The Young General’s Old Tricks

TOKYO – Brinkmanship seems to be congenital in North Korea. Under the late Kim Jong-il’s pudgy young successor – his third son, Kim Jong-un, dubbed “the Young General” – threats and mendacity still mark the Hermit Kingdom’s diplomacy.

With North Korea’s announcement of plans to use an Unha-3 rocket to launch its Bright Star-3 satellite into earth orbit in mid-April, the newest threat is a continuation of an old one. Indeed, it signals a quick demise for the agreement reached with the United States just weeks ago.

The decision to launch the satellite, which had been planned by Kim Jong-il, is clearly intended to provide a “heroic” martial achievement for a new leader who lacks any military experience. The regime aims to boost North Korea’s international prestige and domestic morale simultaneously, with the population supposedly keen to support this show of the country’s technological and military might.

And, no surprise, North Korea’s leaders also claim that what they propose to launch is a “peaceful” satellite. But no one, particularly in the region, where North Korean missiles pose the gravest threat, accepts this claim at face value. It is clear that the rocket to be launched is effectively a long-range ballistic missile, which might be able to reach Guam, the site of an important US military base.