The Deal and the Rocket: Understanding North Korea’s “Inconsistency”

North Korean soldier on tank saluting, courtesy of NOS Nieuws/Flickr

It is becoming all too common for North Korea to engage in provocative behavior in order to grab international attention. This time around though, the announcement by North Korea on March 16, 2012, to conduct a satellite launch seemed to catch the Obama administration particularly off guard. For the United States, this latest provocation went completely against the spirit of the Leap Day Deal agreed to only two weeks before in which North Korea would freeze its uranium enrichment activities and place a moratorium on further missile and nuclear tests in exchange for U.S. humanitarian assistance.

While this satellite launch could be expected for a country committed to military-first politics and in the context of the celebrations for the centenary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the pursuit of the Leap Day Deal comes across as a redundant effort. Following the satellite launch, reports are now emerging that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test which will have further implications. Given that the satellite launch and a nuclear test would scupper any agreement with the United States, why did North Korea bother to show up and negotiate the deal?