They were the duds heard ’round the world. And the failures could be setting tyrant Kim Jong Un up for a date with the executor.
North Korea’s crazed young leader has been obsessed with earning respect through loud demonstrations of his nation’s supposed military might.
But he keeps coming up short. That’s dangerous for a dictator that depends on fear to rule.
On Thursday, two intermediate-range ballistic missile tests fired with much fanfare turned out to be as ballistic as a pair of bricks tied to rockets.
This follows another embarrassing failure earlier this month, one that had to sting since it was done on the celebration of the birth of the country’s founder – and Kim’s grandfather – Kim Il Sung.
“It was a fiery, catastrophic attempt at a launch that was unsuccessful,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told The Associated Press.
The duds come after the country tried… and failed… to put a satellite in orbit earlier this year.
Experts believe the rushed tests are the signs of an increasingly desperate nation – one that may be rapidly falling apart in the hands of an unstable young leader.
“They need to succeed but they keep failing,” Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defense and Security Forum and a policy adviser to the South Korean navy, told Reuters after the most recent tests. “They didn’t have enough time to fix or technically modify the system, but just shot them because they were in a hurry.”
Why the rush?
It could be that the clock is ticking on Kim to show he can handle the United States — before he’s shown a taste of his own brutality.
Earlier this month, Kim’s team practically begged Washington to cut a deal: They’ll pause their nuclear testing program if the U.S. would cancel its joint military exercises with South Korea.
Washington told him where to stick his deal.
It would’ve been a much needed win internationally for Kim; the joint exercises are a regular show of force right in his face – one that can’t help morale when they see how much more advanced their enemies are.
Instead, it was a desperate failure. Critics note that their nuclear program isn’t ready from primetime, and America knows it.
Kim announced earlier this year that Pyongyang had developed a hydrogen bomb, many times more powerful than an atomic bomb – but seismic readings showed that it fell far short of what would be expected of an H-bomb.
“It does not seem large enough” Columbia University researcher Paul Richards told CNBC. “The limited number of (hydrogen bomb tests) that have been done underground in the few megaton range have magnitudes on in the high six or seven range” on the Richter scale, Richards said. “That would be a hundred times larger than this.”
Now, there could be another test – one Pyongyang hopes will finally bring Washington to the table and deliver Kim what he craves most: attention, recognition and most of all respect.
While no one can say for certain what the political environment is within the reclusive country, experts say this could be a dangerous time for Kim. And these things often end poorly for dictators.
Another failed test… another rebuff from Washington… another round of being laughed at by the world could have deadly ramifications for a young leader who may not have an iron grip on power despite his constant paranoid purges.
“We’ve really reached the point of no return,” David Straub, former director of the State Department’s Korea desk, told Newsweek. “Either our gradually ratcheted-up pressures will eventually persuade the North Korean leaders that this is not working the way they had expected, or the tensions will become so great in North Korea that there will be some change within the regime itself.”
— The Horn editorial team