 is a multi-stage missile with a possible range of 3,500 km to 4,300 km, which could put parts of Alaska in range — the cause of U.S. concerns.

A State Department official in Washington told Reuters a long-range missile, believed to be a Taepodong 2, failed 40 seconds after it was launched.

The fact that the Taepodong 2 apparently failed is good news — not only for the obvious reasons, but because it preserves uncertainty about whether the US ABM system might actually work.

But here’s the problem: The US and Japan have made all sorts of dark threats about punitive action if North Korea went ahead with the launch. Now we have to step up to the plate or risk having had our bluff called.

Last week, Bush echoed earlier U.S. threats of a harsh response if North Korea went ahead with such a launch. Koizumi said Japan would “apply various pressures” but declined to give details.

[…..]

U.S. officials said earlier an air force complex protecting the nerve center of U.S. homeland defense at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado had been put on heightened alert amid persistent reports North Korea might test-fire a long-range missile.

On Monday, Pyongyang vowed to respond with an “annihilating” nuclear strike if attacked pre-emptively by the United States.

AP story here. BBC coverage here. The AFP’s headline deadpans the symbolism of the launch date: “North Korea launches at least three missiles on US holiday.”

Hope everyone is otherwise enjoying their holiday. I’m at home with strep throat. It does seem to be a week of developing crisis, doesn’t it? Mexico, Israel, Germany’s loss against Italy….

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