North Korean policy as regards the outside world seems to run on a tape loop: a provocative act, followed by an agreement not to repeat it in exchange for aid; renege and then repeat.
Last month, the Obama administration reached an agreement to provide substantial food aid to that starving nation in exchange for suspending uranium enrichment and long-range missile tests. Diplomatic observers were skeptical whether this agreement would hold up any more than previous such deals. But they figured it was worth a try because North Korea had a new leader, Kim Jong-un.
The young Kim reneged on the agreement even faster than normal for the North Koreans. Friday's much-publicized launch was to be a capstone of the Kim dynasty, an event apparently worth violating international law and United Nations resolutions and killing the U.S. food deal.
Instead, the launch was a fiasco, with the rocket exploding barely 80 seconds after liftoff. It was the nation's fourth failure to launch a missile capable of reaching orbit and its third failure with a rocket carrying a satellite.
If practice follows pattern, North Korea will attempt to reassert itself with another provocation, most likely a nuclear test. Until the Chinese lose patience with their wayward client state, there's little the outside world can do in the way of sanctions and condemnations that it hasn't done already.
In any case, North Korea's worst punishments — starvation, global ostracism, a moribund economy — are all self-inflicted.
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