North Korea is kind of like that rebellious child whose behavior never seems to get any better, no matter how many times they apologize and promise that they won’t ever do it again. A few days later, and you’re wondering how you ever fell for that same trick again.
Just a few weeks ago, North Korea announced announced that it would implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities, in exchange for food aid from the United States.
Whether the apparent deal was the result of a new policy adopted by Kim Jong-un after the death of Kim Jong Il, the leader who championed the North Korean nuclear program, or the negotiating prowess of Glyn Davies, the new U.S. envoy to North Korea, and others is unclear. And while this seemed like a promising development in the long history of negotiations with North Korea, experts warned us to be cautious.
The experts were correct. This time it’s because North Korea is threatening to launch a satellite in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder. Despite President Obama’s warning to refrain from “bad behavior,” North Korea has stated that it will proceed as planned.
Missile technology to launch a satellite could also be used to launch a nuclear weapon. Despite the Pyongyang’s effort to separate satellite launches from missile tests, neither Washington nor the UN Security Council sees a distinction. The North Koreans have reacted negatively to the West’s insistence that they cancel the test, with a spokesman from the Foreign Ministry saying this morning that, “We will never give up the launch of a satellite for peaceful purposes.”
President Obama made it clear that if North Korea proceeds with the test, they will be jeopardizing the food assistance they were promised by the United States earlier this month.
UPDATE 3/29: A few hours after publishing this post, the administration announced that it’s “been forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance to North Korea.”
For an examination how the deal fell apart, see Jeffrey Lewis’ take here. For an assessment of why the North Koreans thought they could get away with a satellite launch, see this article. And for an explanation of why the U.S. is no worse for trying to negotiate with the North Koreans, see Center Chairman Lt. Gen. Robert Gard’s piece here
Whatever the reasons for the likely collapse of the arrangement, it does not portend well for security and stability in the near-term, as additional North Korean missile and nuclear tests could be in the offing.