North Korea Missile Launch: Kim Jong Un Will Never Admit Failure

The South Korean government has confirmed via satellite imagery that North Korea has begun fueling their long-range rocket for a planned launch within the next two weeks. Recent developments regarding North Korea's second long-range missile launch reportedly show that the United States has moved several naval ships to the Korean Peninsula in an effort to monitor the launch and have upped their alert status to "Watchcon 2," a status used only for vital threats on the Korean Peninsula.

In other words, the U.S., North Korea, and South Korea are simply repeating history. In the past, the international community has largely attempted to convince North Korea to stop its missile launches. The U.S. and South Korea sit idly by on the highest alert waiting for a success or failure, and the pundits continue to mock North Korea's repressive and seemingly indefensible regime.

Here's the truth. North Korea's missile launches serve a multitude of purposes, but bolstering nuclear ambitions are at the bottom of their list of goals. This time, however, whether or not North Korea's long-range rocket succeeds or fails, North Korea's Kim Jong-un must and will claim success. 

Although North Korea already has capabilities to hit areas 4,000 km away in Guam, this new launch is a long-range test to enable them to hit parts of the western coast of the U.S. Since the international community won't accept North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power, South Korea's government also announced that North Korea is attempting to reassert its nuclear capabilities in order to become a nuclear power.

This is all very true, but success or failure, Kim Jong-un's regime will claim success because a failure will be Kim Jong-un's second failure of the year, considering he has already admitted that the April 2012 missile launch failed. Secondly, North Korea is also precariously placing the missile launch in the path of South Korea's presidential elections, which are scheduled to take place on December 19.

North Korea has a lengthy precedent of provoking instability on the Korean Peninsula whenever South Korean elections take place. This strategy is largely to intimidate South Korean voters to vote for the less hardline, liberal Democratic United Party, that supports unrestricted aid to North Korea. 

Another important date takes precedent in this missile launch: Kim Jong-il's death. Kim Jong-il died last year on December 17 and it is likely that Kim Jong-un will announce that the missile launch succeeded in the name of his late father.. Like his two predecessors, Kim Jong-un has effectively purged those in the regime who are against him, what he called "impure elements", and he will likely get away with lying in the likely chance that the long-range missile fails. 

Ultimately, North Korea sees a missile launch as a win-win situation. It's had relatively few gains in persuading South Korean voters to vote more liberally, but has continued its effort in an attempt to gain more sympathizers. Additionally, its farthest-reaching rocket, capable of hitting targets 4,000 km away, is largely based on Soviet technology whereas the new long-range rocket has improved upon previous Soviet works.

Considering these points, whether or not the elections or the missile launch favors North Korea, Kim Jong-un will still claim victory. He will create a lie and bolster his power within the regime. If North Korea's missile launch actually works, then we're in big trouble. 

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Brian Kim

Student at American University in Washington DC. I follow US foreign policy and Northeast Asian politics.

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