North Korea's failed rocket launch humiliates Kim Jong-un
Damp squib provokes international condemnation and domestic embarrassment for young leader
NORTH KOREA'S controversial satellite launch has ended in humiliation for the Communist state and its new leader Kim Jong-un after the rocket broke up over the Yellow Sea just over a minute into its journey. So embarrassing is the failure, that observers fear for the fate of those in the military high command who pushed for the launch.
Pyongyang's government mouthpiece the Korean Central News Agency reported: "The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit. Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure."
While North Korea insists that the launch was supposed to put a satellite in orbit to survey the country's natural resources - and broadcast patriotic songs - South Korea and the United States believe it was actually a weapons test with the ultimate aim of producing a missile armed with a nuclear warhead.
Despite the failure, governments around the world have lined up to condemn what amounts to a breach by Pyongyang of a UN Security Council resolution forbidding the use of ballistic missile technology.
A Japanese government spokesman said: "Even if it was a failure, North Korea's launch, made despite Japan's repeated calls for restraint via diplomatic channels, was a threat to the security of Japan and its people. It is an extreme provocation and is a serious violation of UN Security Council resolutions."
South Korean foreign minister Kim Sung-hwan said: "North Korea's launch is a clear breach of the UN resolution that prohibits any launch using ballistic missile technology. It is a provocative act threatening peace and security on the Korean peninsula and northeast Asia."
Meanwhile, China - North Korea's ally - expressed the hope that "all relevant parties" would "refrain from acts that would harm peace and stability" in the Korean peninsula.
But the failure of a much-trumpeted rocket launch will have major repercussions for North Korea domestically. The Hermit State is undergoing a delicate transition following the death in December 2011 of the 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il and his replacement at the top by his twenty-something son Kim Jong-un.
Just before the launch, Kim had been named First Secretary of the Party. To add insult to injury, spectacular celebrations are planned for this Sunday to mark the centenary of the birth of North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung.
Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations told Reuters: "[There is] no question that the failed launch turns speculation toward the ramifications for the leadership in Pyongyang: a fireworks display gone bad on the biggest day of the year."
Lee Jong-won, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, said: "This is the first crisis for the new leader...
"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."
The launch has also been a disaster for nuclear-armed North Korea's image abroad. A US administration official said: "This launch was a chance for North Korea to showcase its military wares to prospective customers. The failure will make those customers think twice before buying anything."
John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul told The Guardian that the failed launch was likely to kill recent efforts to return to the negotiating table - and push the North to conduct another underground nuclear test. "The big question is, does this completely derail the diplomacy and negotiation that were finally getting a little bit of steam as of early March?
"It looks likely this will kill it all. The other question is what happens between the two Koreas. If diplomacy all falls apart and nothing's happening, then not only is the likelihood of another nuclear test high but the possibility of intra-Korean tension is high and of the South hitting back harder. That would be the really bad scenario for the months to come."