(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/04/img_606X341_3003-north-korea-kim-jon-un.gif)North Korea launched its Unha-3 missile yesterday in defiance of its neighbors and the U.S., but it didn’t go as planned. The missile broke apart only minutes after takeoff. Now, Kim Jong-Un must do something to save face, guaranteeing that he won’t back down from carrying out a third nuclear test in the coming days.
North Korea’s adversaries loudly protested the planned missile launch. The regime claimed it was innocently launching a satellite, but the technology is almost exactly the same as what is needed for a long-range ballistic missile. It was obvious that North Korea was testing its ability to strike as far away as the continental U.S. and Australia. Japan and South Korea threatened to shoot it down if it entered their airspaces. The regime proudly granted the worldwide media permission to come see the rocket, prompting the U.S. government to caution journalists that they could be feeding into its propaganda.
The U.S. warned that it would torpedo a deal struck on February 29 where the North Koreans would permit inspections of its nuclear facilities, end its nuclear weapons programs and stop testing missiles. In return, the U.S. would provide 240,000 metric tons of food desperately needed by the starving population. American officials assured the public that the delivery would be tightly monitored to make sure that the aid wasn’t diverted to the regime.
Kim Jong-Un decided to go back on the deal and spend $800 million on this failed rocket launch; money that could have been spent on 2.5 million tons of corn and 1.4 million tons of rice. North Korean engineers are digging an underground tunnel in preparation for a nuclear weapons test, spending even more money that could save its people. The regime is also spending $50 million on an amusement park and $140 million on upgrading 3,000 apartments used by government officials. Meanwhile, according to the U.N. World Food Program, about 16 of 24 million North Koreans rely on foreign food aid for survival and one-third of the children suffer from chronic malnourishment.
The question being asked is why this happened now. There is a clear pattern to North Korean behavior. Whenever the regime takes a step related to succession, it engages in a provocation. It apparently believes that this is necessary for its survival. The missile test came immediately after Jong-Un was officially made the First Secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party. It also came as the country celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, the country’s founder.
Kim Jong-Il had his inner circle pledge its loyalty to Kim Jong-Un only one week after he conducted a nuclear test in 2009. Jong-Un ordered the March 26, 2010 sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan warship as his father prepared him to take over. The November 23, 2010 artillery attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong came right after Jong-Il and Jong-Un visited the responsible battalion.
The failure of yesterday’s missile test is not only embarrassing for the regime. It also hurts his business of exporting WMD-related technology. A similar missile test in 2009 failed and the intelligence community believes a follow-up nuclear test that year did as well. That is not going to encourage North Korea’s customers like Iran, Syria and Burma to buy the regime’s weapons and expertise.
However, nuclear weapons expert Dr. Peter Vincent Pry of EMPact America believes that North Korea’s nuclear weapons tests are being misunderstood. He was told by a group of Russian nuclear scientists in 2004 that some of their colleagues were in North Korea to work on a “super-EMP” weapon that could conceivably destroy all unprotected electronic equipment in the U.S. Pry explains that the U.S. judged the nuclear test to be a failure because it was only 3-kilotons strong, but it may have been an EMP weapon instead of a traditional nuclear weapon. If that is the case, it is U.S. analysts that failed, not North Korea’s nuclear test.
The U.S. now faces two dilemmas. If it says the deal to deliver food aid is cancelled, then millions of innocent and trapped North Koreans could die or suffer immensely. If the U.S. delivers the food anyway, then it could encourage further provocations.
The second dilemma is that Kim Jong-Un is determined to grab the attention of the West. If the U.S. decides not to reward his behavior by dismissing it, he will become more aggressive. If the U.S. does give him the attention he wants, then that guarantees he’ll continue this pattern. And as the regime becomes weaker, the more it will rely on provocations to maintain its grip.
A smooth change in regimes is obviously ideal, but instability could have disastrous consequences. North Korea has thousands of chemical and biological weapons, a massive arsenal of conventional weapons and soldiers, weapons scientists, hackers and special forces that could fall into unsavory hands. As the regime goes down, it could lash out in the hopes that a war will save it.
The West has no good options when it comes to North Korea and no matter how you look at it, the future is frightening.
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