North Korea’s decision last week to press ahead with a missile launch, despite international warnings, is raising tensions once again in the region. Just months after becoming the country's new leader, Kim Jong Un faces a choice to either continue testing the will of the international community or take a different path.
Massive celebrations Sunday in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, marked the birthday of the reclusive country's founder, Kim Il Sung, and the beginning of a new rule under Kim Jong Un.
For now, the young Kim appears to be moving in lock step with his late father, Kim Jong Il. And after last week's missile launch there is growing concern a nuclear test could be next.
"We have seen this pattern in the past, where they have a missile launch, the rest of the world has responded and rather than to compromise or to negotiate, the North has taken another provocative action and in several instances, in two instances the provocative action has been an attempt at a nuclear test," said former CIA Director Michael Hayden.
Hayden says some believe the untested new leader's actions may be an attempt to show his strength. But others say the missile launch -- just weeks after an announced agreement not to carry out such tests and to stop nuclear development in return for food aid -- may have been inevitable.
"Both the missile test and the food aid from the United States were set in motion by Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il, and that Kim Jong Un is not yet quite strong enough in his own position to have turned off either since they were both started by his father," Hayden said.
The United Nations has condemned the launch, and warned of further consequences if Pyongyang carries out another launch or a nuclear test.
The situation appears to be slipping back into a cycle of what analysts say typically leads to more provocations from the North -- in the hope it can get more concessions during nuclear-development negotiations.
But Victor Cha, who was White House Asian Affairs director during the George W. Bush administration, says the U.S is unlikely to show more patience with North Korea. “I think that they are just going to focus on sanctions, and counter proliferation and military exercising, essentially a containment strategy is where they are headed. Certainly at least for the remainder of this administration," Cha said.
With upcoming elections in the United States and South Korea, and a leadership change about to occur in China, analysts say domestic issues in those countries will have a higher priority than North Korea.
"In today’s political environment I think it is very hard for any administration or any of the parties involved to really try something different. To try to break out of this sort of downward spiral that we've fallen into," Cha said.
Analysts say it is clear there is little optimism for the situation to improve soon, especially in a year the North has aims to become a nuclear state.