North Korea’s rocket scientists have been forced to hang their heads in collective shame following the spectacular failure of their latest long-range missile, which blew up moments after launch.
Military leaders had hoped to show off their nation’s technological prowess by blasting a satellite into orbit in what the West had called a covert test of missile technology and a flagrant violation of international resolutions.
But in deeply embarrassing episode for the communist country and its new leader Kim Jong-Un, the Unha-3, or Milky Way, rocket exploded 90 seconds after blast off and came crashing down into the Yellow Sea. The rocket flew for just a few minutes covering a little over 100km to explode over a sea separating the Korean peninsula and China.
In a rare admission of failure, state television reported within hours of the launch that the satellite had failed to reach orbit. According to US defence officials, the rocket flared brightly and apparently exploded about 90 seconds into flight.
In the past North Korea have always declared their launches successful despite evidence to the contrary from the international community. But there are expected to be severe repercussions following the failure of the mission which was supposed to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of national founder Kim Il-sung.
“This is the first crisis for the new leader who has just taken over,” said Lee Jong-won, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo. “It is inevitable that they will look to find who is responsible for the failure, and I wonder what the treatment will be for those in the military and the hard-line officers who have pressed for the launch.”
North Korea had planned to make 2012 the year in which it became a ‘strong and prosperous nation’ and the launch was part of a programme to burnish its credentials.
It even, unusually, invited foreign media in to cover the birthday celebrations and showed them the launch site. Worryingly some spectators have suggested the failure will prompt North Korea to press ahead with its third nuclear test to show its military strength.
A senior South Korean defence ministry official said, “The possibility of an additional long-range rocket launch or a nuclear test, as well as a military provocation to strengthen internal solidarity is very high.”
The United States and its allies rushed to condemn North Korea's failed rocket launch as a "provocative act" which threatened regional security, while Pyongyang's main ally China remained silent. The United States lashed out at North Korean “propaganda displays” and said the launch breached its commitments and harmed Asian security. “North Korea is only isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons while the people go hungry,” said the White House.
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