Posts Tagged Kim Il-sung

How I nearly sold rocket windows to the crazy North Koreans • The Register


How I nearly sold rocket windows to the crazy North Koreans

 

Worrying thing is, they’re even crazier than you think

By Tim Worstall

The North Koreans are rattling the war drums and claiming that they’re about to drop the odd bomb on either South Korea or the US (and possibly Japan as well).

And so El Reg asks the resident metals wide-boy (me) to explain it all to you, something that might seem odd until you realise quite how wide this boy is. For I’ve some experience of dealing with the Norks and as a result I’m rather more worried about what might happen than most other people seem to be.

My experience comes from working in Russia. The Norks had a special deal on freight rates on the railways. So, if you had a metals deal that would only work if you got cheap rail freight (say, aluminium alloy from Chelyabinsk in the Urals to Japan) then you’d chat to the local Nork KGB guy and cut them in on the deal. Which is how one day I ended up wandering through the Nork embassy, past the mural of Kim Il Sung standing on the mountain top, to present $10,000 in fresh $100 bills to my freight rate fixer.

Do note this was a couple of decades ago when such shenanigans were indeed legal. Not necessarily moral, but legal. This then led to more contacts, including being asked to rewrite into real English the collected works of Il Sung (at $100 a volume, not me, matey) and a request to provide aluminium alloy into N Korea itself for “window frames”. That the purchasing commission for these “window frames” was to go to three generals made us think that perhaps the windows were going to be on the rockets that you can also make from aluminium alloy. Fortunately my lust for lucre was never really tested as this sovereign nation was unable to come up with a Letter of Credit for $250,000 as required. Their “western” bank simply didn’t think they were good for the cash so refused to issue it. Which is one interesting little fact about the place.

But it was that long-ago meeting with those generals that makes me worried about what the Norks might do now. For they were entirely, completely and totally unaware, ignorant, of how the wider world worked. Even my demand for an LoC surprised them. But surely I would just do what the State desired of me? And who could doubt that the State would indeed pay me if it was in my or the State’s interest to do so? Umm, yeah, right.

We’ve all heard of groupthink, even of brainwashing. And the problem is that the people at the top of this State really do seem to believe their own propaganda: that the world really is out to get them; that their army, were they to unleash it, would sweep all before them; and even that lobbing a nuclear bomb at wherever would make all quail before their mighty power. They seem not to have considered the option obvious to the rest of us: that doing so would turn Pyongyang into a shiny glass parking lot for the assembled armies of the world.

The Young ‘Un may put his starving army where his mouth is

Then there’s the game theory aspect of it all. We hear reports about how the Young ‘Un faced resistance from leading elements of the army, to the point of an attempted coup a couple of weeks back. Thus, we now have the traditional “let’s all be beastly to the foreigners” rhetoric to unite the nation behind him. And the problem with that is there’s always the temptation to actually unleash the forces upon the foreigners.

And, as I said, my impression certainly is that they will think they could win if they did so – not realising that in this modern military world having lots of troops and lots of tanks just doesn’t cut it.

Oh sure, that Nork army unleashed would do a great deal of damage, would make a hell of a mess of Seoul and such places. But it wouldn’t actually win, it would be beaten back and that would be the end of the State. The question is: do the people running that State, and that army, actually believe this? What worries me is that, having met several of them, I don’t think they know enough about the rest of the world to actually understand this.

Of course, what really concerns everyone here, if war does indeed break out, is what happens to the tech shiny-shiny that S Korea pumps out in such volumes. All those iPad components and Samsung Galaxys…. And the answer is almost certainly: not a lot, in a long-term view.

Yes, of course, it would be a horrific disaster, not least for those who would lose their lives. Less importantly, there would certainly be interruptions to production, something we would feel in our globalised world. But once the actual fighting was over it wouldn’t take long for normality to return. It’s worth noting, for example, that Germany was almost entirely flattened by 1945. Yet the place was back up to pre-war production and GDP levels by the early 1950s. For the truth is that the real wealth in an economy is in knowing how things ought to be done.

If you’ve a population who knows how an advanced industrial economy works then even if you do have a war, even if the factories themselves are reduced to rubble, then you’ve still got a population who knows how an advanced industrial economy works. And one will be recreated pretty damn sharpish whatever the state of the physical infrastructure. It’s places that don’t know how it’s done that have the problems: in this case the economic basketcase after a war would be North Korea, not South.

Of course I hope it all calms down, that nothing comes of it all. But I’m really not sure about that. For I can see the internal logic, the game theory aspect, of Kim Jong Un needing to bind the nation to him through bellicosity, the belief of the military that they could in fact win and thus resulting in a vast loss of life through terminal bloody stupidity and ignorance.

How I nearly sold rocket windows to the crazy North Koreans • The Register.

 

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Failed North Korean Launching a Setback for Kim Jong-un – NYTimes.com


Rocket Failure May Be Test of North Korean Leader’s Power

 

Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

A North Korean news broadcaster was seen on a television in a Pyongyang hotel restaurant on Friday announcing the failure of the rocket launching.

 

By CHOE SANG-HUN and DAVID E. SANGER
April 13, 2012

 

SEOUL, South Korea — For the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, the spectacular failure of a rocket meant to put a satellite into orbit was more than a $1 billion humiliation. It could be the first test of whether anyone will dare challenge his rule, and raises the question, American officials said, of whether he will be tempted to recover by staging a larger provocation.

 

Bobby Yip/Reuters

In Pyongyang on Friday after the failure of the rocket launching, North Koreans attended a ceremony unveiling statues of the North’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and of the late leader Kim Jong-il.

 

Bobby Yip/Reuters

The Unha-3 rocket at the West Sea Satellite launch site in Pyongyang on April 8.

 

Mr. Kim wanted to mark his formal ascension to top political power — timed to the country’s biggest holiday in decades, the 100th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather and North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung — with fireworks, real and symbolic. Instead, the rocket carrying the satellite splintered harmlessly into the gray-blue waters of the Yellow Sea, and the North Korean government apparently concluded it had no choice but to tell its citizens the embarrassing news, which was bound to get around in a country that now has at least one million cellphones. It was the first time the country had admitted such a defeat.

For President Obama and his allies, though, the bigger question was not the fate of an aging rocket technology, but the future of a young dictator. The failure injected new unpredictability at an already uncertain time, when Kim Jong-un is trying to consolidate power, and raised new questions only weeks after Mr. Obama suggested that it was unclear who was really running North Korea.

There was considerable speculation on Friday among American and South Korean officials that Mr. Kim and his military, to re-establish some credibility, would stage a new nuclear test, for which preparations have been evident on satellite photographs for several weeks. “The North Koreans have tended to pursue patterns of provocative actions,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One.

The embarrassment means the United States probably has more time before it has to worry about the North’s ability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, one that could reach the West Coast. Until now, the American assessment had been that the North could have that capability within five years. (The technology to launch a small satellite into orbit is virtually identical to the missile technology to launch a warhead, so the rocket failure Friday suggests problems with the missile program.)

But American officials said that was little solace. There is a risk, even if a remote one, that the North will repeat the kind of attacks on a border island and a South Korean Navy vessel in 2010 for which it has been blamed.

The very fact that the rocket test happened meant that the young Mr. Kim, believed to be about 28, was either willing to defy China, which warned against the test, or was overruled by others in the power structure. The first option is worrisome, because it would suggest that, as the Chinese claim, they have very little influence. The second could suggest a struggle for influence, if not actual leadership. In an opaque country that is fiercely armed and is believed to have a half-dozen or more nuclear weapons or the plutonium to produce them, the idea of power struggles makes officials nervous.

“Frankly,” one senior American intelligence official said before the launching’s failure, “I’d rather have an unstable Kim Jong-un in charge than a free-for-all where you are wondering who’s really in control of the arsenal.”

Recent machinations over a deal in which the North promised to suspend some nuclear work for American food aid, then reneged quickly on a pledge to suspend long-range missile tests, at least raised the possibility that such a power struggle could be under way. And despite American officials’ worries, there is one situation in which it could lead to more moderate behavior: if the failed missile launching emboldens those who have long believed in reaching some accord with the West and now can make the case that hard-liners fumbled the provocation, which in the end scuttled the agreement to bring in much-needed food.

The launching drew swift, if predictable and somewhat toothless, international condemnation; the United Nations Security Council has prohibited such tests by the North for years, and Pyongyang has ignored it for just as long. But whatever steps the Security Council takes are likely to be weak — there are few sanctions left that have not already been attempted, and there are fears that stronger action could simply push the North to conduct a nuclear test, as it has done when condemned in the past.

Despite the embarrassing setback, Mr. Kim was installed hours after the rocket fizzled as the new head of the National Defense Commission, his country’s highest state agency, during a parliamentary meeting. That was the last among the top military, party and state posts that have been transferred to him after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in December.

For the launching, North Korea has recently completed a new site near the western border with China — at a cost of $400 million, according to South Korean estimates. The rocket itself cost another $450 million, the South Korean government believes. And the lost American food aid was estimated to be worth $200 million, driving the effective cost of the test above $1 billion in a country that cannot feed its own people.

The rocket reached only about 94 miles in altitude, far less than the 310 miles required to place a satellite into orbit and, as North Korean officials liked to say, present “a gift” to the closest the North Koreans have to a deity: Kim Il-sung.

In a socialist country steeped in the traditions of a Confucian dynasty, it is of paramount importance for the country’s new leader to embellish his rise to power with events that show his loyalty to his forefathers while demonstrating his own abilities to lead, analysts said. This launching was supposed to represent that moment: Both Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il, ever fearful of an attack from the United States, had dreamed of North Korea having an effective nuclear deterrent, and that requires functioning missiles that could be fitted with weapons and reach the West.

“The main drive behind the rocket launch was domestic politics,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul and a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “They wanted to introduce the Kim Jong-un era with a big celebratory bang. They wanted to make their people believe that they were now a powerful nation.”

The government, more famous for shutting off its country from the outside world, had intensified the prelaunching publicity. It trumpeted the satellite program as a key achievement of Kim Jong-un’s, claiming that he had personally directed a previous satellite launching in 2009. It also invited dozens of foreign journalists to visit the launching site and command and control center.

South Korea did not lose the opportunity to jab at the North’s hurt pride. “It is very regrettable that North Korea is spending enormous resources on developing nuclear and missile capabilities while ignoring the urgent welfare issue of the North Korean people,” said its foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan.

Others were struck by the enormous loss of face for the country’s leadership.

“It is hard to imagine a greater humiliation,” a North Korea expert, Marcus Noland, wrote on his blog at the Web site of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“The North Koreans have managed in a single stroke to not only defy the U.N. Security Council, the United States and even their patron China, but also demonstrate ineptitude,” Mr. Noland wrote. “Some of the scientists and engineers associated with the launch are likely facing death or the gulag as scapegoats for this embarrassment.”

Launching failures are not uncommon even for rich and technologically advanced nations. “This stuff is really hard to do,” David C. Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group in Cambridge, Mass., said in an interview.

But in the myth-filled world of the Kim dynasty, there is little room for failure. The North’s two previous attempts to put a satellite into orbit failed, according to American officials, but both times the government insisted that the satellites were circling the earth, broadcasting songs about its great leaders.

Why the government changed its strategy this time, and told its people what happened, remains one of many unknowns about the North. Some analysts attributed it to the realization that the news would seep into the country anyway with so many cellphones smuggled from China, and North Korean merchants regularly crossing the Chinese border to bring home goods in short supply at home. Others speculated that it could not keep up a pretense with so many foreign reporters on hand.

One thing that is certain: the timing could not have been worse. The government announcement on television interrupted a show staged specifically to celebrate Kim Il-sung’s centenary. The show’s theme: his guiding principle of juche, or self-reliance, in defiance of the world.

 Failed North Korean Launching a Setback for Kim Jong-un – NYTimes.com.

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Why North Korea’s Rocket Mattered – NYTimes.com


Why North Korea’s Rocket Mattered

By SUNG-YOON LEE
Published: April 13, 2012

 

MEDFORD, Mass.

Oliver Munday and Jason Arias

SPECTACULAR failure though it was,North Korea’s latest rocket launching calls for punitive measures from America and its allies. Bad engineering is no reason for complacency; the benchmark for American policy must be North Korea’s intent. And for decades, that government has been determined to develop nuclear-tipped long-range missiles that would give it leverage over the United States on a host of issues.

It’s predictable that the misfire has triggered over-analysis and scapegoating, with calls for calm and tales of an internal power struggle between “hawks” and “doves” in the new Kim Jong-un government. Others say America and South Korea should re-engage the government in Pyongyang. Both views ignore the fact that Kim Jong-un is following a path of alternating provocations and peace offensives paved by his grandfather Kim Il-sung and perfected by his father, Kim Jong-il.

No government enjoys total unanimity. But the notion that in totalitarian North Korea, a few disgruntled military men might put their foot down and reverse a course of engagement set by their leader is foolish. It ignores the nature of the power structure in the North. For more than a half-century, the Kim clan has kept the military in line through vicious purges, competition that fosters loyalty to the leader, selective rewards and a multilayered security apparatus. While a military clique may one day challenge or even overthrow Kim Jong-un, the notion that the military wields a veto now is a mirage that plays into North Korea’s stratagems.

And for those inclined to believe that the North can be persuaded to change its behavior with inducements, consider this: Except for the invasion of the South in 1950, North Korea has never suffered a lasting or devastating penalty for its many attacks and provocations. On the contrary, it has often been rewarded for false pledges.

From January 1968 to December 1969, North Korea acted with impunity: It sent commandos into Seoul in a failed effort to kill the South Korean president, Park Chung-hee; it seized the United States Navy spy ship Pueblo and its crew, killing one sailor and holding 82 prisoners for 11 months until it got an apology from the Johnson administration; it shot down an American reconnaissance plane, killing 31 servicemen aboard, on Kim Il-sung’s birthday in 1969; and it ambushed and killed four American soldiers patrolling the military demarcation line in October 1969.

A thaw followed in the early 1970s, thanks to American rapprochement with China. Talks between North and South ensued. Kim Il-sung called for diplomatic talks with America. But then North Korea resumed attacks. In 1974 it made another attempt on President Park’s life, in which his wife died. In 1976 North Korean guards hacked two American soldiers to death.

In 1983, as North Korea sought talks with America, its agents targeted the South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan, with a bomb in Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar). He survived, but 17 other South Korean officials died. In 1998 North Korea fired a missile over Japan while America, South Korea and Japan were sending energy aid. In 2006 it test-fired a long-range missile on July 5 and staged its first nuclear test three months later. In 2009, it launched a long-range rocket in April and tested a nuclear device on Memorial Day.

In all of these episodes, North Korea was never penalized in any meaningful way. Indeed, several provocations were followed by blandishments — rewards, in effect — in the form of food, fuel and cash from North Korea’s risk-averse adversaries in Seoul and Washington.

This record shows that North Korea doesn’t respond to either rhetorical hostility or diplomatic civility. Its latest ballistic stunt followed a long pattern of ignoring outside warnings. But the American response should not also be the usual — strong on rhetorical condemnation, weak on punitive action and generous in damage-control concessions. North Korea clearly seeks to continue this profitable cycle by dangling before America the possibility of denuclearization, even as it conducts missile and nuclear tests.

Now, as Kim Jong-un is believed to be preparing for another nuclear test, the question remains how much longer America and its allies will take before devising a new collective strategy — one that does not settle for short-term diplomatic gains at the cost of long-term strategic interests.

They can start by responding to the failed launching on Friday as if it had succeeded. The Obama administration is correct to cancel food shipments, which were contingent on a halt to missile and nuclear tests. But it should go further and act with its allies to hit the Kim government itself — by tightening economic sanctions aimed at the privileged few at the top of the Kim dynasty’s power structure; by not relenting in that pressure for the mere privilege of talking with North Korea; and by taking new measures to counter the propaganda apparatus with which the government controls the long-suffering North Korean people.

That may not stem North Korea’s provocations in the short term. But the alternative is, at best, another half-century of putting up with provocations from the North or, far worse, a major nuclear crisis that ends in a devastating war.

 Why North Korea’s Rocket Mattered – NYTimes.com.

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Failed North Korean Launch a Setback for Kim Jong-un – NYTimes.com


Rocket Failure Is Setback for North Korea’s New Leader

Vincent Yu/Associated Press

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, right, attended an unveiling ceremony for statues of late leaders in Pyongyang on Friday

By CHOE SANG-HUN

Published: April 13, 2012

 

SEOUL, South Korea — For the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, his government’s failure to put a satellite into orbit on Friday was a $1 billion humiliation.

David Guttenfelder/Associated Press

A news conference on the rocket launching in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Bobby Yip/Reuters

The Unha-3 rocket at the West Sea Satellite launch site in Pyongyang on April 8.

Mr. Kim wanted to mark his formal ascension to top political power — timed to the country’s biggest holiday in decades, the 100th birthday of his grandfather and North Korean founder, Kim Il-sung — with fireworks, real and symbolic. And the launching of its Kwangmyongsong, or Bright Shining Star, satellite was the marquee event.

On Friday, the satellite disintegrated in a different kind of fireworks. The rocket carrying it exploded midair about two minutes after the liftoff, according to American, South Korean and Japanese officials. The rocket and satellite, which cost the impoverished country an estimated $450 million to build, according to South Korean government estimates, splintered into many pieces and plunged into the gray blue waters of the Yellow Sea.

The launching drew swift international condemnation; the United Nations Security Council has prohibited such tests by North Korea for fear they are pretexts for testing missiles that could eventually deliver nuclear bombs. But the failure was at least as worrisome, injecting a new note of unpredictability at an already uncertain time, with Kim Jong-un still trying to consolidate power just months after his father’s death.

Most analysts believe the failed test will encourage the military — with Mr. Kim as its official leader — to take some provocative action to bolster its credentials, increasing the likelihood of a nuclear test that the country appeared to already be preparing. But the recent machinations over a deal with the United States, in which the North made an agreement for food aid, then reneged quickly, have at least raised the possibility that a power struggle was already under way. That raised questions about whether the launch failure would hurt hardliners and embolden those who believe the North has an opportunity to extract new concessions from the West if it avoids further provocation. At the United Nations, the Security Council met in emergency consultations Friday but took no action to punish the North for the launching. The council said in a statement that it “deplored this launch” as a violation of two Security Council resolutions, 1718 and 1874, which prohibit North Korea from conducting such activity and penalize the country with an arms embargo and other sanctions. The statement said the council would “continue consultations on an appropriate response, in accordance with its responsibilities, given the urgency of the matter.”

Briefing reporters afterward, Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador and rotating council president, declined to specify whether a further response would include new sanctions on North Korea, but she said “we think it’s important that the Council respond credibly. And we will be working in that direction.”

Despite the embarrassing technology setback, Mr. Kim was installed hours after the launching as the new head of the national defense commission, his country’s highest state agency, during a parliamentary meeting in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, on Friday. That was the last among the top military, party and state posts that have been transferred to him from his father, Kim Jong-il, who died in December.

For the launching and probably other future tests, North Korea has recently completed a brand new launch site near the western border with China — at a cost of $400 million according the South Korean estimates.

The rocket reached only about 94 miles in altitude, far less than 310 miles required to place a satellite into orbit and, as North Korean officials liked to say, present “a gift” to the closest the North Koreans had to a heavenly God: Kim Il-sung.

In a socialist country steeped in the traditions of a Confucian dynasty, it is of paramount import for the young leader, Mr. Kim, to embellish his rise to power with events that showed his loyalty to his forefathers while demonstrating his own abilities to lead, analysts said. Both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, ever fearful of an attack from the United States, had dreamed of North Korea having a functioning nuclear deterrent; American intelligence officials already believe the country has the fuel for several bombs, but they do not yet believe it has figured out how to deliver those warheads on missiles that could threaten the West.

“The main drive behind the rocket launch was domestic politics,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul and a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “They wanted to introduce the Kim Jong-un era with a big celebratory bang. They wanted to make their people believe that they were now a powerful nation.”

The government, more famous for shutting off its country from the outside world, had intensified the pre-launch publicity. It trumpeted the satellite program as a key achievement of Mr. Kim, claiming that he had personally directed a previous satellite launching in 2009. It also invited foreign journalists to visit the launch site and command and control center.

The result was more than a loss of face. North Korea lost 240,000 tons of food aid, estimated to be worth $200 million, that Washington had promised in February but then said it was canceling because of the announced rocket launch.

South Korea did not lose the opportunity to jab at the North’s hurt pride.

“It is very regrettable that North Korea is spending enormous resources on developing nuclear and missile capabilities while ignoring the urgent welfare issue of the North Korean people such as chronic food shortages,” said its foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan.

“It is hard to imagine a greater humiliation,” a North Korea expert, Marcus Noland, saidon his blog at the Web site of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economicsin Washington.

“The North Koreans have managed in a single stroke to not only defy the U.N. Security Council, the United States and even their patron China, but also demonstrate ineptitude,” Mr. Noland said. “Some of the scientists and engineers associated with the launch are likely facing death or the gulag as scapegoats for this embarrassment.”

Launch failures are not uncommon even for rich and technologically advanced nations. But in the myth-filled world of the Kim family, there is little room for failure. The North’s two previous attempts to put a satellite into orbit failed, according to American officials, but both times the government insisted that the satellites were circling the earth and broadcasting songs about its great leaders.

This time, it had to admit to failure, analysts said, because of the presence of so many foreign reporters and because neighboring countries were watching the much-anticipated launch more closely than ever. On Friday, the North’s Central TV interrupted its regular programs to report the news. While this indicated that the government was not withholding the political embarrassment from its people, foreign reporters in Pyongyang said four long hours of eerie silence passed before the government admitted to its abortive launch.

Still, analysts warned, it was not a time for the North’s critics to gloat.

The North’s admission “suggests that, although a major setback to North Korea’s plan to celebrate Kim Il-sung’s centenary with a demonstration of hi-tech prowess, it is not such an embarrassment that they would try to deny it,” said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul. “There will be more propaganda opportunities over the weekend that perhaps can make up for the satellite’s fizzle.”

One question that Friday’s failed launch raises is: Where will the new leadership turn now for a much needed legitimization of Mr. Kim’s dynastic succession?

“Now it has become more certain that North Korea will raise tensions and go ahead with its third nuclear test to recover some of its lost face, especially if the United States pushes for more sanctions,” said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at Sejong Institute.

 Failed North Korean Launch a Setback for Kim Jong-un – NYTimes.com.

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North Korean Rocket Said to Fail Moments After Liftoff – NYTimes.com


North Korean Rocket Said to Fail Moments After Liftoff

David Guttenfelder/Associated Press

A news conference on the rocket launching in Pyongyang, North Korea.

By CHOE SANG-HUN and RICK GLADSTONE

Published: April 12, 2012

 

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea defied international warnings of censure and further isolation on Friday, launching a rocket that the United States and its allies called a provocative pretext for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that might one day carry a nuclear warhead.

Bobby Yip/Reuters

The Unha-3 rocket at the West Sea Satellite launch site in Pyongyang on April 8.

But in what was a major embarrassment to the North and its young new leader, the rocket disintegrated moments after the launching, and American and Japanese officials said its remnants fell harmlessly into the sea.

After hours of silence, North Korea’s state-run news media announced that the satellite the rocket had been carrying “failed to enter its preset orbit.” Scientists and technicians were “looking into the cause of the failure,” said the terse statement from the reclusive North Korea leadership, which had trumpeted the event as a showcase of patriotic pride meant to exalt the 100th anniversary of the birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the new leader, Kim Jung-un. Only two days earlier, North Korea had elevated the grandson to the highest levels of state power.

It was the first time the North has publicly acknowledged a long-range missile or satellite failure.

Officials from Japan, South Korea and the United States, which had been monitoring for signs of the launching, condemned it as a belligerent act that endangered regional stability — even though it had failed. American officials said food aid that they had planned to send to North Korea to help feed its malnourished population would be suspended.

“North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry,” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said in a statement on Thursday evening, which was Friday morning in Asia. The United States, Mr. Carney said, “remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and is fully committed to the security of our allies in the region.”

The consequences of such a public relations fiasco were unclear for the young Mr. Kim or the elders who have surrounded and groomed him, and the conspicuous absence of a prompt explanation for what had gone awry deepened the mystery.

“Obviously, the rocket launch is pretty embarrassing for Kim Jung-un and North Korea,” said Tate Nurkin, a director at Jane’s Strategic Advisory Service, in an e-mailed reaction. “North Korea is all about ceremony and stature and grand, symbolic gestures.”

One Obama administration official suggested that the failure might speed the North’s determination to conduct a nuclear test — the country’s third — “simply to show that it can.” Test preparations are under way, satellite photographs suggest.

A remaining unknown is whether a test would be designed to show off a new weapon made from highly enriched uranium, the newest fuel the North is experimenting with, rather than the plutonium bombs that it tested, with mixed success, in 2006 and 2009.

In Japan, government officials said the three-stage rocket, which the North had said was carrying a communications satellite, appeared to fly for more than a minute after it was launched at 7:40 a.m. local time, then broke up at an altitude of 400,000 feet and tumbled into several pieces into international waters in the sea west of the Korean Peninsula. In Washington, the Pentagon said in a statement that the first stage of the rocket fell into the sea about 103 miles west of Seoul, and the remaining stages “were assessed to have failed and no debris fell on land.” It said the debris had never been a threat.

The launching has been politically problematic for the Obama administration, which only weeks ago completed an agreement with the North to provide food aid in return for Pyongyang’s agreement to suspend uranium enrichment and refrain from test launchings of long-range missiles. The administration had portrayed the deal as a promising if fragile advance that would allow nuclear monitors back into the country after years when the nuclear program continued unchecked.

Underscoring the political delicacy of North Korea in an election year, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said the launching illustrated President Obama’s strategy of appeasement. “This incompetence from the Obama administration has emboldened the North Korean regime and undermined the security of the United States and its allies,” he said in a statement.

The administration says it specifically told the North Korean negotiators that the deal was off if satellites were launched, since it considers such launchings a pretext for missile tests. But that requirement was not put in writing. Critics questioned the administration’s decision to go ahead without a written commitment, given the North Koreans’ history of breaking international agreements. But the administration insisted that it had not fallen into the same trap as past administrations — which made concessions only to have North Korea renege on deals — because the United States had not yet delivered the food aid.

A senior White House official said the failure of the rocket launching would hurt North Korea’s effort to sell weapons — somewhat easing the fears of Pyongyang as a nuclear proliferator. It also proved the effectiveness of the heavy sanctions in place on North Korea, this official said, since the measures have deprived the country of access to metals and other technical components for a viable ballistic-missile program.

The rocket, called the Unha-3, blasted off from the Soehae launching site near North Korea’s western border with China, at 7:39 a.m., the statement from North Korea said.

In Tokyo, Japan’s government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, said that after the object appeared to break apart soon after takeoff, the Japanese prime minister met with his national security advisers, but that nothing had been detected approaching Japanese territory. Mr. Fujimura called on the Japanese people “to go about your daily lives,” saying there was no reason to panic.

North Korea had said the rocket would fly southward, carrying its Kwangmyongsong-3 communications satellite, and had insisted that the launching was for peaceful purposes.

South Korea, Japan and the Philippines — the countries near the North Korean rocket’s projected trajectory — were on heightened alert in case the launching went awry, potentially endangering their citizens or property. Airlines and ships had been ordered to stay away from the rocket’s trajectory and the splashdown zones of its debris.

The North’s decision to proceed with the launching came despite a rising chorus of international warnings, including admonishments from China.

The United States and its allies had warned that they would take North Korea to the United Nations Security Council for a censure and probably further tighten sanctions already imposed after previous missile tests.

North Korea over the years has repeatedly launched rockets that blew up and failed to send satellite payloads into orbit.

In August 1998, it fired its first long-range rocket, the Taepodong-1. It scared Japan but its third stage fell harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean instead of delivering a satellite into space. The troubles continued in July 2006 when the second test of its long-range missile, the Taepodong-2, ended in an explosion just seconds after liftoff.

After the failed test, military experts and administration officials expressed relief, some calling the North Koreans inept.

Then, in April 2009, North Korea tried again, launching still another long-range rocket. The first two stages appeared to work, but the third stage never separated.

The North had said that its previous launchings of satellites, in 1998 and 2009, succeeded and that it put two satellites into orbit that broadcast patriotic songs.

But on Friday, the North’s Central TV interrupted its regular programs to report the failure, indicating that the government was not withholding the political embarrassment from its people, said the South Korean national news agency Yonhap, which monitored North Korean news media.

Setbacks are considered a normal part of rocket development, and are instructive to engineers if they can identify the problem and fix it in future models.

But after 14 years of failures, the North Koreans have a long way to go before perfecting a vehicle reliable enough to routinely put satellites into space or become the basis for missiles that could wage intercontinental war, rocketry experts say.

 North Korean Rocket Said to Fail Moments After Liftoff – NYTimes.com.

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