North Korea faked its “successful” long -range missile launch to bolster domestic support for Kim Jong Un’s regime after the actual test ended in failure, analysts said.
State media voiced the “magical” launch of what it claimed was the new Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile on March 24, publishing dramatic photos and videos of leader Kim personally overseeing the test.
But analysts identified discrepancies in Pyongyang’s accounts, and South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that North Korea actually fired the Hwasong-15-a less sophisticated ICBM that was tested in 2017.
Why is North Korea doing this? Analysts said it desperately needed a domestic propaganda victory ahead of an important anniversary, after the actual launch of the Hwasong-17 a week before ending in failure with a missile exploding over the capital Pyongyang.
“North Korea wants to increase people’s loyalty ahead of Sun Day by branding Kim Jong Un as a capable military-powered leader,” analyst Yang Moo-jin told AFP, referring to the birth anniversary of founding leader Kim Il Sung on April 15.
But “the March 16 launch failed terribly and – worse – it happened in Pyongyang so the public could witness the dramatic failure. Kim may think he needed something very powerful to redeem it, and that’s probably why he lied,” Yang added. .
The South Korean intelligence briefing said after the failed launch on March 16, Pyongyang turned to fiction “to curb rumors and bring regime stability,” local reports said.
With just eight days between a failed launch and a supposedly successful one, there will be no time to analyze what went wrong and really correct it-hence why Pyongyang turned to fraud, the report added.
Fake until you succeed?
It’s not the first time North Korea has falsified weapons development progress – it tried to bypass a ballistic missile test launched by a submarine that failed in January 2016 as a success using altered video footage, analysts said.
It’s surprising that Pyongyang is still thinking of “falsifying it until you succeed” said Mason Richey, an associate professor at Hankuk University.
The fact that independent analysts – not to mention U.S. and South Korean intelligence – can detect it so quickly undermines North Korea’s credibility, he said.
If Pyongyang has “lied about something that looks obvious like an ICBM type, are they also lying about more opaque areas”, such as whether their missiles survive re -entry or how light and compact their warheads are.
If the credibility of its nuclear barrier is questioned, it “could make uber-hawkish defense officials in the U.S. a bit itchy to try a bloody attack or beheading in a future U.S.-North Korean crisis,” he added.
North Korea announced the launch of the alleged Hwasong-17 with a slick Hollywood-style video featuring leader Kim in a black leather jacket and sunglasses, flanked by generals, seen signaling to launch a giant missile.
But the discrepancies seen in the footage were the first to alert analysts that the official version of the event was misleading.
Seoul -based expert website NK News analyzed satellite imagery and found indications that some of the footage was recorded earlier than government media claims, most likely on a failed March 16 test.
“Kim Jong Un is likely to target a domestic audience, to curb rumors that may have spread about a very significant ICBM failure over Pyongyang the previous week,” and to boost “nationalistic pride” by April 15, NK News analyst Colin Zwirko told AFP.
“He probably didn’t want to waste a recording of the Hwasong-17 and not be able to launch another one quickly, and telling the truth about the Hwasong-15 test would be less impactful”, as it began testing in 2017, he added.
The propaganda revolution
The fact that Kim himself was at the front and center of the event suggests that the propaganda was intended to support support for the leader personally, said Hong Min of the Korea National Unification Institute.
“North City falsified the launch of Hwasong-17 because of the strong impetus to show the achievements under Kim’s supervision to the public with Kim at the center,” he said.
KCTV’s dramatic video announcing Hwasong-17 was a “massive removal” from North Korea’s previous propaganda efforts, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a non-resident friend with the 38 North program at Washington-based Stimson Center.
“It is a revolution in the history of North Korean propaganda,” he told AFP.
While the country’s propaganda has changed and evolved since Kim Jong Un came to power, largely to keep up with the influx of foreign films and dramas, this is taking things to a whole new level, he said.
“It needs to improve its game and make the propaganda content more real, interesting and convincing,” he said, even though the events that are said to be documented are fabrications.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)