Launch poses burden too big to bear
By Chung Min-uck
Pyongyang’s failure to launch a controversial long-range rocket wasted some $850 million, equivalent to feeding 19 million people living in the poverty-stricken country for a year, according to a military official, Friday.
According to estimates, construction of the launch site cost $400 million, and the development of the Unha-3 rocket, ostensibly a satellite payload, and experimental communications satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 cost $300 million and $150 million respectively.
Late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who died of a heart attack in December, said it takes $200 million to $300 million to develop a long-range rocket during a meeting with the press in 2000.
“The total expense is enough to feed 19 million out of the 24 million population a year. With the money spent for the launch, Pyongyang could have bought 2.5 million tons of Chinese corn or 1.4 million tons of rice,” the official said asking for anonymity.
According to the U.N. World Food Program, food rations to citizens in the North amounts to 355 grams a day per person.
The official also said the money could have resolved the problem of food shortages for six years as Pyongyang has been suffering from a deficit of 400,000 tons of food annually.
Separate to the rocket launch, the North is expected to spend $2 billion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of late President Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder, on Sunday according to the official.
America’s halting of food assistance after it says the launch broke the Feb. 29 agreement between Washington and Pyongyang and other additional aid restrictions due to the North’s violation of U.N. resolution 1874 have led experts say citizens in the North will suffer more.
However, some disagree arguing the cost the ministry has estimated is exaggerated.
“It would cost less for North Korea this time as it has experience in launching rockets, having done so twice before. In launching a rocket, the initial cost is high but goes down for the second and third attempts. Also labor costs are much cheaper in North Korea than other countries,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, a private security think tank near Seoul.
“It is incorrect to try to interpret the North’s move entirely from a financial perspective. Pyongyang can gain the upper hand in negotiations with Washington and Seoul if it is able to launch rockets and develop strategic weapons.”
Pyongyang launched long-range rockets in 2006 and 2009 but both also ended up in failure.