Kerry Brown: This inept move may finally try the patience of China

Has Kim Jong-un been given rope to hang himself or will this failure strengthen his hand?

Share
Related Topics

There are two aspects of the failed North Korean nuclear launch, one technical, and the other political. The technical issue is easy to deal with. This event was a big loss of face for Pyongyang.

A successful launch would have reminded the world that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is not going to go away, and needed to be given more serious airtime. It might have been worth the flak the country knew they were going to get as a result of this event.

A failed launch brings down the ire of the international community and puts North Korea firmly back in the doghouse, despite the positive moves seemingly afoot between it and particularly the US recently.

The failed launch also reinforces what was already known. North Korea has creaky, poor technology – which is why there are few customers, even among those that are willing to break embargoes, to buy its weapons. Whatever its aspiration, it has shown in the last 24 hours that it lacks the capacity to back them up with hard action. Its only card at the moment is being disruptive and awkward.

The political meaning is harder to work out. The pattern of good behaviour, then bad behaviour that was followed under Kim Jong-il looks set to continue. What is less clear is whether the elite group guiding this have anything like the crafty strategic sense of the late Kim. He at least proved adept at choosing his moment and getting North Korea back on the agendas of the key powers. This latest move underlines just how bare the cupboard of diplomatic options is.

Does this recent inept move show that Kim Jong-un has been given rope by the experienced leaders around him to hang himself, and free them up now to get on with the adult business? Does it show that without Kim Jong-il the decision-making structures have fallen apart and there is disarray and incompetence? Does it show that this is a decision by senior leaders which has gone badly wrong and will strengthen the hand of a perhaps more emollient Kim Jong-un?

It could be any of these or none of them. The bottom line, as the South Korean government statement issued yesterday morning made clear, is that North Korea has violated a UN resolution, at a time when its people are still hungry, its political system is grinding to a halt, its leadership has limited domestic credibility, and its international position has never been more isolated. And with China, the one sole diplomatic friend, distracted by a leadership transition which has just been knocked sideways by the fall of Bo Xilai, former Politburo member, it seems likely that their famous patience with their "little brother" might finally wear out, and some sharp, harsh words might be heading their way.

Kerry Brown is the head of the Asia Programme at Chatham House

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick