North Korea’s Missile Launch: The Winners and Losers

BY Scott A. Snyder.THE ATLANTIC.Dec 12 2012,

How the DPRK’s unauthorized rocket test could swing South Korea’s elections and bring the United States and China together


The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea successfully launched a multi-stage Unha-3 rocket from its Tongchang-ri launch facility on December 12 at 9:51 a.m. KST. About ninety minutes after the launch, the    Korean Central News Agency reported that “the launching of the satellite ‘Gwangmyongsong-3’ using the “Unha-3″ rocket was a success and that the satellite has entered into its planned orbit.”    North American Aerospace Defense Command reported that “initial indications are    that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.”

The DPRK’s success follows its    failure to launch a satellite last April to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the regime’s founder, Kim Il Sung. The launch    coincides roughly with the first anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death on December 17. It is being credited as a major success within North Korea and will    serve as an important symbol for regime consolidation under Kim Jong Un.

The task of responding to North Korea’s apparently successful satellite launch poses an immediate challenge to North Korea’s neighbors, each of which are    in the middle of leadership transitions. The impending U.N. Security Council debate will come as an early test for China’s new leadership under Xi Jinping    and as evidence that China’s comprehensive engagement strategy with North Korea has failed to restrain North Korean provocations. Since China’s overriding    objectives toward North Korea remain stability and crisis avoidance, China will remain the main obstacle to any significantly punitive international    response. It is likely only to agree to yet another ineffective U.N. presidential statement condemning the launch, resisting efforts to expand sanctions    against North Korea.

North Korea’s satellite comes days before Japanese and South Korean voters go to the polls, raising the likelihood that national security will be on the    minds of voters in both countries. LDP leader and likely next Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe led the country’s strong response to North Korea’s 2006    rocket launch. His efforts resulted in the first UN resolution to criticize North Korean missile tests U.N. Security Council resolution 1695. South Korea has    faced a long tradition of North Korean provocative actions designed to influence South Korean election outcomes, but it is unclear how a satellite launch    could tilt South Korea’s electoral result in the North’s favor. The North has publicly opposed conservative candidate Park Geun Hye, but it is hard to say    how a satellite launch helps opposition candidate Moon Jae-in or others who advocate a fast-track for reconciliation with the North.

A White House statement described the    North Korean launch as a “highly provocative act” that would result in “consequences” for violating existing U.N. Security Council resolutions. However, the    Obama administration faces a replay of the events of early 2009, in which North Korea answered President Obama’s outstretched hand of reconciliation in his    inaugural address with an April 2009 satellite launch. North Korea greeted U.N. condemnation of that test with a nuclear test the following month. Last    February’s Leap Day agreement lasted only sixteen days before North Korea announced its April 2012 satellite launch, and North Korea pledged more satellite    tests in response to the U.N. statement condemning North Korea’s test. This time, President Obama extended an outstretched hand directly to North Korean    leaders from Rangoon on November 19, only to have it slapped away twelve days later by North Korea’s December 1 announcement that it would undertake its    latest launch. While a U.N. push to condemn North Korea’s defiance is inevitable, so is North Korea’s determination to assert its self-proclaimed right to    peaceful use of space and to prove the UN feckless, perhaps by pursuing yet another nuclear test.

For two decades, North Korea’s nuclear push has been the single most effective catalyst for regional cooperation in Northeast Asia, yet North Korea is also    the expert at exploiting differences among its neighbors. A North Korean satellite test may provide a basis for strengthened Japan-South Korea cooperation    despite deepening differences over history and territorial issues. Further North Korean provocations may yet diminish strategic mistrust between the United    States and China. If there is a common threat that should rightly overcome such mistrust and galvanize regional cooperation among the United States, Japan,    South Korea, and China, it most certainly should be the prospect of a thirty-year old leader of a terrorized population with his finger on a nuclear    trigger.


One thought on “North Korea’s Missile Launch: The Winners and Losers

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