April 13th, 2012
12:55 PM ET

North Korea's failure: The good and the bad

Editor's Note: Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. This is his First Take.

By Richard HaassCFR.org

North Korea's failed attempt to launch the unha-3, a new three-stage long-range ballistic missile, is for obvious reasons welcome. More than anything else it demonstrates limits to the DPRK's technical prowess. And it means that the United States and the world have more time before they must contend with the possibility that the world's most closed and militarized country has the capacity to launch missiles, conceivably with nuclear warheads, across great distances.

But any sigh of relief must be tempered. First, the fact that the test took place at all in the face of widespread international opposition demonstrates North Korea's ability to defy external pressure and isolation. It also means that China, the country with the most influence over North Korea, is still unwilling to use that influence in a decisive manner.

Second, North Korea remains a serious military threat. It still possesses as many as a dozen nuclear warheads, proven short-range missiles, and a formidable conventional fighting force. It is as much an army with a country as vice-versa.

Third and perhaps most immediate, the test's failure constitutes a humiliating setback for the country's new leader, Kim Jong-un. It is likely that a principal reason for the launch was to signal his emergence and consolidate his authority. There is thus a real risk that he will turn to a tried and true path to accomplish the same ends.

If history is any guide, this suggests that a test of a nuclear warhead or some sort of aggressive military action - for example, an artillery strike - against South Korea could be in the offing. And if this latter scenario occurs, South Korea, unlike on previous occasions, is almost certain to retaliate. And if this happens, escalation and a serious armed clash on the Korean Peninsula, territory where the United States, China, Japan, and others all have vital interests, could well materialize. This last outpost of the Cold War, ignored or forgotten by many, retains the potential to constitute a major threat to post-Cold War international order.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Richard Haass.

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Topics: North Korea

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. 100% ETHIO

    ...She supposed to listened the Fatherly advice, US.
    How much does it cost to prepared, installed and fired???

    April 13, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
    • Silly

      why every one should listen to US with debit, higher unemployment, decine economy, corruption finaical system, and people with "FK" language?

      April 14, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  2. 100% ETHIO

    US must conquered Canada, before Canada becomes like Cuba.
    Right now, I think most Countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan have highest Canadian Government positions, whom and what they could make decisions by their voices.

    I don't want read or hear, the rise and fall of America.

    April 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  3. 100% ETHIO

    President Obama married BSD (Black Slave Descendant) and his main interest and tendency goes to her race side.
    Canada' Defence Minister McKay secretelly married, Iranian born..., and his main interest and tendency,....She have also access to convinced him.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  4. FK EVIL


    April 13, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    To point 3, what did Haas know about the mind of a politically inexperienced man under 30? He has an entourage that advises him, especially his uncle, the prudent Chang Song-taek. What's goes on inside Northe Korea will remain unknown to the outside world. The country captalises on its opacity and secrecy.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  6. Pete

    Can't some of you nitwits write properly,I don't specialize in hieroglyphics or ebonics.I just understand the plain old English language,thanks.....

    April 14, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
    • Silly

      there are language posted at web as part of freedom speech and civilization at USA.

      April 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  7. vistarian2011

    The fact that NK admits failure of the rocket launch is actually very significant – in its intention. Another nuclear head test will fail too. And Kim Jong Un may admit failure with that too

    You see, America has been painting this picture of NK being a nuclear threat, without any sort of concrete evident or sound rationale. It is simply anecdotal evidences, courtesy of the axis of evil conspirators.

    A country needs to spend billions, in order to achieve nuclear power capability. The recent failed tests have already put a severe strain on NK's military purse string. But it had to be carried out in exchange for valuable foodaid, while keeping its southern neighbours at bay. This charade cannot go on. KJU knows it.

    So, since the game is up, and the fact that Lee Myong Buck wins another 5 years term – a change in NK's foreign policy is about to make a complete turnaround.

    For it to happen, KJUn needs to consolidate and strengthen his influence over the army first. Give him abit more time and we can see this metomorphosis of the NK politics surprise the world like Myanmar did.

    It may not be the amazing Myanmar opening up and democractising. But it will be a warming of relationship and co-operation with South Korea – for a start. But this may happen only if Pres Obama remains for another 5 years in the White House.

    April 16, 2012 at 7:13 am | Reply
  8. vistarian2011

    Correction –

    A country needs to spend billions, in order to achieve nuclear power capability. The recent failed tests have already put a severe strain on NK's military purse string. " but it had to be carried out because its a 100th year anniversary celebration, and for foodaid" , while keeping its southern neighbours at bay. This charade cannot go on. KJU knows it.

    April 16, 2012 at 7:23 am | Reply

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