If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Such is the axiom underpinning North Korea’s (DPRK) approach towards its nuclear and missile development. The hermit kingdom’s acceleration in its nuclear and missile capabilities demonstrates how Kim Jong-un is working down his wish list of expanding his country’s conventional and unconventional weapons, which he declared in January 2021. Since then, the world has witnessed launches of solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), combat drones, and, most recently, military reconnaissance satellites.
Last Wednesday’s launch of a Chollima-1 rocket was nothing to celebrate. It failed to ignite before hurtling into the Yellow Sea, which separates the Korean Peninsula from mainland China. For North Korea, so-called satellite launches have been poorly-disguised euphemisms for testing nuclear technology. This rocket aimed to launch a satellite into space. It likely comprised an engine similar to a previous ICBM, the Hwasong-15, further representing the DPRK’s voracious desire to modernise and expand its weapons arsenal.
More notable than the unsuccessful launch, however, was North Korea’s reaction. Whilst the regime has previously been more willing to mask technological failures, it now seems to admit that its launches can fail, albeit begrudgingly. But for a regime whose rule has been premised on dishonesty, North Korea’s candidness is anything but admirable. Rather, it emphasises a worrying reality, namely that it now takes its nuclear weapons for granted.
It was, however, not Kim Jong-un who responded to this failure. Instead, it was Kim Yo-jong, his infamous younger sister, whose penchant for vitriolic rhetoric is becoming more well-known. Partially-educated in Switzerland, like her brothers, she has risen through the ranks of North Korea’s elite to her current roles as a member of the State Affairs Commission, the highest-ranked body of policy leadership, and as deputy director of the publicity and information department.