Reactions to the April 12 Rocket Launch
Aidan Foster-Carter, writing for the BBC on April 13, argues that after the disaster for Pyongyang, two outcomes are now possible:
The fear is that an embarrassed and embattled Kim Jong-un, or the generals around him, might react to their rocket failure with redoubled determination to cause a big bang that will work this time - and remind the world that North Korea is not to be laughed at or trifled with.
[...] Alternatively, Pyongyang's technocrats and doves may finally seize their chance and see off the militarists.
The sensible party in Pyongyang may gain the upper hand, and Kim Jong-un's ear, arguing that the failed rocket symbolises a failed policy, overdue for review. A stance of proud defiance yields only poverty and third-rate science. The moral: it is high time for North Korea to come in from the cold and make its peace with the world.
Marcus Noland, writing in his blog Witness to Transformation on April 12, concludes that the chances of a nuclear test are now higher after the failed launch:
It would be easy to gloat, but the missile failure has increased the likelihood of some follow-on provocation. Before the launch, it was probable that North Korea would conduct a third nuclear test; now it is a virtual certainty. Having lost face, Kim Jong-un will be under tremendous pressure to double down in an attempt to re-establish international and domestic credibility. Satellite imagery has suggested that preparations for a third nuclear test, possibly based on the country’s yet-untested highly enriched uranium program, were already underway.
Jack Pritchard, in an article in the Korea Economic Institute's blog, argues that the launch has badly embarrassed North Korea's new regime, and that its failure increases the chances of a nuclear test:
The embarrassment to the new regime cannot be over stated. The failure will cast a dark shadow over the most important celebratory day in North Korean history. The credibility and perhaps the survivability of the regime are at stake. Pyongyang will need a spectacular achievement to overcome the national embarrassment it finds itself in now. Declaring yourself a “strong and prosperous nation” requires that you be able to point to some kind of tangible achievement. What that means is that it is now much more likely that North Korea will move forward with its third nuclear test. Unlike a missile launch that is observable and is either a success or failure, a nuclear detonation, regardless of yield, can be touted as an absolute success.
Alan Romberg, writing for the Stimson Center on April 13, looks at the internal and international ramifications for North Korea:
While this is not a moment for gloating by the outside world, neither is it a moment to rush back to the negotiating table with a regime that not only has blatantly flouted the will of the international community but also willfully torpedoed an "agreement" with the United States on which the ink was barely dry. (See here.) That said, the United States and other Six-Party Talks partners should remain open to sit down with the North if there is convincing reason to believe the North will take seriously the kinds of commitments it made in the February 29 agreement that now lies in tatters on the floor.
At the very least, it will be some time before such a situation can be created. And if the North does proceed with a third nuclear test, that time will be stretched out considerably.
Leon Sigal, writing in The National Interest on April 19, argues that North Korea no longer appears to prioritize improving its relations with the U.S., and that U.S. efforts should now focus on containment:
North Korean officials insist that the “new generation” now in power in Pyongyang still wants better relations with the United States. If so, the North should suspend all its nuclear and missile activities, starting with an authoritative indication that it is prepared to implement its commitments of February 29 as well as forgo future satellite launches.
Without such constructive steps, nuclear diplomacy with North Korea is at a dead end. Containing Pyongyang is Washington’s only realistic option.
David Wright, Senior Scientist and Co-Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program, explains the technical development of North Korea's missile program (audio).
North Korean TV Announces Rocket Launch Failure (English subtitles)