It seems that on 13 April North Korea has deliberately aborted the launch of its Unha-3 rocket by letting the first stage of the booster to blow up just one minute after the lift-off. By so doing, the DPRK has avoided the situation where it would have been shot down by South Korean or Japanese anti-missile defense (despite serious doubts about their capability to do so).
North Korea lives in a virtual reality. It is a revolutionary state where nothing changes. It is officially ruled by the deceased leaders. And its people continue to suffer from the shortages of food and energy but claim they do not envy anyone.
The controlled detonation of the booster could be the face-saving exercise – a better option compared to the potential embarrassment which would have been caused by Japan or S.Korea’s anti-missile defense forces. Surely, something went wrong in the first seconds after the lift-off and the Central Control Room must have decided to abort the flight of Unha-3 after one minute of the flight.
As the result, everyone will stay safe and happy: rocket scientists in Pyongyang have learnt more about their project, conservative politicians in Seoul and Tokyo are celebrating the victory, and the Obama administration does not look soft on North Korea any more. Even Moscow and Beijing may now feel reliefed that North Korea does not pose as much threat to the neighbors as it had been anticipated before the launch. And the people of North Korea, while being informed that Juche-style science and technology is the best, are even more consolidated around the Young General.
Kim Jong Un taking Pyongyang down lonely path
(by William Choong, The Straits Times, 14-04-2012) North Korea, hosting nearly three dozen foreign journalists on a rare media visit this week, has sought to sell them two hoary chestnuts.
Pyongyang has the right to launch a peaceful satellite, the journalists are told, and a successful launch will further its aim of becoming a “strong and prosperous” nation. Yesterday, however, the chestnuts were roasted rather than toasted.
The Unha-3 rocket splashed into the Yellow Sea after a minute of powered flight. Ironically, an Associated Press journalist tweeted from Pyongyang that a traditional Korean folk song, Roasted Chestnuts, was being played on state television at the time of the launch.
The launch, not unexpectedly, drew strong condemnation from many countries, which stressed that it was a cover for a ballistic missile test. For the first time, Pyongyang – to its credit – admitted that the launch failed. In 1998 and 2009, it insisted that satellites had been lofted into orbit when in fact they had not.
Pyongyang’s insistence on pushing through with the launch has rallied the global community, which has been seeking to manage its missile and nuclear programmes for more than two decades.
“They want to show the world that they are capable of developing a long-range ballistic missile,” Dr Andrei Lankov, an associate professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, told Bloomberg News. “It has not happened. So this will decrease the efficiency of their blackmail diplomacy.”
The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – have held informal talks, according to an Agence France-Presse report, and the council is expected to issue a statement to condemn the North’s latest act. The US, South Korea and Japan called the launch a “provocative act”. Even Russia, an old ally of North Korea, has said that the launch was in breach of UN resolutions which imposed sanctions after Pyongyang’s first two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
Yesterday’s launch – Pyongyang’s third test of a space rocket since 1998 – would accelerate joint efforts by the US, Japan and South Korea to build missile defences. This would blunt the North’s missile threat and impact China’s relatively small arsenal of nuclear weapons. China, a long-time ally of North Korea, said it was “very concerned” by the launch and that all efforts should be made to defuse tensions. But even Beijing would be hard-pressed to maintain its support for Pyongyang.
More importantly, Pyongyang under new leader Kim Jong Un seems to be on a path that will leave it increasingly isolated. News reports said that the North might proceed with a third nuclear test to make up for yesterday’s humiliation.
Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation expert at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the failed flight would still provide North Korea with information necessary for missile development. “Unless the North Koreans are deterred or otherwise dissuaded, they probably will eventually meet their goal of developing a long-range missile,” he said.
Taken together, however, a third nuclear test and the development of long-range missiles would only accentuate Pyongyang’s isolation. In the long term, the global community will have to play the same old waiting game. The Americans call this “strategic patience”, or waiting for North Korea to either implode or effect a change of heart.
In his latest book, The Impossible State, Dr Victor Cha says that a growing contradiction in North Korea would only accelerate under its youthful new leader. A growing gulf between the state and the North Korean people will “cause a crisis of governance and uproot the foundations of the regime”, writes Dr Cha, who served as Asia director at the National Security Council under former US president George W. Bush.
Ultimately, an easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula would come about only when the North, in the words of President Barack Obama, unclenches its fist. For now, this looks unlikely, given Kim’s need to stage a show of strength to bolster his currency at home.
This is why South Korea will continue to be wary of further provocations by the North. China, too, will continue to worry whether any softening of Pyongyang’s hardline position would lead to a historic reunification of the two Koreas – and the deployment of US troops near the Korea-China border.
Korea watcher Leonid Petrov, from the University of Sydney, says the global community might have to wait for new administrations to be installed in South Korea and the US before any new policies are put in place. Both countries are holding presidential polls at the end of the year.
Obama is in a fix: He can seek to reconcile with the North and be accused of appeasement, or stand firm and be accused of being too inflexible. As Dr Cha says: “I can tell you that North Korea… is truly a land of lousy options.”