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South Koreans at a Seoul train station watch a TV coverage of the North Korean missile launch Friday.

After weeks of hype and warnings that the North Korean launch could send rocket debris raining down on U.S. allies including Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, Pyongyang’s Unha-3 rocket failed shortly after takeoff and turned into a multi-million-dollar kimchi candle.

Up next: a likely NoKo nuclear test. Failure there is easier to hide, but that won’t mute international sputtering.

NORAD said it detected the rocket launch at 6:39 p.m. EDT as it headed south over the Yellow Sea. “Initial indications are that the first stage of the missile fell into the sea 165 km west of Seoul, South Korea,” it said in a statement. “The remaining stages were assessed to have failed and no debris fell on land. At no time were the missile or the resultant debris a threat.”

It was North Korea’s third fizzled attempt to lob a payload into space, and the continuing justification – along with Iran’s missile program – for the Pentagon to spend close to $10 billion annually to help support a shield defending the U.S. against foes unable to reach it. Luckily, the U.S. defense shield is better than the North Korean missiles it is trying to shoot down. Pyongyang is 0-for-3, while Washington is 1-for-3 in its three most recent interceptor tests. The last U.S. success was in December 2008.

Once again, the world was focused on a country unable to tend to its own people, fearing that its other-worldly technological prowess would be able to ram a warhead down our throats, while being incapable of feeding its citizens.

The episode raises a fundamental question about missile defense in the 21st Century: the quest to launch an intercontinental missile across oceans – especially one capable of carrying a nuclear warhead with a guidance system capable of hitting a specific point – is an amazingly complex technological challenge that curiously sends the U.S. cowering into the skirts of the missile-shield guild.

But so long as you aren’t aware of that fact – and so long as missile-defense advocates argue that the nation must spend whatever is necessary to keep flailing missile wanna-bes from striking the U.S. — we shall continue down this path.

Eventually – as was the case with the Nike missile bases built in the U.S. to thwart Soviet bombers, or the Safeguard anti-missile system built in North Dakota in the mid-1970s to intercept incoming Soviet warheads – we will realize that missile defense is a questionable investment. Let’s hope North Korean goes bankrupt, and collapses, before we do.