Two weeks ago, North Korea earned the jeers of the world after launching a missile that fell into the sea within 90 seconds. Undeterred, it has continued celebrations of Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday with a display of massive new missiles loaded on “the largest mobile launch vehicles North Korea has ever unveiled.”Perhaps the spectacle could erase the memory of the recent flop, but there’s only one problem: These missiles appear to be fakes. Analysts have pored over satellite pictures of the missiles and noticed a number of inconsistencies:
But the weapons displayed April 15 appear to be a mishmash of liquid-fuel and solid-fuel components that could never fly together. Undulating casings on the missiles suggest the metal is too thin to withstand flight. Each missile was slightly different from the others, even though all were supposedly the same make. They don’t even fit the launchers they were carried on.“There is no doubt that these missiles were mock-ups,” Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, of Germany’s Schmucker Technologie, wrote in a paper posted recently on the website Armscontrolwonk.com that listed those discrepancies. “It remains unknown if they were designed this way to confuse foreign analysts, or if the designers simply did some sloppy work.”
These twin embarrassments are unlikely to weaken North Korea’s penchant for bravado, however. Behind the empty threats lies an intense insecurity about its global position, an insecurity that has led its leaders to recklessly escalate confrontations after a loss of face. Given the pressure on Kim Jong-un to project strength early in his reign, this pattern is unlikely to change.Unfortunately, this is the usual state of affairs for North Korea: weak, scared, and insecure when it faces outsiders, but a tyrant and a bully at home. It’s a dangerous combination.