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Pyongyang has told its people that 2012 would be the nation’s year of “strength and prosperity.” But while North Korea’s 1.2 million strong military is formidable, prosperity is a distant dream, given that as much as one third of the population is estimated to be malnourished.

“I think the [failed] rocket launch was very important. They have failed to become a strong and prosperous nation and their economic situation is getting worse,” said Choi Jin-wook, the senior North Korea researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “They need aid from outside, but they can’t get this aid, so what is left? One option: tension.”

With South Korea’s presidential election set for December, North Korea is likely to continue issuing threats, experts said.

North Korea may commit another provocation as they want to maintain some degree of tension in South Korea in expectation of the next government being more friendly to them,” said Mr. Kim of the Korea Institute for National Unification.

Still, Mr. Pinkston said the situation holds elements of risk.

“What I think this is, is the need to demonstrate loyalty within the military. I think this is mostly for internal consumption,” he said of the army’s rhetoric. “But they better watch what they wish for. They can miscalculate. They are playing with fire.”

David Boyer in Washington contributed to this report.