The U.S., Japan, and South Korea are demanding new sanctions against North Korea after the communist nation carried out an apparently successful launch of a four-stage Unha-3 long-range rocket on Wednesday, in defiance of a United Nations Security Council ban against missile tests. The move was seen as a boost to Pyongyang's young leader, Kim Jong Un, who is trying to establish himself as a strong and worthy successor to his father, the late Kim Jong Il. The rocket carried a satellite, not warheads, but if North Korea did manage to place the satellite in orbit, as its state media claims, Pyongyang has taken a big step closer to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. with a nuclear warhead. The Wednesday success also marks a significant turnaround for Kim, whose regime was embarrassed eight months ago when another Unha-3 rocket broke apart 90 seconds after launch. What will Pyongyang's apparent triumph mean for North Korea, its neighbors, and the U.S.? Here, three potential consequences:
1. The world may unite behind tougher sanctions
It's pretty clear where this is going, says Heo Seung-ha at South Korea's Arirang News. "The United Nations Security Council is expected to convene an emergency meeting" on Wednesday to discuss calls for stronger punitive measures than the ones South Korea demanded after the April missile shot. Even China, "the North's long-time ally," has expressed its displeasure over the launch, after having urged Pyongyang to call it off. The "veto-wielding, permanent member of the Security Council... was not on board with the idea of further restricting the North's finances" eight months ago, but that could change now. Don't get your hopes up, Bruce Klingner, a Korea expert at the Heritage Foundation, tells The Huffington Post. China has consistently blocked tighter sanctions before, saying Pyongyang had the right to launch peaceful space missions. We'll soon find out whether Beijing's "new leadership is any different than its predecessors."
2. Pyongyang may grow even bolder and more defiant
"Eight months ago, the international community stifled a snigger when North Korea's hyped rocket launch ended with a fizzle," says Hilary Whiteman at CNN. "No one is laughing now." The untested Kim Jong Un's regime "surprised just about everyone by actually admitting its failure" in the last launch, something Pyongyang never would have done under the young leader's father, the late Kim Jong Il. Now, though, expect North Korea to be even more vocal about its apparent triumph. In the short run, analysts say, we should brace for another nuclear test and further signs of belligerence from the Hermit Kingdom.
3. Obama may have to topple Kim — not merely tame him
"It is a familiar ritual when despotic regimes give way to a young ruler — hope for reform, followed by disappointment," says Jack David at The Wall Street Journal. After the Western-educated Kim Jong Un took over last year, some observers hoped that North Korea "could be induced to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles through some combination of carrots (oil, food, etc.) and sticks (United Nations sanctions, prohibitions, etc.)." That hasn't worked. It's time for the Obama administration and its allies to start working on bring about "the regime's collapse, not to extract the next promise that Pyongyang can renege on."