North Korea Raises Fears with Successful Rocket Launch
HONG KONG -- Eight months ago, the international community stifled a snigger when North Korea's hyped rocket launch ended with a fizzle.

At the time, Pyongyang surprised just about everyone by actually admitting its failure, a departure from previous efforts to project success at all costs.

But this time, they've succeeded.

No one is laughing now.

"The world is not falling apart, like some would say, but at the same time this is not a joke.

There was a lot of pre-media coverage that said that North Korea was not good at missile technology and were sort of ridiculing them," said Philip Yun, executive director of the Ploughshare Fund and a former adviser to the U.S. government.

"Are we that much less secure right now?" he asked. "Marginally, but at the same time, this is something that we have to worry about."

What we know is that just before 10 a.m. local time, North Korea launched the long-range Unha-3 rocket carrying "the second version of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3" from the Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County in the country's west.

It soared over Okinawa, dropping debris into the sea off the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea and waters near the Philippines, according to the Japanese government who slammed the launch as "unacceptable."

"The success of the launch -- which most analysts assume is a clandestine missile test -- brings North Korea one step closer to demonstrating a viable and reliable long-range delivery vehicle for a nuclear warhead," said Benjamin Habib, lecturer in Politics and International Relations School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University.

"If the missile technology is mastered, the last technical hurdle remaining is miniaturization of a nuclear warhead that can be deployed on the Unha-3 rocket."

Yun says that's still some way off.

"There's still a lot of work that needs to be done if they're actually going to mount a nuclear device or a weapon on a rocket," he said.

"The good news is we have a fair amount of time. The bad news is that if we're not proactive, and if we don't figure out a way to curtail North Korea's actions, they're going to continue to develop and learn more and over the long term we're going to have to deal with it in a much more difficult situation," he said.

In the short term, one analyst said that Wednesday's successful test was likely to encourage Pyongyang to attempt another nuclear test.

"We don't know if the one in 2009 was a nuclear device rather than a weapon itself. They might need additional refinement and testing of a weaponised as well as a miniaturized version that can fit on a warhead," said Bruce Klingner, Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.

"More concerning would be an explosion that used a uranium-based warhead because the plutonium program is largely capped.

"We don't think they have any more available plutonium but the uranium path is really wide open. So if they have a uranium-based explosion, that will cause a great deal of concern in the U.S. and its allies that there is an uncapped nuclear weapons program," he said.

The missile that North Korea fired Wednesday appeared to be a four-stage rocket based on old Soviet technology, much less advanced than the rockets being used across the border in China, said Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer and the author of "Rocket Boys."