Implications of North Korean Rocket Launch
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Brian Genchur: Hello, I'm Brian Genchur. Today with Stratfor's vice president of East Asia analysis, Rodger Baker. Today we're discussing North Korea's first successful launch of a satellite and long-range rocket.
Rodger, my first question is broad but very important: Why now?
Rodger Baker: Well, one of the main reasons that we see the North Koreans doing this is in part to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, the timing coincides with South Korean and Japanese election, but more importantly it's about solidifying the authority and the rule of Kim Jong Un.
Kim Jong Un came to power with a very short amount of time of interaction while his father was still running the country. When Kim Jong Il came to power, he had a very long period of time to establish relationships, to establish who he was going to be working with, who he was, why he was supposed to be the one in charge. Kim Jong Un had a very minimal amount of time to do that, and by carrying out these rocket tests, by trying to launch the satellite and finally being successful, he's able to showcase that he has a certain amount of strength, that he has a certain amount of gravitas, and that he is the person who should be in charge of the country.
Brian: A big fear now is that North Korea will simply strap a nuclear bomb to one of these rockets and could perhaps hit Australia or the United States. Is that a rational fear?
Rodger: Not really yet. Yes, this is a technological step for the North Koreans' program. I think the first thing to keep in mind is that the North Koreans have not demonstrated that they even have a credible nuclear weapon yet. They've carried out underground nuclear tests, but that's very different than having a weaponized nuclear device, particularly one that they can mount on a missile.
The North Koreans have now demonstrated once that they have the capability for a successful three-stage rocket and that's a major move for them. It's very far behind most other countries and their space technology, but for the North Koreans this is a big step.
On the other hand, what we're talking about right now is a system that's still very awkwardly designed. It's somewhat longer than it should be in regards to its width, it can only carry right now a hundred-kilogram satellite or warhead, conceptually. At the same time, the North Koreans have not yet tested re-entry technology, so if this were supposed to be moving to a ballistic missile, they have to learn and understand re-entry technology. They have to change, really, the system to be able to carry a much larger warhead, and they have to demonstrate consistency and reliability in the launch of this type of missile.
So we're still a long ways away; in regards to their near neighbors, this isn't the system that they would use anyway. They have shorter-range rockets that are much more consistent, and those are the more realistic threat for places like South Korea, places like Japan. This provides them with a bit more of a psychological benefit that it does (at least at this stage) with a military benefit.
Brian: We've seen many countries officially condemn the launch. What actions do we see being taken by any of these countries, what's next?
Rodger: There really are very few options that other countries have. They can put more sanctions on North Korea; that's not going to do a whole lot. North Korea's already under a fairly heavy amount of sanctions, and part of the thing that North Korea was trying to demonstrate is that even in isolation, it's capable of carrying out a relatively sophisticated technology program. Sanctions are not going to be able to really cut off humanitarian aid, and it's very difficult to get the Chinese to agree to stop economic interactivity with the North Koreans.
So there can be a lot of condemnation, there can be some minor additional sanctions, there can be countries saying that they're just not going to talk to North Korea now, but there's little that they can do. From the North Korean perspective, they kind of anticipate this. What they anticipate is maybe 6-8 months of international strictures. But coming out of that, they see an opportunity.
They've made, what they consider to be at least, a political demonstration of reliable deterrent. That gives them a sense of confidence going into more diplomatic negotiations and talks. And like we saw that came out of their first attempt at the launch back in 1998 was that within a couple of years they had established diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom, with Australia, with Canada; they had invited Kim Dae Jung to visit North Korea. So they see this as another opportunity -- not immediately, but in a year, a year and a half -- to be able to make new strides in repositioning themselves in their international position.
Brian: All right, and Rodger we'll leave it there. Thank you very much for joining me, and thank you for watching. For more analysis on the North Korean rocket launch, please visit www.stratfor.com.