|Sohae Launch Facility.|
Is everything in North Korea in the middle of nowhere?
Now, this will be the fifth attempt by the Hermit Kingdom to launch a payload into orbit - previously they are a perfect 0 for 4. The reason for this is two-fold. First, an impoverished nation that cannot afford to feed its people or develop its infrastructure is unlikely to have access to the kinds of resources necessary for a project as complex and demanding as spaceflight. Second, and much more importantly, launching a satellite into space truly is rocket science, and to do rocket science you need rocket scientists, along with mathematicians, metalurgists, materials scientists, engineers and a capacity for very high precision manufacturing. North Korea has none of the domestic educational institutions necessary, and won't allow their young people to be educated abroad, on the (highly reasonable) expectation that they would never come back.
Which leaves Pyongyang with two options, neither of which is particularly optimal. First, they can try to buy the requisite technology from abroad, but the number of nations that have the requisite technology remains quite limited, and very few of them would want to see North Korea improve their offensive and strategic capabilities. In fact, North Korea seems to be the rogue missile technology exporter of choice, marketing their short-range missile technology to Iran and throughout Africa. Their other option is to take their forty-plus year old Soviet missile technology and try to scale it up to build a multi-stage rocket capable of reaching orbit. Unfortunately for them, there are a lot of pesky details in this process that nobody will tell them, and the only way to learn them is by trial and error. And a trial and error based space program is a likely ticket to an 0 for 4 record of success.
Of course, at some point the very likely will succeed in launching a satellite into orbit, accompanied by much crowing and their own special brand of hackneyed propaganda. It will also come with endless breathless hand-wringing and rending of garments from western experts, crying out that they are now (along with al-Qaeda, Iran and Hamas) the greatest threat to freedom and liberty since smallpox. Lost in all the hue and cry will be any mention that a successful launch rate of 1 for 5 (or 1 for 6 or 1 for 10 - whatever it actually turns out to be) does not bode well for a nation trying to launch a nuclear first strike, that there are still very large questions about the quality of their weapons design (their nuclear tests to date have mostly been seen as a "Big Fizzle") and the fact that they have a long way to go to build a nuclear warhead small enough to launch on a missile. But we don't do reason here, we do threat-hyping, because perceived threats are what keeps the defense dollars pouring in.
A more reasonable concern is of a another failure, but one of a particularly ill-fated variety. If their erstwhile spacecraft once again fails to reach orbit and falls out of the sky in large chunks, there is every reason to wonder if it will fall on anyone we care about, such as Japan. Much of the anti-ballistic missile capability being brought into the theater is actually there in case there is a need to try to scatter the ballistic wreckage on its way down.
Even with all that said, North Korea serves as the poster child for all unpopular and "rogue" nations. They don't have long range missiles, and they don't have much of an air force or a blue water navy, but they've got a couple of nukes, and nobody seriously threatens to attack them anymore. The blueprint is clear - if the international pressure becomes too intense, kick out the IAEA inspectors and go balls to the wall to produce a couple devices. It won't end the sanctions, but it'll back off the war mongers.