N. Korea rocket launch shows young leader as gambler
“It makes me happy that our satellite is flying in space,” Pyongyang citizen Jong Sun Hui said as Friday’s ceremony came to a close and tens of thousands rushed into the streets, many linking arms as they went.
“The satellite launch demonstrated our strong power and the might of our science and technology once again,” she told The Associated Press. “And it also clearly testifies that a thriving nation in our near future.”
Aside from winning him support from the people, the success of the launch helps his image as he works to consolidate power over a government crammed with elderly, old-school lieutenants of his father and grandfather, foreign analysts said.
Experts say that what is unclear, however, is whether Kim will continue to smoothly solidify power, steering clear of friction with the powerful military while dealing with the strong possibility of more crushing sanctions against a country with what the United Nations calls a serious hunger problem.
Successfully firing a rocket was so politically crucial for Kim at the onset of his rule that he allowed an April launch to go through even though it resulted in the collapse of a nascent food-aid-for-nuclear-freeze deal with the United States, said North Korea analyst Kim Yeon-su of Korea National Defense University in Seoul.
The launch success consolidates his image as inheritor of his father’s legacy. But it could end up deepening North Korea’s political and economic isolation, he said.
On Friday, the section at the rally reserved for foreign diplomats was noticeably sparse as U.N. officials and some European envoys stayed away from the celebration, as they did in April after the last launch.
Despite the success, experts say North Korea is years from even having a shot at developing reliable missiles that could bombard the American mainland and other distant targets.
North Korea will need larger and more dependable missiles, and more advanced nuclear weapons, to threaten U.S. shores, though it already poses a shorter-range missile threat to its neighbors.
The next big question is how the outside world will punish Pyongyang — and try to steer North Korea from what could come next: a nuclear test. In 2009, a rocket launch was followed up just weeks later by an atomic explosion.
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions should inspire the U.S. , China, South Korea and Japan to put aside their issues and focus on dealing with Pyongyang, Scott Snyder, a Korea specialist for the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote recently.
If there is a common threat that should galvanize regional cooperation “it most certainly should be the prospect of a 30-year-old leader of a terrorized population with his finger on a nuclear trigger,” Snyder said.