Observers reacted with skepticism last month when the Obama administration and North Korea reached an agreement under which the United States would provide food aid and North Korea would suspend uranium enrichment and long-range missile tests and welcome international nuclear inspectors.
There wasn’t much reason to believe North Korea would honor its commitment; it has a long and oddly proud history of reneging. But from the Obama administration’s perspective, the effort was worth a try. North Korea is under new leadership — Kim Jong-Un —and he might be less provocative than his father and grandfather were.
Well, he certainly one upped the other Kims, or he at least tried. He broke the agreement in no time with a heavily publicized launch that not only mocked the United States but defied international law and the United Nations as only North Korea can.
The launch on Friday, of course, was a dud. The rocket blew up less than 90 seconds after liftoff. It wasn’t North Korea’s first failure; in fact, it was the third failure of a rocket carrying a satellite and the fourth failure of a missile capable of reaching orbit.
But it was the first time a rocket had blown up in the face of young Kim, and it dampened North Korea’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, who was the founder of North Korea.
The festivities weren’t limited to the grandfather; a huge statue of Kim’s father, Kim Jong-Il,was unveiled, and the present ruler, who’s in his 20s, was installed as first chairman of the National Defense Commission. That ought to erase more doubts that North Korea is now his country to continue to arm and home to citizens he can continue to starve.
Not that the launch failure will be without consequences. It will probably diminish North Korean arms sales because there isn’t much demand for rockets that blow up on take-off. It’s possible the international sanctions are having the intended effect.
As for what North Korea will do next, another nuclear test is a reasonable possibility, if only to compensate for Friday’s failure and because the Hermit Kingdom doesn’t like to be ignored. After that, if past is prologue, possibilities include another promise to behave in exchange for humanitarian aid — then another defiant act.
About the only development that might alter this pattern is if North Korea exhausts China’s patience. Who knows, maybe the third Kim will be the charm.