N. Korea's Challenge

It's been more than three weeks since North Korea lobbed a missile over Japan. But the waves from that failed effort to put a satellite in orbit - an explanation that US intelligence now says it accepts - are still growing.

Quickest to feel the impact, of course, was Japan. North Korea's demonstration - perhaps intentional, perhaps unwitting - of its military reach sparked an unaccustomed war-consciousness in officially pacifist Japan. Tokyo defense planners have since talked of launching their own reconnaissance satellites.

The US sympathizes, but wishes Japan would sign on to American efforts to design an effective antimissile system instead. The decline of the ballistic missile threat from Russia took some energy out of that project. But North Korea's fling with long-range missiles - including its readiness to sell the technology in the Mideast or elsewhere - has helped rekindle missile defense plans.

Israel's government, meanwhile, has touted the successful test of its new Arrow-2 antimissile missile. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that other nations should be interested in Israel's technology, given the threat from "impoverished, backward, fanatic regimes."

That description fits North Korea all too well. Most disturbingly, US intelligence findings indicate the North Koreans may be building a new nuclear program underground, in violation of an agreement reached four years ago to stop such activity.

The '94 agreement is under severe attack in the US Congress, especially since the missile incident. But it can be salvaged - if the North allows inspection of its new site. For its part, the US will have to prove more forthcoming with promised fuel aid.

Concerning missile defenses, we retain doubts about plunging into that costly, unproven technology. Though sorely tested by countries like North Korea, the alternative of verifiable treaties to control the spread of missiles and warheads is the better way.

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