THE FAILED NORTH KOREAN ROCKET LAUNCH: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?
"(Reuters) - North Korea's much hyped long-range rocket launch on Friday ended in apparent failure, South Korean officials said, dealing a blow to the prestige of the reclusive and impoverished state that defied international pressure to push ahead with the plan. North Korea said it wanted the Unha-3 rocket to put a weather satellite into orbit, although critics believed it was designed to enhance the capacity of North Korea to design a ballistic missile deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States.
A spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Seoul told journalists that the rocket had broken up and crashed into the sea a few minutes after launch. Officials from Japan confirmed the mission had failed, while ABC News cited U.S. officials saying it had failed, although there was no immediate indication of where it fell.
The rocket's flight was set to take it over a sea separating the Korean peninsula, with an eventual launch of a third stage of the rocket in seas near the Philippines that would have put the satellite into orbit. This was North Korea's second consecutive failure to get a satellite into orbit, although it claimed success with a 2009 launch and there was no comment on the launch from North Korea's official media.
The Unha-3 rocket took off from a new launch site on the west coast of North Korea, near the Chinese border. The launch had been timed to coincide with the 100th birthday celebrations of the isolated and impoverished state's founder, Kim Il-sung, and came after a food aid deal with the United States had hinted at an easing of tensions on the world's most militarized border".
Ju-min Park. "North Korean Rocket Launch Ends in Failure: South Korea." Reuters. 12 April 2012, in www.reuters.com.
"North Korea's failed attempt to launch the unha-3, a new three-stage long-range ballistic missile, is for obvious reasons welcome. More than anything else it demonstrates limits to the DPRK's technical prowess. And it means that the United States and the world have more time before they must contend with the possibility that the world's most closed and militarized country has the capacity to launch missiles, conceivably with nuclear warheads, across great distances.
But any sigh of relief must be tempered. First, the fact that the test took place at all in the face of widespread international opposition demonstrates North Korea's ability to defy external pressure and isolation. It also means that China, the country with the most influence over North Korea, is still unwilling to use that influence in a decisive manner. Second, North Korea remains a serious military threat. It still possesses as many as a dozen nuclear warheads, proven short-range missiles, and a formidable conventional fighting force. It is as much an army with a country as vice-versa.
Third and perhaps most immediate, the test's failure constitutes a humiliating setback for the country's new leader, Kim Jong-un. It is likely that a principal reason for the launch was to signal his emergence and consolidate his authority. There is thus a real risk that he will turn to a tried and true path to accomplish the same ends. If history is any guide, this suggests that a test of a nuclear warhead or some sort of aggressive military action -- for example, an artillery strike -- against South Korea could be in the offing. And if this latter scenario occurs, South Korea, unlike on previous occasions, is almost certain to retaliate. And if this happens, escalation and a serious armed clash on the Korean Peninsula, territory where the United States, China, Japan, and others all have vital interests, could well materialize. This last outpost of the Cold War, ignored or forgotten by many, retains the potential to constitute a major threat to post-Cold War international order".
Richard Haass, "North Korea's Failure: the good and the bad." The Council on Foreign Relations. 13 April 2012, in www.cfr.org.
"U.S.–North Korea relations recently enjoyed 16 optimistic days: between February
29, when Pyongyang signed the “Leap Day” arms control agreement with the United States, and March 16, when it announced plans to conduct the very kind of rocket launch that it had just forsworn. Reacting to the announcement of the satellite launch, which is intended to commemorate the centenary of founding father Kim Il Sung’s birth, U.S. President Barack Obama warned North Korea about the consequences of provocation and called on China to stop “turning a blind eye” to the North Korean nuclear program. The denunciations Obama and others have been making sound like a familiar refrain. “Rules must be binding, violations must be punished, words must mean something,” Obama said in his now-famous Prague speech, in which he condemned North Korea’s April 2009 rocket launch. But the rules aren’t binding, North Korea’s violations aren’t meaningfully punished, words are mostly just words, and China does little.
North Korea’s saber rattling today represents only the most recent episode in a long history of unpunished provocation....More recently, the North Korean military torpedoed the South Korean frigate Cheonan and shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. In every instance, the joint U.S.-South Korean command, Combined Forces Command (CFC), has let North Korea get away with its misbehavior. One sanctions regime after another has not deterred aggression....
North Korea escapes such punishment thanks to a powerful deterrent. The first leg of Pyongyang’s strategic triad is its “madman” image: the idea that the country might react to retaliation by plunging the peninsula into general war. North Korean officials are not irrational, as so often depicted in the media. Rather, they are following in the tradition of U.S. President Richard Nixon, who spoke of feigning irrationality in order to intimidate his adversaries. Through its wild rhetoric and behavior at home and abroad, Pyongyang has told the world that in the international game of chicken, it will not swerve -- that it is so ready to fight that it will starve its people and devote a quarter of its economy to defense, hack up enemy soldiers with an axe, and even try to assassinate presidents. This reputation has helped convince CFC’s leaders that they cannot rely upon the normal rules of deterrence, that with such an opponent, tit-for-tat retaliation is too risky and too likely to lead to all-out war.
Make no mistake: no one thinks that North Korea would actually win that war. The country is dwarfed economically by South Korea, and the military balance long ago shifted against the North. In the late 1990s, military analysts concluded that CFC would prevail should a war ever be fought, and the ensuing two decades of famine and energy shortages have only weakened North Korea’s position. But even though Pyongyang would lose this war, no one wants to fight it, either. North Korea can still inflict terrible pain on South Korea (and possibly, with its ballistic missiles, on nearby Japan). The city of Seoul, home to more than ten million people, lies well within range of North Korean artillery. North Korea’s leaders know that a second Korean war would be an existential war -- that neither the regime nor they themselves would survive a defeat -- and so they would have an incentive to use every weapon in their arsenal, including weapons of mass destruction. Is North Korea so crazy that if CFC carried out an act of limited retaliation, the country would start a war that would end in its own certain destruction? No one wants to find out....
It is tempting to presume that there is some limit to the world's tolerance of North Korean aggression -- some point at which South Korea and the United States, despite fears of a war and collapse, would conclude that North Korea is too dangerous a country to live with and that regime change is the less terrible option. But that presumption could be wrong. As intolerable as it is to absorb North Korea’s assassination attempts and other provocations, it is also hard to imagine what could possibly prompt Seoul and Washington to gamble on regime change in a wrecked, nuclear-armed disaster of a country.
Jennifer Lind. "Why North Korea gets Away with it." The Council on Foreign Relations. 12 April 2012, in www.cfr.org.
The latest provocation (in this particular instance a failed one) from North Korea, is as the two above learned commentators (Richard Haas & Jennifer Lind) correctly note, is very much par for the course, as it relates to the usual North Korean modus operandi of behavior. With one step forward towards engagement with the outside world, represented by the 29th of February signing, the now-failed missile test, was meant to reinforce for internal, primat der innenpolitik, consumption the bizarre ethos, which is North Korean ideology. Now with the failure of the North Korean test, it would very much appear, if the past is any predictor, that the regime in Pyongyang will endeavor to re-coop its own internal prestige (and its external 'fear factor') by launching its third nuclear test 1. Unless of course the failure of the test will result in those elements in the North Korean regime, who favor a more extreme interaction with the outside world, to 'lose face' and thereby be lose power to some (any?) more moderate elements. Of course it could very well be the case that any talk of 'extremists elements', and 'hardliners' is merely delusional. And that the entire ruling elite is a gang of homicidal maniacs and criminals. With some slightly more lunatic than the others. No doubt the truth of the matter lies somewhere inbetween. That being said, I for one, am pessimistic about the immediate future. With the likelihood being that North Korea will indeed launch another nuclear test.
In the medium to long run however, I am an optimist. The failure of the rocket launch, is en faite, extremely concrete evidence that the regime is beginning to face ruin and collapse. It cannot even guarantee the basic performance of something which is its own sine qua non: the successful use of military force. The failure of course, also concomitantly reducing its bargaining power vis-`a-vis the outside world, id. est., the USA, Japan and South Korea. It is only a matter of time, before the regime implodes `a la the DDR or Romania circa 1989. However, seemingly improbably at this juncture, it is something which I forsee occurring within the next three to five years time. Do not be surprised if I am able to post a "I told you so", on this subject in the not too distant future.
1. Choe Sang-Hun. "Rocket Failure is set-back for North Korea's New Leader." The New York Times.13 April 2012. in www.nytimes.com.