It’s usually good for a laugh when a braggart’s boast comes undone. Just don’t expect the latest version of that comic comeuppance for North Korea to amuse many folks in South Korea, Japan or even Alaska.
Yes, Friday’s version of North Korean technological follies — its satellite-carrying rocket exploded over the Yellow Sea roughly a minute after liftoff — offered a bit of humorous relief from the grim implications it cast. But while that embarrassing outcome was relatively welcome, it wasn’t entirely reassuring.
That’s because North Korea, a prison camp of a nation stuck in a Stalinist-economy time warp, already has at least a half dozen nuclear weapons, according to experts. And despite repeatedly flunking missile tests, North Korea has persisted in aiming for a way to deliver nukes against perceived arch-enemies beyond its borders.
How can the international community counter this continuing menace?
The U.N. Security Council condemned the rocket test Friday, and the White House announced a suspension of its plan to provide food aid to North Korea. The U.S. had offered that humanitarian assistance in exchange for North Korea’s verifiable agreement to roll back its nuclear-arms program.
But if the despots who run North Korea cared about their starving people, they wouldn’t keep wasting their severely limited resources on weaponry.
So much for the naive notion that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un would be more rational and less dangerous than the man he replaced — his crackpot father Kim Jong Il, who died four months ago.
Many analysts said Friday’s rocket fiasco could imperil the new boss’ grip on power. And if son is like father, brace for some more of the nuclear saber-rattling that occurred after North Korea botched rocket launches in 2006 and 2009.
As Ralph Cossa, president of Honolulu-based Pacific Forum CSIS, a foreign-policy research institute, told CBS Friday: “The rocket launch was supposed to demonstrate the regime’s power and technical prowess. A nuclear test may now be seen as even more necessary, not just to further perfect their weapons capability, but also to save face.”
Meanwhile, the White House tried to save some face of its own Friday, with spokesman Ben Rhodes asserting that the administration “has broken the cycle of rewarding provocative actions by the North Koreans that we’ve seen in the past.”
However, the crucial — and ominous — challenge remains finding a way to break the cycle of North Korea taking those provocative actions.
And despite Friday’s rocket flop, defusing the continuing threat from North Korea must remain a critical priority for not just the U.S. but the global community.