After several failures, including one this April, North Korea successfully launched a rocket on December 12, 2012 stoking international protests. The Unha-3 (also called Galaxy-3 in the West), which is the same vehicle as its Taepo Dong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), appeared to reach as far as the Philippines, as its first stage appeared to fall into the Yellow Sea and the second stage into the Philippine Sea. It is an apparent success for the country’s new leader, Kim-Jong-un, and a step toward the nation’s goal of mastering the technology needed to build an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)…
North Korea insists that its rocket launch is in line with any country’s right to pursue a peaceful space program. "The successful satellite launch in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was a desire at the behest of leader Kim Jong Il and part of peaceful work in line with the country's scientific and technological development plan for the economic construction and improvement of people's living standard," a DPRK statement read. "The right to use outer space for peaceful purposes is universally recognised by international law and it reflects the unanimous will of the international community. So this issue is not one over which the UNSC can say this or that," the North Korean Foreign Ministry said (1).
This version is taken by international community with a grain of salt. The launch is generally seen as a test of technology that could one day deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting targets as far away as the continental United States. In theory the Unha-3 rocket was launched it as a potential weapon, theoretically capable of delivering high-impact munitions as far as California. The rocket passed over the island of Okinawa, according to published reports. The launching of the satellite 'Gwangmyongsong-3' using the "Unha-3" rocket was a success and the satellite has entered into its planned orbit. An official from the Russian Defense Ministry told Interfax agency Moscow had tracked the launch and could confirm it took place. It didn't threaten Russia. The North American Aerospace Defense Command reported that "initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit."
The surprise was not that the launch occurred, but that it occurred so soon after many reports of problems with the missile and the need to replace parts of it. North Korea has apparently developed some agility in missile technology, which is no undoubtedly unsettling, given the potential threats that long-range missiles pose.
The action was strongly condemned by the USA, Japan, South Korea, Germany, UK, Canada, Australia and many other nations. It also prompted denunciations from Russia and China.
In an official statement Russia said it "deeply regrets" the launch, adding it would "not help the strengthening of stability and would have a negative effect on the situation in the region”. Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the North Korean launch had heightened regional instability and called on other nations to refrain from further escalating tensions. "The new rocket launch carried out by North Korea flaunts the opinion of the international community, including calls from the Russian side, and leaves us with deep regret," it said. Russia's Defense Ministry said its early warning missile systems had tracked the rocket launch along a southern trajectory, the Interfax-AVN military news agency reported. "Its flight took a southern course from the Korean peninsula. It posed no threat to Russia," Interfax-AVN quoted an unnamed Defense Ministry source as saying. Russia and China had both warned North Korea not to go ahead with the launch.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, also said that North Korea’s right to a peaceful space program was “subject to limitations by relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions,” somewhat tougher language than China has used on that subject in the past.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the missile firing was “highly provocative and a threat to regional security and a direct violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874.” The United States shifted four warships into position to track and possibly defend against a planned North Korean rocket launch, while urging Pyongyang to cancel the launch. According to NBC, the Aegis guided-missile cruiser Shiloh and three guided-missile destroyers John S. McCain, Benfold and Fitzgerald were put in place as a "prudent precaution." It should be emphasized the launch is a flagrant violation of the February 2012 US-North Korea accords that clearly banned long-range rocket launches, established a moratorium on nuclear tests and uranium enrichment. A February deal for the United States to provide 240,000 metric tons of food aid in exchange for a freeze in nuclear and missile activities collapsed after the North's April launch. The relations between the countries have always been a game of nerves with North Korea being a hard nut to crack. The US is perceived by North Korea as a state whose policy goal is regime change in the country. It is well remembered North Korea was one of three countries included into the “axis of evil” by the Bush Jr. administration. It would be propitious to remember the article called Administration Divided Over North Korea, published by the New York Times on April 21, 2003. It said, “Just days before President Bush approved the opening of negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld circulated to key members of the administration a Pentagon memorandum proposing a radically different approach: the United States, the memo argued, should team up with China to press for the ouster of North Korea's leadership”. It added, “Mr. Rumsfeld's team, administration officials said, was urging diplomatic pressure for changing the government”. According to the Foreign Policy December 2011 issue former presidential candidate Mitt Romney “called on the US to take the opportunity of dictator Kim Jong-Il's death to push for regime change in North Korea”. On April 23, 2012 US State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland at a daily Press Briefing the USA called on North Korea, "change course; instead put their effort into moving their country into the modern world" – something perceived as a call for regime change by North Korean leadership. This list of examples may go on.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, also expressed concern that it could negatively impact prospects for peace and security in the region. He stressed that the action was a “a clear violation of Security Council resolution 1874, in which the Council demanded that the DPRK not conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology. " The UN imposed two rounds of sanctions following nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and ordered the North to stop the efforts.
The timing and reasons behind
There may be reasons unknown behind the North Korean decision to challenge the world community, but some of them are obvious. No doubt the launch was driven in part by domestic considerations, analysts said it carried far-reaching foreign relations implications, coming as leaders in Washington and Beijing – as well as those soon to be chosen in Tokyo and Seoul – try to form a new way of coping with North Korea after two decades of largely fruitless attempts to end its nuclear and missile ambitions.
The event comes about a month before President Obama is inaugurated for his second term. The 18th presidential election will be held in South Korea on December 19, 2012. The Chinese Communist Party's 18th Congress, held in Beijing November 8-14, 2012, marked a key power transition in China. A new generation of leaders, headed by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, took over from the previous leadership headed by Hu Jintao. North Korea sends a strong signal to the regional interlocutors to make sure it’s not overlooked among other pressing issues on the agenda of new governments. A successful launch represents a commemoration of the first anniversary of Kim Jong II Jong’s demise on December 17, the same way the previous failed April launch was intended for propaganda purposes as a celebration of Kim Il Sung’s centenary. In the past year South Korea has made public its deployment of cruise missiles with a range of 800 kilometers, capable of hitting targets anywhere in North Korea, tactical ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles with a range of 300 kilometers. No doubt the North Korean launch is an example of an arms race, an action taken in response to its potential adversary’s missile inventory upgrade.
What strikes an eye is the fact that the new North Korean leadership launches a missile but still wants negotiation with other nations against the background of economic woes. The prevalent view is that North Korea is raising the stake of negotiations using the missile program as a bargaining chip.
According to nuclear experts, the North is believed to be some years away from developing a functioning nuclear warhead although it may have enough plutonium for about half a dozen nuclear bombs. It has also been enriching uranium, which would give it a second path to nuclear weapons as it sits on big natural uranium reserves. North Korea is thought to have only a handful of rudimentary nuclear bombs. Pyongyang is not yet believed capable of building warheads small enough to mount on a missile that could threaten the United States and other far away countries. The country has tested two nuclear devices since 2006, and is likely trying to find a way to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile. That requires miniaturization technology that experts say it has yet to master. No tests of re-entry vehicles that can withstand the heat of the atmosphere have been conducted. It’s very much doubtful North Korea is capable of achieving the required accuracy.
The country has spent decades trying to perfect a multistage, long-range rocket. Experts say that ballistic missiles and rockets in satellite launches share similar bodies, engines and other technology. This is the fifth attempt at a long-range launch since 1998, when Pyongyang sent a rocket hurtling over Japan. Previous launches of three-stage rockets were considered to be failures. The Unha-3 is a three-stage “carrier rocket” with a range estimated to be about 10,000 kilometers (6,300 miles). It is enough to get the Kwangmyongsong satellite into orbit, a technologically complicated undertaking. North Korea overcame all the potential pitfalls, including harsh winter conditions.
The missile capabilities of a country as closed to the world as North Korea are hard to assess. Nonetheless, during a visit to China early in 2011, Robert M. Gates, then US Defense Secretary, said that North Korea was within five years of being able to strike the continental United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile. The range of Wednesday’s test would fall far short of that goal, but suggests that the North has learned much about how to launch multistage rockets.
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North Korea has developed the ballistic missile launch technology and has crossed a major threshold in terms of equipping an ICBM with a nuclear warhead. There are other technological breakthroughs to achieve (miniaturized warheads, reentry vehicle). But a solid foundation has been laid for further progress. The apparently launch makes North Korea join the club of non-NATO possessing long-range missile technology that could potentially reach the United States.
The technological breakthroughs may be shared with Iran, Pakistan and other countries ((Scud, Nodong, Musudan). This is a challenge for non-proliferation regime.
The event is strengthening the position of hardliners in South Korea and Japan. In September the United States and Japan have agreed to station another ground-based missile defense radar in Japan, even as the two nations are still hashing out the deployment of MV-22 Ospreys to Okinawa.
As two decades of failed efforts have shown, the USA has failed in its efforts to influence North Korea and move it away from the nuclear trajectory. The imposition of economic sanctions, causing suffering for the North Korean people, has led nowhere. The USA is not in position to use force because that would start a second Korean war. The latest example of failure was when North Korea violated a supposed landmark Feb. 29 agreement to halt uranium enrichment and missile launches when it launched a missile two months later. United Nations Security Council resolutions have authorized naval interdictions, but in practice, they are limited to weapons shipments destined for Iran. A naval blockade of North Korea would be an act of war. Actually there is nothing left but further economic sanctions that have not worked so far. The launch would inevitably leave Pyongyang even more isolated and cut off from much-needed aid and trade. The UN Security Council will almost certainly discuss this launch at a meeting in the next few weeks, with the US likely to lead the push for tougher sanctions against North Korea.
No matter the North Korean ICBM nuclear capability is a long way to pose any serious threat to the US and the allies, the launch will be used for justification of missile defense program. After the failed April launch by North Korea this year the Japanese government responded by embarking on a program to develop unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with ultrasensitive infrared sensors to track ballistic (and possibly cruise) missiles as well as other low-altitude objects. The UAV is to operate at an altitude of about 13,500 meters, will be unveiled by the next fiscal year and enter service in 2020. It may be equipped with killing elements. The new weapon system would give Japan an ability to intercept ballistic missiles at an earlier stage, or at least add to the series of points in the «kill chain» at which a ballistic missile can be shot down. It remains to be seen whether the Japanese drone will have enough endurance and be equipped with air-to-air missiles to operate as an air-launched missile interceptor and detecting the movement of low-altitude objects over waters near Japan. This is just an example of how North Korean threat is actually used as justification for boosting missile defense potential that can be used against Russia and China as well, like it has already been done in the US Congress. For instance, the event was immediately followed by the statement of Representative Mike Turner (R., Ohio), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, who stressed, “This successful missile launch by North Korea demonstrates its commitment to developing weapons of mass destruction to threaten the United States and its allies”. He added’ “Moreover, now is not the time to continue cutting the only missile defense program that protects the American homeland-the ground-based midcourse defense system-as the Obama administration has each year it has been in office. It would be the height of irresponsibility to simply ignore the stated goals of the North Korean regime, and leave the American people and our allies open to attack” (3). The statement was immediately echoed by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R., Calif.), who said’ “The regime’s actions highlight the importance of the U.S. deploying a capable national missile defense program, which regrettably has been subject to severe and unwarranted cuts in recent years.”(4).
The North Korean missile and nuclear program should be condemned in no uncertain terms. On the other hand, the policy of using the North Korean missile program for substantiating global missile defense efforts leads to growing concern and provokes response on the part of Russia and China – the members of the six-party efforts aimed at dealing with the problem internationally. Perhaps a united, concentrated international effort could bring more results than using the North Korean missile efforts as a subterfuge against addressing Russian concern over the BMD threat to is nuclear deterrent.