N. Korean Missile Announcement Considered a Slap to Diplomacy

Diplomats and analysts are generally pessimistic international pressure will prompt North Korea to halt a planned rocket launch in mid-April, raising questions of whether diplomacy with the reclusive state has failed. 

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon became the latest prominent voice to express opposition to North Korea's upcoming missile launch.

"I urge the DPRK [North Korea] authorities to refrain from any such act, which will destabilize the situation and peace and stability in the Korean peninsular and which is against the aspiration and inspiration of the international community," the U.N. chief said.

Ban said the launch would clearly violate Security Council resolutions and that he will raise the issue at next week's international nuclear security summit here in Seoul.

Sovereign right

North Korea says it has a sovereign right to put scientific satellites into space.  But the reclusive state is under sanctions for its nuclear and missile-development programs.  Amid concern Pyongyang is trying to put a nuclear warhead atop multi-stage missiles, it is restricted from space launches.

A North Korean communique threatens war with South Korea and its allies if Pyongyang's nuclear program is a subject of discussion at next week's Seoul summit.


Analysts say, although such rhetoric from the North is no cause for immediate alarm, it is prudent to be cautious.

Harvard University Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs senior fellow William Tobey served on the National Security Council staff in three U.S. administrations.

"They [North Korea] say crazy things every week," Tobey said. "But every once in a while they also undertake some crazy actions.  They sank a South Korean corvette.  They shelled a South Korean island.  They have committed acts of terrorism in the past.  So the North Korean threat is serious, but it is hard to judge how imminent it is."


International analysts at conferences in Seoul this week say what is virtually certain is that Pyongyang's launch announcement chills substantive diplomacy for the foreseeable future, including hopes for resuming six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programs.

In Washington's view, it destroys an agreement made with Pyongyang last month under which the United States was to provide food aid in exchange for a partial freeze of North Korea's nuclear programs.

To former CIA senior analyst Sue Mi Terry it is part of a cycle of North Korea following agreements with acts that effectively sabotage those deals. Terry, now a senior East Asia research scholar at Columbia University, says "We're on a path to nowhere", with few options utilizing the same strategy. 

"Continuation of U.S.-South Korean military exercises, amped-up interdiction efforts, enhanced sanctions and, of course, going back to China yet one more time to really pressure the Chinese to say, 'Come on, this is now under the new leadership and you really have to do something about it,'" Terry recommends instead.

Some diplomats, analysts and members of the intelligence community believe Pyongyang hardliners in the military and political leadership are undermining what North Korea's envoys may be trying to accomplish in good faith.

Satellite launch

Analysts say evidence of this is that the satellite launch must have been in the works for a long time - certainly before North Korea's diplomats were finalizing the deal announced with Washington on February 29.

A former adviser to the U.S. Congress on weapons of mass destruction, Sharon Squassoni, is the director of the proliferation prevention program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"These latest moves by North Korea have surprised even some of the most seasoned North Korean watchers," Squassoni said. "I was in Pyongyang late last year before Kim Jong Il died.  The people we spoke with in the government seemed open to cooperation.  So I think this is something that predates the ascendance of Kim Jong Un to leadership in North Korea."


The younger Kim succeeded his late father in December.  Many of the prominent North Korea watchers believe the transition is secure.  But former CIA analyst Terry, who was also a National Security Council director for the Northeast Asia region, does not agree.

"The succession process is not going so smoothly.  And, Kim Jong Un is still in the process of trying to solidify his support from the leadership," noted Terry. "This whole sequence of events shows, that, I believe, [there is] internal dissent in North Korea.  So it is just an inherently more unstable situation in North Korea and therefore the whole issue becomes more dangerous."

Terry, Tobey and Suqassoni spoke at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul prior to their participation at a conference "What Does North Korea Want?: A Deal or a Crisis?"  

South Korean officials say in view of the growing threat from the North's long-range missiles, they are working to finalize an agreement with the United States on extending the range of the South's arsenal.

Currently South Korea's ballistic missiles are limited to a range of 300 kilometers and a payload weight up to 500 kilograms.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: jose
March 22, 2012 11:46 AM
I swear to god if they launch a missile mexico is going to war with those no good commies and we will do it right, Unlike those politicly correct nauseating americans trying not to offend any body, We mexicans live to offend everyone.

by: NVO
March 22, 2012 10:22 AM
Where is all the FAKE crying?!?!? Where is all the FAKE crying for the Supreme Buffoon whom is now in Hades(the local jail) then will be transferred to Gehenna AFTER the Great White Throne Judgement? The FAKE crying was a SHAM so people would not be thrown into jail. Leave the tryranical regime behind and exodus that SECULAR country!

by: Mike
March 22, 2012 9:09 AM
It almost seems that it's the old guard that is hell bent on showing off their military might , and it's Kim Jong Un that doesn't want to continue in such foolish and dangerous practices.

by: Bill
March 22, 2012 7:08 AM
This isn't some stupid regional conflict here. WWI got out of hand because super powers got involved in a regional conflict. If this escalates we could be seeing WW3 right in front of us.

by: Bret Talma
March 22, 2012 7:05 AM usual blame Obama. The N Koreans built their nuclear bombs under Bush. Obama cannot win with you fools. I would let them starve! The rest can flee to their friends in China.

by: NR Ghee
March 22, 2012 6:47 AM
This is not a missile announcement, it's a satellite announcement. To that end I can't help but see this article as fear mongering.

by: Russ
March 22, 2012 6:41 AM
Obama thinks,he is better then all other Presidents that tried to get the North Koreans to dump there Nuke program.Just face it,Obama is the biggest falure in foreign policy EVER!!

by: steve j.
March 22, 2012 6:38 AM
Anyone who is suprised is STUPID!
Stupid is is stupid does.

by: Rosalyn
March 22, 2012 6:16 AM
Here we go again. The US wants to be the policeman of the world. You are impoverished, Uncle S, you can't afford this. You are falling behind others in technology and standard of living and nearly every other area. Give it up!

by: jose
March 22, 2012 5:31 AM
You can tell who's been eating good in that dreaded country, The dear fat leader, His people are going to turn on him and eat him because he is the only pig left in that country devoid of cats and dogs and birds won't even fly over that place cause they know there isn't a grain of rice to spare.

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