Message in a Missile

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WASHINGTON: Talk about a shot across your bows. North Korea's test-firing turns out to have been a two-stage ballistic missile -- one with the accuracy of a Scud -- that crossed Japanese territory and splashed down in the Pacific Monday morning, according to Japan's Defense Agency. Now an outraged Japan is refusing to back a deal to build nuclear reactors in North Korea, effectively scuppering the nuclear freeze negotiations under way in New York. What was Pyongyang thinking?

If there was a message in the missile, it wasn't directed at Japan. "North Korea is one of the most proliferating weapons builders in the world," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "This is like the test track". Customers such as Iran and Pakistan, who both bought dozens of North Korean Rodongs, are bound to like the look of this new 1,240-mile-range Daepodong -- which is literally twice the missile the Rodong was. Kim Jong Il, soon to be installed as president, has a nice firework for his inauguration. And North Korea's starving millions -- well, they get the satisfaction of seeing their nation trying to establish itself as a regional power. "Plainly," says Thompson, "this is one of the world's most loony nations."