Failed launch still strikes prospects for diplomacy

April 13, 2012

Executive Director Gordon Flake’s Opinion Editorial on the North Korean satellite launch and its failure was published on the Kyodo News English website.  It will be translated and published in the Sunday edition in Japan.

Here is the link to the article: http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2012/04/152599.html

Article is as follows:

Failed launch still strikes prospects for diplomacy

By L. Gordon Flake
WASHINGTON, April 13, Kyodo

Now that the DPRK has gone ahead with the launch of what it has claimed was an attempt to put a satellite into orbit, international attention will quickly turn to assessing the implications of the launch and its apparent failure.

As evidenced by reports of plans for an immediate emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, the failure of the rocket will not slow international condemnation of North Korea’s actions.

Perhaps more importantly, the DPRK’s decision to go ahead with its attempt has effectively eliminated the prospects for a return to the negotiating table, at least until the end of this year.

Not only are the DPRK negotiators who brokered the ”Leap-day” agreement with the U.S. in Beijing on February 29th deeply discredited, but given the rapidly approaching U.S. Presidential Election it is almost impossible to imagine that the Obama Administration would be willing to re-engage with the DPRK at this juncture.

In the course of a November 11, 2010 press conference with ROK President Lee Myung Bak, President Obama made it clear that before the U.S. would ”spend the extraordinary time and energy” involved in getting back to the Six Party Talks, it would first need to see what he described as a ”seriousness of purpose” on the part of North Korea.

In essence, the series of talks which led to the February 29th deal were a test of North Korea’s intentions. Even if DPRK officials believed their own spurious distinctions between a missile and satellite both using the same multi-stage rocket technology explicitly banned by several UN Security Council Resolutions, proceeding with such a launch barely a month after the ”Leap Day” deal was announced and in the face of clear U.S. warnings can hardly be interpreted as ”seriousness of purpose.”

On the contrary, for what were likely reasons related to domestic propaganda, the DPRK chose to prioritize an expensive launch over a deal which would have provided significant and much needed food aid as well as a potential path toward reduced tensions on the peninsula.

In the end, the real losers are the North Korean people.

Perhaps more concerning still are reports that North Korea may also be preparing for yet another nuclear test.

If the events of 2009 are any guide, the DPRK leadership is likely to respond to any new condemnation of or sanctions related to its recent launch indignantly and to claim such to be evidence of ”hostile intent” requiring a further demonstration of what it calls its ”nuclear deterrent.”

Less than four months after Kim Jong Il’s death it is difficult to know for sure whether recent DPRK actions represent decisions by new leader Kim Jong Un, or merely a continuation of decisions made by Kim Jong Il. Either way, the legacy left by Kim Jong Il continues to threaten to destabilize the Korean peninsula and the region.

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