A U.S. official has confirmed that a North Korean long-range missile broke apart in air after launch. U.S. officials say they believe the missile is believed to have crashed into the sea, ABC News reports. South Korea’s Defense Ministry says that North Korea has fired a long-range rocket. Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters in a nationally televised news conference that the rocket was fired at 7:39 a.m.
Feel free to make your own bawdy dysfunction references. I have a comment section for that very purpose.
Update 1: So frankly, I hope the failure wasn’t accidental, but this still beats a successful test. And despite getting no scientific, propaganda, or marketing benefit from this test, North Korea will now face consequences for having done this despite being warned not to:
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak plans to hold an emergency meeting of security related ministers at 9 a.m. to discuss countermeasures, officials said. The North had said it would launch the rocket between April 12-16 to put what it claims is a satellite into orbit to mark the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, the country’s late founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.
But South Korea, the United States and other regional powers had urged Pyongyang to call off the launch, seeing it as a pretext to disguise a long-range missile test, banned under a U.N. Security Council resolution. Foreign news reports said the U.N. Security Council plans to convene an emergency meeting. [Yonhap]
Update 2: Yes, the technology failed, but that doesn’t mean that North Korean missiles aren’t still deadly … to North Korean kids.
Not only was this a propaganda fiasco for Kim Jong Eun, but it could be an intelligence boon for us:
No element of the rocket reached space, said a U.S. official, who based that conclusion on data collected by the United States from its first few moments aloft. “This was supposed to be associated with (Kim Jong Un’s) ascension to power. So for this thing to fail … is incredibly embarrassing,” said Victor Cha, former director of Asian affairs for the U.S. National Security Council and now a Georgetown University professor.
The launch occurred at 7:39 a.m. Friday, both Yonhap and YTN reported, citing South Korean officials. Immediately afterward, the South Korean military dispatched helicopters and ships in an attempt to find debris related to the rocket launch, according to YTN.
Update 3: OFK has exclusive video of the launch:
This was such a colossal embarrassment for North Korea — at a time when it’s trying to build prestige for a new figurehead leader — that its leaders will be under extreme pressure to redeem themselves. A nuclear test is the very least we can expect in the next few months.
Update 4: The interesting thing here is that the North Koreans have admitted that the launch failed, which is new for North Korea. In 1998, for example, another North Korean missile test failed, but the North Koreans claimed that that its rocket lifted a satellite into orbit to play “immortal revolutionary hymns” to Kim Il Sung. I suppose some will call this concession a sign of some new North Korean perestroika or Pyongyang Spring; we’ve seen a false dawns predicted for even less. On the other hand, this is a regime that has recently cracked down on border-crossing — punishments now are much more severe than they were just two years ago — and which still goes to great lengths to deceive foreign media.
The more likely explanation is the same one that applies to North Korea’s decision to televise the World Cup live, only to have everyone with access to the broadcast see the North Korean team trounced. In North Korea, the groupthink probably favors boldness and punishes caution, conflating it with the denial of its own innate superiority. So North Korea gambled big that all of this hype would be a huge boost to its regime’s new figurehead on the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, and it lost big. And unlike 1998, when the regime knew that the truth couldn’t get in, the regime is no longer capable of suppressing big news — and it is North Korea’s own regime that made this big news. Marcus Noland, interpreting refugee survey data published in Witness to Transformation, concludes that North Koreans are “increasingly bold about consuming foreign news at the same time that it becomes increasingly available.” National pride is probably about the last effective cohesive force in North Korean propaganda, so this failure probably won’t destabilize the regime, but it will reenforce the cynicism that probably prevails among North Koreans outside Pyongyang.
Even the AP’s Jean H. Lee, who has mostly filed warmed-over North Korean propaganda since her assignment to Pyongyang, had to write a story that was (a) newsworthy and (b) unfavorable for the regime, although you’ll see at the bottom of the story that seven other AP correspondents (really?) who are based in Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington wrote parts of it:
The rocket’s destruction suggests the country has yet to master the technology needed to build long-range missiles that could threaten the United States. Still, worries remain about North Korea’s nuclear program amid reports that it may be planning an atomic test soon.
The launch is also a setback for the government of new leader Kim Jong Un, which had projected the satellite as a show of strength amid persistent economic hardship while he solidifies power following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, four months ago.
It will be interesting to see how the North Koreans react if Lee ends up putting her name on enough stories that fail to toe the regime’s line. Either way, it’s hard to see how this arrangement can possibly end well for the AP.
Attention now turns to the U.N.:
Clinton also made clear that the moment the rocket left the launchpad, Obama would drop efforts to engage North Korea and would instead pursue further international sanctions.
“Pyongyang has a clear choice: It can pursue peace and reap the benefits of closer ties with the international community, including the United States; or it can continue to face pressure and isolation. If Pyongyang goes forward, we will all be back in the Security Council to take further action,” she warned.
The failure of the test may ease pressure on President Obama to get firm action from the U.N., but then, this is an election year. If the Security Council can’t overcome Chinese stalling and do better than a presidential statement, Governor Romney will be able to make an issue of this. That argument would have particular merit now, as North Korea reportedly contemplates a nuclear test. A strong response now might still deter the next North Korean provocation in this endless loop, and would play well with most voters. The last time this cycle replayed, in 2009, the Security Council issued a presidential statement, and the North Koreans tested a nuke shortly thereafter.