A big N Korean mo­ment, am­pli­fied with big­ger pro­pa­ganda

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A “bril­liant vic­tory” and “thrilling” suc­cess, North Korea’s grin­ning leader crowed of his coun­try’s first test of a lon­grange bal­lis­tic missile. The “fi­nal phase” in a con­fronta­tion with Amer­ica, Kim Jong Un called it. Part of a com­ing stream of “‘gift pack­ages’ to the Yankees” in the form of more weapons tests. You can feel the self-sat­is­fied, self-ag­gran­diz­ing bliss as North Korean state me­dia rev­els in what it clearly sees as a his­toric mo­ment - and a golden chance to boost the dic­ta­tor and his mil­i­tary.

In some re­spects, the ac­com­plish­ment this week is as big a deal as the breath­less de­scrip­tions. But, as ever with North Korea, there are some im­por­tant rea­sons to be skep­ti­cal. Peo­ple in the North Korean coun­try­side still go with­out food. It’s still a third-world econ­omy, with mas­sive corruption and ram­pant hu­man rights abuses. It is hated, feared, mocked and sanc­tioned by its neigh­bors. And sev­eral years of de­vel­op­ment and tests still lie ahead be­fore its in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic missile - the North calls the nascent version it test-fired on Tues­day the Hwa­song-14 - will ac­tu­ally work.

Yet de­spite all of this, af­ter decades of sin­gle-minded de­ter­mi­na­tion, a tiny, im­pov­er­ished coun­try stands on the thresh­old of com­plet­ing a long-cov­eted goal that only the United States, Rus­sia and a hand­ful of oth­ers have ac­com­plished: build­ing nu­clear-armed ICBMs. A look at North Korea’s de­lighted pro­pa­ganda, and what it might mean:

The pro­pa­ganda

“Re­spected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un,” with a “broad smile on his face,” urged his sci­en­tists to con­tinue to “fre­quently send big and small ‘gift pack­ages’ to the Yankees as ever so that they would not feel weary.”

What it might mean

Py­ongyang, with this part boast, part threat, is likely promis­ing more missile and nu­clear tests. It’s a show of de­fi­ance, sure such tests are banned by the UN - but it also re­veals some­thing im­por­tant, and less flat­ter­ing, about the North: More tests sig­nal weak­ness. Be­fore it can ac­tu­ally back up its blus­ter, it needs re­peated tests to build a sin­gle ICBM that can reach North Amer­ica, let alone an arse­nal of them. Same goes for nu­clear bombs. Some an­a­lysts believe North Korea can arm its short­range missiles with nu­clear war­heads al­ready. But there’s more doubt about whether Py­ongyang can build a war­head that can fit on a long-range missile. Each new test puts the North closer to its goal. But it also sig­nals that it is not there yet.

Bril­liant vic­tory

The pro­pa­ganda: North Korea said that it had scored a “bril­liant vic­tory” and “great suc­cess” by launch­ing an ICBM that can carry a “large-sized” nu­clear war­head. Kim praised his sci­en­tists for “thrillingly suc­ceed­ing at one try in even the test­launch of Hwa­song-14 ca­pa­ble of strik­ing the US main­land this time.” The weapon’s guid­ance, sta­bil­ity, struc­tural and “ac­tive­flight stages” sys­tems were all “con­firmed.”

What it might mean

The North did suc­ceed, in a way, by get­ting the missile to fly in a highly lofted arc and splash down in the Sea of Ja­pan. Wash­ing­ton, Seoul and Tokyo all con­firmed this as the North’s best ef­fort to date. It’s also true that if not stopped, North Korea ap­pears only a mat­ter of years away from build­ing a work­ing ICBM. But there are big rea­sons to doubt North Korea’s claim of com­plete suc­cess “at one try.” These in­clude whether the North has mas­tered the tech­nol­ogy for a re-en­try ve­hi­cle cru­cial for re­turn­ing a war­head to the at­mos­phere from space so it can hit its in­tended tar­get. And whether North Korea can build a war­head small enough to fit on a long-range missile.

Fi­nal phase- Pro­pa­ganda

Kim “stressed that the pro­tracted show­down with the US im­pe­ri­al­ists has reached its fi­nal phase, and it is the time for the (North) to demon­strate its met­tle to the US.”

What it might mean

This sounds like a threat, and North Korea has, with­out doubt, been demon­strat­ing its met­tle for years, ig­nor­ing re­peated US warn­ings not to test nukes and missiles and threat­en­ing to strike tar­gets in the United States. Such pro­pa­ganda helps do­mes­ti­cally by boost­ing Kim Jong Un as a ti­tan be­strid­ing the world stage. It also causes fear in Amer­ica, South Korea and Ja­pan. “Fi­nal phase” may also be a way of try­ing to keep North Korea’s elites from get­ting com­pla­cent as the nu­clear stand­off nears 30 years. There’s a glim­mer of truth in the phrase, too. If the goal has al­ways been a nu­cle­ar­armed ICBM, then the first smooth test of a nascent version of that weapon could in­deed mark a “fi­nal phase” of sorts. What’s less cer­tain is whether this phase will end with vi­o­lence, some sort of ne­go­ti­ated nu­clear freeze of sim­ply more years of frus­tra­tion and North Korean weapons progress. —AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (cen­ter) cel­e­brates the suc­cess­ful test-fire of the in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic missile Hwa­song-14 at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion. —AFP

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