North Korea Rocket Launch: Why Kim Failed the Test

Article excerpt

North Korea's failed rocket launch symbolizes the inefficacy of Pyongyang's economic and political system and the crash of brief hopes that the new Kim regime might lead to rapprochement with South Korea and the United States.

What the North Koreans intended as a long-range, three-stage rocket flight sputtered ignominiously when the rocket broke apart and fell into the Yellow Sea less than two minutes after its launch yesterday. The regime in Pyongyang claims the rocket was supposed to place a satellite into orbit to celebrate the 100th birthday of North Korea's deified former leader Kim Il Sung.

Instead, the failed launch symbolized the inefficacy of North Korea's economic and political system and the crash of brief hopes that the recent change in the country's leadership might lead to rapprochement with South Korea and the United States.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) rocket launch also kills the short-lived Feb. 29 agreement in which the US government promised a quarter of a million tons of "nutritional assistance" (foodstuffs not likely to be diverted to the North Korean military) if the North Koreans would temporarily curtail some aspects of their missile and nuclear weapons programs.

Many observers saw this agreement as a test of the possibility that new ruler Kim Jung Un might take a different path than his father: seeking North Korean prosperity and security by trading away the nuclear weapons program in exchange for an improved political relationship and expanded economic cooperation with Pyongyang's avowed enemies. Mr. Kim failed that test.

This episode also tarnished Beijing, which managed once again to appear both devious and useless. The Chinese seem capable and willing when it comes to sheltering North Korea diplomatically and economically from the consequences of poor international citizenship. China consistently tries to bargain down United Nations Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang and then undercuts those sanctions through deepening trade with and investment in the DPRK.

On the other hand, however, China lacks either the capability or the willingness to persuade North Korea not to carry out frightening acts such as missile launches and nuclear weapons tests.

Clearly, the biggest loser is the Kim Jong Un regime. Kim has been plagued by doubts about his leadership capabilities since taking the place of his deceased father as paramount leader in the last days of 2011. The curious sequence of events leading up to the rocket launch, which seemed to indicate a lack of coordination between competing domestic agendas, raised questions about the Kim government's ability to pursue a coherent foreign policy.

First, Kim threw away the Feb. 29 American offer of food aid. And then Pyongyang's announcement of an impending rocket launch contributed to a surprise victory on Apr. 11 in South Korea's legislative elections by the conservative ruling coalition, which takes a tougher line on North Korea than the main opposition party.

The botched launch is a huge embarrassment to the regime. A young man in a culture that reveres age and experience, a hastily proclaimed four-star general with no military experience - Kim's sole qualification is that he is the grandson of Kim Il Sung and the son of Kim Jong Il. …