The Staggering Costs of North Korea's Rocket Launch

The Staggering Costs of North Korea's Rocket Launch
John Hudson

While military analysts are belaboring the launch's geopolitical consequences, it's easy to lose sight of what North Korea is paying to "monitor weather" patterns. Sometime between now and Monday, Pyongyang will launch its "Unha-3" rocket but it will have cost hundreds of millions of dollars and tons of food to make that happen. 

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Food  By going ahead with the launch, Pyongyang has sacrificed 240,000 metric tons of food aid from the United States, which the Obama administration had signed off on Feb. 29 ahead of the announced launch. To put this in perspective, this is a country that's military recently had to lower the minimum required height for its soldiers to 4 feet, 9 inches because of chronic malnutrition, the Los Angeles Times reports. One-third of North Korean children are believed to be "permanently stunted" because of a lack of food. Additionally, Amnesty International has reported that crippling food shortages have forced malnourished North Koreans to eat grass and tree bark just to survive. Last year, diplomats reported that in some areas government rations of cereals had been cut in half, down to 150 grams a day per person in some areas, down from the good old days when the majority of the country was issued 700 grams per day. The photo above shows children between the ages of four and five suffering from malnutrition in a nursery in Kangwon province in North Korea. Even international affairs experts are baffled by country's decision. "What is perplexing is that they left benefits on the table," the Council on Foreign Relations' Scott Snyder tol the Times. "Normally they would cash in on the agreement before reneging." Unfortunately, food aid isn't the only cost of launching the rocket.

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Money Pyongyang is also spending a significant amount of money on the launch that could be going to its people. Today, we found out what he damage is. The Daily Telegraph has gained access to documents that reveal the country is spending $850 million on the launch, which could feed millions of North Koreans. "The cost of the rocket, revealed in restricted documents seen by The Daily Telegraph, would have been able to buy 2.5 million tons of corn and 1.4 million tons of rice – helping to alleviate poverty for millions." To put those numbers into context, the U.N. estimate for North Korea's entire harvest of cereals this year is 5.4 million tons. 

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So why is North Korea, ostensibly led by 28-year-old Kim Jong-un, still going ahead with the launch? No one can know for certain, but Daniel Flitton, political correspondent for The Age, says the country's "long game" strategy is the only plan that makes sense to the regime at this point. "No one can confidently pierce the opaque world of North Korea's politics," he writes. "But the overall strategy is clearly survival -- of the regime and its ideology... Understanding this helps to explain why the nuclear option is so attractive. Once built, the bomb is forever." The sad reality is that the strategy may very well preserve the regime but not its starving people.