North Korea’s belligerent threats, claims of military supremacy, and promotion of an official ideology based on independence and personal achievement are difficult to square with the endless series of horrifying blunders by the regime in Pyongyang.
Murdering a mountain with nuclear bomb tests: To give the devil his due, dictator Kim Jong-un made progress toward nuclear missile technology much faster than most analysts expected. That rapid progress has come at a terrible cost. Reports recently surfaced that a tunnel collapse in North Korea’s underground nuclear testing complex at Punggye-ri killed up to 200 workers.
North Korea’s neighbors are understandably worried about further seismic events beneath Mt. Mantap and the possibility of radioactive waste leaking beyond North Korea’s borders. The underground complex is so reportedly rickety after six increasingly powerful nuclear detonations that earthquakes are now occurring without nuclear bombs going off. There are concerns that further test detonations could be “suicidal,” as a South Korean professor put it, because Mt. Mantap could collapse, or the volcano at nearby Mt. Paektu could erupt.
There has been speculation that China’s tough attitude toward North Korean transgressions might be partly inspired by fears of what Pyongyang’s twisted science experiments could do to Chinese territory and civilians. Residents of at least one sizable Chinese town have grown accustomed to earthquakes as a consequence of the nuclear mischief at Punggye-ri.
Unfortunately, the Kim regime might not have any good locations for establishing a replacement underground nuclear test site. Even more unfortunately, their next test detonation might not occur underground.
Failed missile tests: An estimated 88 percent of North Korean missile launches fail on the launch pad, or explode shortly after launch, possibly with a little help from cyber-espionage teams.
It will be a long time, if ever, before civilian observers can know for certain if these failures were the result of sabotage, and how much they might have set North Korea’s missile program back. Also, it is quite possible that North Korean scientists accumulate valuable data from their failures, and the difficulty of securing reliable intelligence from the outlaw nation means some tests initially seen as failures are later deemed more successful. There is no doubt that Pyongyang’s successes are more troubling than its failures are comforting, and there will be no Nelson Muntz laughs from South Korea or Japan if a malfunctioning North Korean missile crashes in a populated area.
Still, for all of North Korea’s boasts, an awful lot of the missile launches intended to demonstrate their deadly proficiency turn into embarrassing fizzles. Each of them burns up some equipment they were not supposed to have and might have some trouble replacing these days.
Internet blackouts: Shortly after its suspected cyber-attack on Sony Pictures in retaliation for a comedy unflattering to dictator Kim Jong-un, North Korea experienced a massive failure of its diminutive Internet. At one point, the entire nation was said to be effectively cut off from the Internet, which must have been very annoying for the tiny percentage of elite North Koreans permitted to use it.
Speculation abounds over whether this was an equipment failure or deliberate attack by military cyber-warfare teams, freelance hacktivists, or the supremely irritated Chinese stewards of North Korea’s uplink. For the record, North Korea accused U.S. hackers of crashing its Internet access on orders from President Barack Obama, whose recklessness was compared to that of a “monkey in a tropical forest” by a peeved North Korean official.
The primitive state of North Korea’s Internet access is embarrassing from a public welfare standpoint, and nauseating from a human rights perspective, but it can also be an asset to the totalitarian government. Cyber-espionage experts believe that at least one orchestrated cyber-espionage campaign conducted by the U.S. against North Korea’s nuclear program failed because their computer networks are too primitive and disconnected from one another to effectively sabotage.
The Hotel of Doom: Looming above the Pyongyang skyline is a seemingly eternal construction project mockingly referred to by outsiders as the “Hotel of Doom.” Note: referring to the Ryugyong Hotel by this name is probably unwise for any North Korean citizens who somehow gained access to the Internet and are reading this.
The hotel is 105 stories of embarrassing failure, ostentatiously designed to look like a rocket on the launch pad. It has been under construction since 1987, with an original target opening date of 1989, at which time it would have been the world’s tallest hotel. Instead, it is currently considered to be the world’s tallest unoccupied building.
A regime that cannot afford to feed its people somehow finds endless loads of cash to dump into this boondoggle – well over half a billion dollars, according to some estimates. A recent flurry of ostentatious construction work on the Ryugyong Hotel, coinciding with the anniversary of the Korean War armistice, resulted in two new walkways leading up to the front door, and a big red propaganda sign declaring North Korea to be a “Rocket Power Nation.”
A new flock of construction trucks and cranes came to roost outside the tower a few weeks ago, prompting government tour guides to chirp that at least part of the building might soon be open as office space, or housing, or an entertainment complex, or something. Given the lingering questions about the structural integrity of the long-under-construction tower, a stay in the upper floors could be quite exciting.
“The guides didn’t say much. They seemed both proud of the hotel and somehow embarrassed,” said one recent visitor to Pyongyang.
Humanitarian aid for North Korea’s citizens: By the standards of North Korea’s totalitarian ideology, it should be a tremendous embarrassment that huge amounts of humanitarian aid are needed to feed and care for its peasant population.
Japan and South Korea recently squabbled over the latter’s determination to proceed with another $8 million in humanitarian assistance to provide vaccines, medicine, and malnutrition treatment to North Korea’s children and pregnant women. Tokyo felt the aid package would blunt the impact of sanctions against North Korea, while Seoul cited World Food Program and UNICEF reports on the dire situation faced by women and children in the North Korean worker’s paradise of supreme self-reliance.
The United Nations expressed fears that “chronic food insecurity, early childhood malnutrition, and nutrition insecurity” meant tougher sanctions against North Korea could be dangerous for the civilian population.
According to the U.N., 41 percent of the North Korean population is undernourished, and it would take $114 million in humanitarian aid to address the problem. The reluctance of donors to fund North Korean relief projects while the psychotic government in Pyongyang threatens the world with nuclear war was cited as cause for deep concern.
North Korea also requires extensive outside assistance with natural disasters such as flood and famine. The last round of major floods left 70 percent of the population short of food, prompting a request for $21 million in emergency aid from the World Food Program. These are not entirely natural disasters, despite the Kim regime’s pathetic insistence that the dictator cannot be held responsible for the rain. Excessive deforestation and the miserable condition of peasant housing – while the regime splurges on luxuries for the ruling class, flashy urban construction projects, military hardware, and nuclear weapons – make every flood worse than it should have been.
The Kim regime, by the way, is quite happy to hold its own people hostage, refusing humanitarian aid to punish the donors for participating in U.N. sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear program. It holds other nations responsible for the suffering of North Korean serfs, because they refuse to give in to the regime’s demands and provide the dictatorship with resources for its favorite projects. It’s one of the most sickening cases of North Korea weaponizing its own failures to use as leverage against the civilized world.