North Korea’s controversial rocket launch a failure

In 2006, North Korea’s nuclear test was considered a fizzle, and in 2009, a similar fate followed their missile launch. Several days ago, North Korea thought the third time would be its charm. However, things did not go as planned.

Pyongyang announced initial plans to launch the Unha-3 rocket, “Milky Way,” sometime between April 12 and April 16. Although North Korea claimed it was a satellite launch to study the country’s weather and agricultural patterns, many analysts considered it to be a long-range missile test.

“North Korea attempted to launch two satellites in the past and both times they have failed,” said Nicholas Miller ’07, analyst with the Center for Strategic Research and Analysis, in an email interview. “While the North Korean government may claim that a satellite launch is different from a missile launch, it still requires technology that has been banned under U.N. Security resolutions 1718 and 1874.”

Several images from GlobalSecurity.org showed entrances of underground tunnels at the Punggye-ri site where nuclear tests were previously conducted in 2006 and 2009. North Korea was condemned by the international community for carrying out its launches despite warnings and has made any form of possible negotiation very difficult in the near future, notably with the United States.

Although North Korea had agreed to suspend its nuclear activities in return for U.S. food aid, the deal was canceled when North Korea, shortly after the agreement, announced its rocket launch plans.

“Their efforts to launch a missile clearly demonstrates that they could not be trusted to keep their commitments,” said White House National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes to Reuters.

As the world kept a vigilant eye on North Korea’s rocket launch, the isolated nation surprisingly welcomed 200 foreign journalists to Pyongyang for the launch and the weekend-long commemorations of Kim Ill-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. According to Sky News, it was the “largest number of overseas media ever welcomed in to the reclusive state.”

On April 13, North Korea carried out its audacious plans and launched the rocket. However, the much-anticipated launch failed.

According to a U.S. official, the rocket broke apart 81 seconds after its launch and then fell into the ocean, reported CNN.

“North Korea thought they were ready (for the launch), but they weren’t,” said George Guo, associate professor of political science. “Most people expected the rocket launch to be symbolic but North Korea failed badly.”

Although many were relieved by North Korea’s failure, some are becoming apprehensive of North Korea’s next step and the country’s response to the rocket’s embarrassing outcome.

“The possibility of an additional long-range rocket launch or a nuclear test, as well as a military provocation to strengthen internal solidarity is very high,” a senior South Korean defense ministry official told a parliamentary hearing, reported Reuters.

“A nuclear test next month is a virtual certainty,” added Marcus Noland, a North Korea expert at Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, reported the LA Times.

What may have surprised the international community more than North Korea’s rocket failure was North Korea’s public acknowledgment of the unsuccessful launch.

“The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit. Scientists, technicians, and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure,” reported North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency.

Under Kim Jong-Il’s rule, North Korea had blatantly stressed their previous unsuccessful launches as triumphant; analysts believe North Korea’s current acknowledgment to be a dramatic shift in leadership.

“Some believe, and I would probably put myself in this camp, that more than likely a power struggle is occurring within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” said Miller.

“It could be an indication of subtle change in the North Korean leadership — in how they handle these things,” said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses to Reuters. “I mean it would have been unthinkable for them to admit this kind of failure in the past, something that could be seen as an international humiliation. The decision to have come out with the admission had to come from Kim Jong-un.”

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