North Korea's launch of a long-range missile and other smaller rockets Wednesday is the latest in a series of such military preparations that the reclusive Stalinist state has carried out in recent years.
The intercontinental rocket the North Koreans fired Tuesday failed quickly, staying aloft only 40 seconds before it plunged into the Sea of Japan. North Korea's last long-range missile test, eight years ago, was far more successful, at least in terms of international impact.
Governments around the world reacted with surprise and dismay in August 1998 when they learned that North Korea had successfully launched a three-stage, long-range ballistic missile. The rocket passed over northern Japan before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, nearly 1500 kilometers from its launch pad.
After a storm of criticism due to the test's military implications, North Korea said the rocket had no warhead, but was carrying a satellite that was placed into Earth orbit. That claim was widely disputed, however, and never proven.
Pyongyang declared in 1999 that it would stop testing long-range missiles, although it continued to fire short-range rockets into the Sea of Japan from time to time. Last week, after evidence began to accumulate that a long-range missile test was imminent, North Korea said it was no longer observing the launch moratorium.