North Korea’s Loss of Face. What Now?

Even before the humiliating failure of North Korea’s Taepo Dong-2 missile launch, the regime there was already considering the possibility of failure and whom to blame it on.

Well, not exactly.

The paranoid leadership apparently entertained the possibility of the “U.S., Japan and the ‘group traitors’ running South Korea” intercepting the rocket, and promised an ‘Unimaginable and Miserable Punishment’ to follow the interception of their satellite.

This according to a translation by WorldMeetsUs of a commentary by North Korea’s state run Rodong Sinmun — a commentary that included:

The puppet forces of South Korea recently bluffed about “intercepting” a Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This is a fresh provocation.

These traitors aligned with the United States are saying that they will track the satellite projectile’s orbit by mobilizing military hardware, including monitoring devices, missiles, and an Aegis destroyer, in order to intercept the satellite to prevent its debris from hitting anything.

The U.S., meanwhile, is busy with an emergency transfer from Hawaii of an ultra-modern maritime radar system called “Sea-based X-band Radar system” for the purpose of tracking and monitoring the satellite and assisting in its interception. Japan is also making reckless remarks about intercepting the satellite if and when its propulsion systems fall within the Japanese archipelago.

I say “not exactly” because deciphering the murky, ambiguous statements put out by North Korea is more a black magic art than science and because — at least thus far — North Korea has not used such an excuse nor threatened to carry out its “‘Unimaginable and Miserable Punishment.”

However, almost everyone agrees that there will be consequences.

In a post immediately after the failure, I mentioned a couple of possibilities:

After this monumentally embarrassing failure to North Korea and its new, young leader, the big question, in my opinion, is what North Korea will do in response, both in the short term and in the long term.

Will they blame it on “someone else”? Claim that another country shot their rocket down or somehow caused its failure? And, if so, what will be the consequences.

Will they give up their military nuclear ballistic missiles ambitions– will they be ready to negotiate — or will they redouble their efforts at an additional heavy price to their people?

I know there are other possibilities.

Of course much better minds have already started tackling these questions.

The New York Times:

The failure injected new unpredictability at an already uncertain time, when Kim Jong-un is trying to consolidate power, and raised new questions only weeks after Mr. Obama suggested that it was unclear who was really running North Korea.

There was considerable speculation on Friday among American and South Korean officials that Mr. Kim and his military, to re-establish some credibility, would stage a new nuclear test, for which preparations have been evident on satellite photographs for several weeks.

“The North Koreans have tended to pursue patterns of provocative actions,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One.

The Times also mentions “There is a risk, even if a remote one, that the North will repeat the kind of attacks on a border island and a South Korean Navy vessel in 2010 for which it has been blamed,” and suggests the possibility of a power struggle “[i]n an opaque country that is fiercely armed and is believed to have a half-dozen or more nuclear weapons or the plutonium to produce them…”

CBS News has this take:

After North Korea’s rocket launch ended in failure, its next move could be even more provocative: a nuclear test.

That’s what North Korea did following launches in 2006 and 2009. Experts suspect the government is under even more pressure to do so now after its latest rocket burst apart after liftoff Friday.

“This failure makes it even more likely that the North will now attempt a nuclear test in the not-too-distant future,” American analyst Ralph Cossa, the president of Pacific Forum CSIS, said. “The rocket launch was supposed to demonstrate the regime’s power and technical prowess. A nuclear test may now be seen as even more necessary, not just to further perfect their weapons capability, but also to save face.”

The UK Guardian quotes Charles Pritchard, a special envoy for negotiations with North Korea in the Bush administration and a special assistant to Bill Clinton on national security as saying that “Kim Jong-un, is likely to attempt to restore Pyongang’s credibility – and possibly also his own with North Korea’s military – by pressing ahead with development of a nuclear weapon”:

The failure of the rocket makes it much more likely that there will be a third nuclear test. This has been a huge public and domestic embarrassment for North Korea. A brand new, untested, inexperienced regime that has gone out on a limb to really have a spectacular successful celebration, and now it’ll be a dark shadow over all of their celebrations. They need some new achievement.

The Christian Science Monitor:

The test failure constitutes a humiliating setback for North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, writes Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York. He and the nation’s military could well turn to some other provocative act to try to signal his emergence and consolidate his authority.

“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,” writes Dr. Haas in a CFR commentary.

Finally, the North Korean rocket flap will feed the longstanding Washington debate over whether and how to engage North Korea in productive discussions.

And, finally, McClatchy:

That the launch ended so disastrously – bursting into pieces in two minutes or less after take-off at about 7:39 a.m., according to the South Korea’s defense ministry – raises the question of whether North Korea will now up the stakes.

[:]

“Frankly, I believe that they are going to have a nuclear test anyway,” Andrei Lankov, a professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University and noted expert on North Korea, said in an e-mail. “But yes, the failure of the test increases such probability.”

But McClatchy continues:

Not everyone is convinced, though, that Pyongyang will push ahead anytime soon with a nuclear test or further provocations.

While there is sure to be frustration about the rocket’s failure, the act of the launch itself might have been sufficient to demonstrate the “strong willingness” of Kim Jong Un, said Su Hao, a scholar at the China Foreign Affairs University, which is affiliated with the nation’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Stay tuned.

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Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Very appropriate graphic, Joe (or Dr. E?). LOL

    Thanks

  • ShannonLeee

    The nuclear test will happen…imho :) i think the test has been planned for quite some time…a successful rocket test would have been added punch to whatever they plan on testing now.

    Once they have the ability to launch an intercontinental nuclear rocket…. things are going to get really interesting…in a bad way.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    I am afraid so, Shannon Lee.

    It appears that North Korea is “doubling down” on its militaristic adventures . Kim Jong-un said Sunday (Korea time) that his “first, second and third” priorities are to strengthen the military. Statements backed up by allocating a significant portion of the budget to defense.

    The New York Times:

    Some analysts say that the insecurity created by the rocket failure may push Kim Jong-un to rely more heavily on the military and attempt an even more provocative nuclear test in an effort to be taken seriously.