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Kim Jong-un admits North Korea rocket launch a failure

By Haley BeMiller
On April 20, 2012

Despite warnings from the international community, North Korea launched a satellite missile last week that had the potential to eventually carry a nuclear weapon. Unlike previous launches, however, this satellite didn't make it any further than international waters.

According to an April 12 article in the New York Times, the missile was airborne for about a minute before breaking up and falling into an area west of the Korean Peninsula.

For the first time in the country's history, the Korean government actually admitted to the failure of the launch. However, this didn't prevent international condemnation and tightened sanctions.

Paul Choi, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, said North Korea made an additional deal with the U.S. Feb. 29 that was called into question. He said the U.S. agreed to provide 240,000 tons of food aid if the government agreed to halt testing. After a dispute following the launch, the U.S. suspended the deal, and North Korea has expressed further frustration with the United States.

North Korea maintains the launch was part of a peaceful space program, although the U.S. and its allies said it could be used to test long range ballistic missle technology, a key component in developing an effective and far-range nuclear deterrant. With the failed launch, many suspect that the regime will take further action to assert its nuclear capabilities.

"This just kind of gives it [North Korea] more of an excuse to go on with a nuclear weapons test," said Choi.

Choi said the way this launch was conducted differed from past launches, but experts are unsure if it's related to the new leadership. Other than admitting to the failure, he said, the government also invited foreign media into the country.

"They made it a very public event," he said.

History says this satellite launch will lead to further nuclear tests, added Choi, and reports of that possibility are already coming out of South Korea.

"Every subsequent test that they have is validating their progress on their nuclear program," he said. "This just creates a more credible threat on the part of the North Korean military."

However, with elections blossoming in the United States, Choi doesn't believe the government will take adequate time to have talks with North Korea.

"I think it's going to be difficult to pressure significantly North Korea and punish this behavior," he added.

Phillip Stalley, a political science professor at DePaul, said the failure could prove difficult for Kim Jong-un. Showing force is important to North Korean leadership, and a failed launch doesn't reflect that strength.

"It potentially has implications for his leadership and may undermine his claim to power," he said. Stalley also said that North Korea has always been hard to predict. Because of this, experts can only speculate what the country's next move will be and whether or not they'll listen to the international community.

"There's not many levers we have left," said Stalley.

The only country that has any influence over North Korea is China, he said. However, China maintains a delicate relationship with North Korea to appear as a middleman between North Korea and the United States.

"China has a difficult balance when it comes to North Korea," Stalley said. "They don't want North Korea to collapse and get absorbed into South Korea...they don't want North Korea to win or lose."


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