[Letters] Special operation ‘Rocket Thunder’ succeededLast April, the North Korean government seriously believed the U.S. military was responsible for the failure of their rocket launch. These accusations even compelled the Pentagon to categorically deny any role in the North Korean fiasco in public. In my judgment, this time the North Koreans must have decided to take no chances in response to the perceived Western threats to shoot down or interfere with their rocket test, and instead, used their state machinery (the Korean Space Technology Committee, Korean Central News agency, Central Meteorological Service and others) to mount an all-out deception campaign to ensure total surprise for their preemptive launch a la pre-detente Soviet missile tests.
In the past, Pyongyang usually stuck to its official announcements, but it clearly wanted to catch the world by surprise this time by announcing “technical problems” and delays in the launch schedule even though it was in fact going full speed ahead under Kim Jong-un’s personal guidance, as North Korean media now tells us.
Knowing the U.S. over-reliance on satellite imagery to decipher their intentions, North Korea could have prepared for the launch when the spy satellites were not flying over it and pretended to be replacing components or fixing a major flaw in the rocket when they were. What a great Potemkin show it was!
Pyongyang apparently used its human intelligence assets to ensure its disinformation would reach the appropriate authorities in the South to the extent that the ROK Defense Ministry decided to downsize its North Korean missile launch surveillance task force on Tuesday, on the very eve of the launch!
Of course, now it is all moot and insignificant because the successful launch of Unha-3 revealed the stark reality that the starving, poor and backward North is winning the space race against the rich and high-tech savvy South.
South Korea repeatedly failed to put a satellite into orbit with foreign technology while North Korea succeeded, with homegrown rocket technology, despite the U.S. and its allies’ persistent efforts to block it.
It will be up to the new ROK president to sort out whose fault it is, who lost North Korea and let it run away with its strategic arms unrestrained. Whoever the South Korean people will elect as their president on Dec. 19 will have to find a way to deal with a stronger and more confident North Korea. It is now high time for Seoul to wake up and catch up, otherwise it will be too late to check and roll back Pyongyang’s growing strategic advantage and ambitions.
By skirting international rules, Pyongyang achieved tactical success to the surprise of many. But, the long-term price will be enormous: its young leadership lost significant credibility, especially with respect to its claims about the so-called peaceful nature of its space program, because of its deliberate deception campaign. Whatever goodwill they had in the international community, it is now gone, and they unleashed a deterrent force beyond their imagination. The new Kim regime may be proud of its tactical victory now, and, no doubt, will use the results of today’s missile test to boost its domestic legitimacy, silence its potential opponents, rein in the recalcitrant military and increase its international bargaining power, especially in inter-Korean relations. But from now on, the world will always scrutinize with a great deal of suspicion everything Pyongyang says or does, presuming it is a deliberate effort to mislead and cheat.
Make no mistake about it: the United States will stand together with its allies in South Korea and Japan as they come to grips with the shock of the successful launch of Unha-3. This highly provocative act will strengthen our resolve and remind us all of the danger of complacency during Pyongyang’s decades-long drive to obtain nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missile capability to deliver them.
by Alexandre Mansourov, Ph.D.Visiting Scholar, U.S.-Korea Institute, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University