Aborted show of force
Any further provocation by N. Korea is self-defeating
North Korea’s rocket launch Friday, made in defiance of international advice and warnings, ended as a diplomatic disaster and a big propaganda flop.
Despite the failure in what was seen as test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the United Nations will chastise Pyongyang, and major governments will impose additional sanctions. This would add fuel to the wounded pride of the young, inexperienced North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, driving him to show his next card ― a third nuclear test ― even earlier than planned.
The time has long past for the reclusive regime, and the rest of the world, mainly the United States, must stop this seemingly infantile but extremely dangerous game of provocation and punishment lasting for decades. The question, as always, is when and how.
We can never agree on but understand the need for the new North Korean leadership to make a show of force, both to celebrate the centenary of its founder Kim Il-sung, and cement the power base of his grandson, Jong-un, this month. What we cannot understand is why Pyongyang agreed with Washington to put its nuclear and missile programs on hold in exchange for U.S. food aid, just 16 days before announcing the scheduled launch?
The North argues the launch of what it says was a ``satellite” should have nothing to do with the Feb. 29 agreement. We don’t think Pyongyang is so naïve as to believe Washington is so naïve as to buy such an argument. The Stalinist regime might have been just trying its luck. But having turned an accord into one more scrap of paper, it is now watching its chickens come home to roost.
Once again, the North’s dynastic regime chose its own survival over that of its people. The money spent on the aborted launch could have fed 19 million North Koreans a year. It was the worst possible present the famished residents could get on the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth Sunday. Pyongyang may think things might change if and when governments change in Seoul and Washington like when Bill Clinton occupied the White House and Kim Dae-jung took the Blue House. Such days might come someday, but how many more North Koreans should starve until then?
Or the North might think the U.S. has never paid the right price for the horse the latter thought it bought not once but twice.
But it is the U.S. not North Korea that has all the cards in this tug-of-war. The only card the North holds ― the actual use of the nuclear weapons or just selling them to others ― is not playable except for joint suicide.
Even for the regime’s survival, the first thing Pyongyang should do is to sever this vicious circle of distrust by making promises and sticking to them. The North Korean leadership wants to exchange diplomatic recognition and economic aid with the abandonment of nuclear weapons at the same time. If this proves too hard, the only way it can go is to disarm first, and wait for the other to reciprocate under an internationally guaranteed process.
It is one thing to live while keeping your system and pride. It is quite another if that means being unable to subsist. Strong and prosperous is okay; strong but starving is not. Time is not on the North’s side. The increasingly shorter flight distance of its missile ― or rocket ― shows that symbolically.