While only the highest echelons of North Korea’s opaque leadership will know the full financial cost of Wednesday’s launch, South Korea’s government estimates Pyongyang spent $1.3 billion on its rocket program this year.
Though the price of North Korea’s rocket launches might be lower because North Korean workers earn much less than their southern neighbors, says Cheong Wook-Sik, Director of South Korea’s Peace Network in Seoul.
According to an official from South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, the two rockets launched this year — this week’s mission and a failed attempt in April — cost $600 million, while the launch site itself is estimated at $400 million. Other related facilities add another $300 million.
“[$1.3 billion] is equivalent to acquiring 4.6 million tons of corn,” a South Korean official said. “If this was used for solving the food shortage issue, North Koreans would not have to worry about food for four to five years.”
But the financial cost and any risk of further sanctions may be a tradeoff for internal political gain as leader Kim Jong-Un tries to solidify his grip on power. Cheong Wook-Sik, Director of South Korea’s Peace Network in Seoul, said, “If North Korea succeeds in launching a satellite, North Korea propaganda may spin this by saying the country has become a prosperous and strong nation. That will help Kim Jong-Un both consolidate his power and help maintain the legacy of his father.”
If there is a message to the international community, adds Cheong, it may be that North Korea is implying “our satellite launch means we have nuclear weapons, we have a delivery system.”
Whatever the cost, what is known is that North Korea is one of the poorest countries in Asia, with an economy worth just $40 billion, according to the CIA World Factbook.