July 5, 2006: While everyone's attention was focused on North Korean missiles, the real story is the North Korean economy. It continues to fall apart, and more North Koreans are unhappy about that. Worse yet, more North Koreans are finding out how badly they have been screwed by their leaders. Meanwhile, North Korean officials engage in even more bizarre behavior. For example, food and fuel supplies sent to North Korea have been halted, not to force North Korea to stop missile tests or participate in peace talks, but to return the Chinese trains the aid was carried in on. In the last few weeks, the North Koreans have just kept the trains, sending the Chinese crews back across the border. North Korea just ignores Chinese demands that the trains be returned, and insists that the trains are part of the aid program. It's no secret that North Korean railroad stock is falling apart, after decades of poor maintenance and not much new equipment. Stealing Chinese trains is a typical loony-tune North Korean solution to the problem. If the North Koreans appear to make no sense, that's because they don't. Put simply, when their unworkable economic policies don't work, the North Koreans just conjure up new, and equally unworkable, plans. The Chinese have tried to talk the North Koreans out of these pointless fantasies, and for their trouble they have their trains stolen. How do you negotiate under these conditions? No one knows. The South Koreans believe that if they just keep the North Korean leaders from doing anything too destructive (especially to South Korea), eventually the tragicomic house of cards up north will just collapse. Not much of a plan, but so far, no one's come up with anything better.
July 4, 2006: North Korea finally fired its Taepodong 2, but after about 40 seconds, the missile exploded, apparently because of an engine failure. The only other test of the Taepodong 2, in 1998, was a success, with the missile passing over Japan. In addition to the Taepodong 2, North Korea apparently launched eight or more shorter range SCUD type missiles into the Sea of Japan. These were probably older missiles nearing the end of their useful lives. North Korea has taken the basic Russian SCUD missile (which was developed, with the help of captured German scientists, from the German World War II V-2 ballistic missile) and improved it as the longer range (1,300 kilometers) Nodong missile. The basic SCUD design was also enhanced to produce longer range (up to 600 kilometers) SCUDs. All of these have been sold to foreign buyers like Yemen, Iran and Pakistan.
June 28, 2006: China has openly urged North Korea to halt preparations for "missile tests," and return to negotiations regarding economic aid and the North Korean nuclear weapons program. Previously, China had refrained from public criticism of the North Koreans.