North Korea is moving ahead with plans to conduct a satellite launch — sometime between April 12 and April 16 — to commemorate the 100th birthday of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung. Of course, suspicions abound that the rogue nation is up to no good, and the launch is seen as the most aggressive move that North Korea has made since Kim Il Sung's grandson, Kim Jong Un, came to power four months ago. U.S. officials say the launch is a cover for a long-range missile test, which would shatter a February deal to provide North Korea with much-needed food aid in exchange for a moratorium on its nuclear activities. What is North Korea up to? Here, three theories:
1. Kim Jong Un is cementing his hold on power
Kim Jong Un is still in the midst of a tangled succession process following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December, says Oh Young-hwan at South Korea's JoongAng Daily. With the satellite launch, Kim Jong Un can "impress the North Korean people," while proving that he is a "serious leader" worthy of his predecessors. After all, a successful launch would suggest North Korea is capable of placing a nuclear warhead atop a long-range missile, capping a "nuclear project pursued by the Kim family for three generations."
2. North Korea is trying to extract more Western aid
Pyongyang is following a familiar playbook with this satellite launch, Andrei Lankov of South Korea's Kookmin University tells CNN. North Korean knows being mercurial and provocative is a way to "manipulate the world," and the message is always the same: "We are here, we are dangerous, unpredictable, and it's better to deal with us by giving us monetary and food concessions."
3. Pyongyang's real goal is a nuclear test
South Korean intelligence officials believe the satellite launch will precede North Korea's third nuclear test, says Hyung-Jin Kim at the Associated Press. New satellite images allegedly show that North Korea "is digging a new underground tunnel" at Punggye-ri, the site of the North's two previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. The South says the North is reprising the tactics it used in 2009, when it used international condemnation of a missile test to "walk away from nuclear disarmament negotiations and, weeks later, conduct its second nuclear test."