North Korea's rocket launch is a controversial act that seems to suggest a new strategy by the North, if it really is a facade to test for long range missiles, but who really gains from its supposed desire for advanced weapon technology and its ability to threaten the further reaches of the globe?
For a long time North Korea operated a policy of more indirect attacks on its southern foes. It sent Special Forces commandos to assassinate the then president, Park Chung-Hee, in 1968. They were ordered to storm the Blue House, Korean version of the White House that still stands today, but ultimately failed.
Many years later in 1987 the North instructed two operatives to carry out a terrorist attack on the Korean Air flight 858. They were successful as the bomb went off on route to Bangkok but the perpetrators were eventually caught. They had placed a bomb on board a flight before getting off the plane at the connecting airport in Abu Dhabi and flew onwards to Bahrain were they were held back due to the discovery they were travelling on fake passports. Upon being discovered they tried to take cyanide pills before being linked to the bombings but a Bahraini police officer miraculously yanked the pill, which was concealed in a cigarette, out of the lady spy's mouth before it could take effect - the other older gentlemen being more successful.
The pretty spy would later become a bit of an icon after confessing to her actions after days and days of interrogation. These acts show a nation attacking its foe in a small, contained and covert way. North Korea for a long time has tried to infiltrate the south with spies and show its ability to cause harm on a small scale rather than in open battle.
More worryingly recently though is the more overt attacks that have become more frequent. We have already witnessed the North sinking the Cheonan, despite its claims that it was not responsible. In 2010 it sank the Cheonan ship killing 46 sailors, the subsequent investigation deeming a North Korean torpedo responsible. Then later in the same year the Yeonpyeong island was shelled by the North with civilians being caught in the attacks. Now it seems that the rocket launch is a ploy to test for long range missiles under the pretence of a peaceful act. If the DPRK are really interested in such weaponry then it's a concern for all as this gives them another tool in their arsenal to use at their disposal. It's already bad enough when you arm a man with a knife and pistol but if you give him a rocket launcher then escalation is bound to occur.
Who gains from this added threat? If successful the launch may pave the way for the DPRK to create and arm themselves with long range missiles. However they will remain in the same isolation as always. They are faced with the same conundrums as before, attack the South or Japan and they'll be bombed out of the face of existence. So it doesn't immediately give them any extra bargaining tool as their recent actions aren't garnishing a lot of support for the North and aid is becoming hard to justify for a country so brazenly unafraid to stick to the rules imposed on them. What it does though is it gives the nation a bigger fist to throw if it does decide to throw its last roll of the dice and go on an all out assault. In the event of sheer desperation and need it would give the country a resource to cause far more damage than previously possible.
China would benefit as a strong North Korea is good as a buffer and ally if it can find its feet again and be prosperous. However, currently China will be more worried about the damage the North could do and drag China into some uncomfortable international drama that it would prefer to avoid as the country continues to march forward with its own development. China will not appreciate the tensions that the North may cause in the region and will not be joyous at the prospect of further troubles in North-East Asia.
South Korea and Japan remain in a similar situation. Still under threat and unsure of their unstable neighbour. Nothing much has changed as orders from Pyongyang on any given day could have an army of North Koreans march over the border and flood into Seoul. The dilemma remains the same. An enemy that is powerful and determined who may like the same technological advantages but still is dangerous.
The USA and Russia remain watching on the sidelines. If the rocket burns up and veers into Korean or Japanese airspace then tensions are sure to rise and be hard to contain. The US has its responsibilities with South Korea and as always should anything escalate then the US will be on hand to provide assistance. Russia tends to be forgotten in these matters as it's the impartial player in this regional game. No doubt they will keep a close eye on developments but will likely play no substantial role as the rocket is due south and not towards or into its territory.
Therefore if the rocket is a disguise for testing for the future development of long range missiles then it's a path that yields no significant winners. It only makes the playing field larger and more dangerous. The stakes remain the same and players are in the same positions as before. It seems a dangerously odd attempt by the North and considering its continued need for assistance. The cat and mouse game it plays in world politics of offering a bit of peace in order for aid can only be played for so long before the well of sympathy runs dry and they are left to starve. The doomed path that they lead if they choose to operate more aggressive and direct attacks to gain attention will not end favourably. Let's hope the rocket sticks to playing patriotic music and not a catalyst for a more dangerous future.
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