Understanding North Korea’s next satellite launch, by Tad Farrell

[A “technical glitch” is delaying the launch of a DPRK “weather satellite” into orbit, timed to coincide with the death of “dear leader” Kim Jong Il one year ago. Much speculation has surrounded this planned launch, coming so soon after a failed launch of a similar rocket in April of this year. In an article that appeared in NK News on 1 December 2012, Tad Farrell gives good reasons to believe that “this time the launch is nothing to do with issues outside of the Korean peninsula.” Farrell, who is based in London, UK, founded NK News in 2010. –CanKor]

A rocket sits on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang in this April 8, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files

A rocket sits on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang in this April 8, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files

Having launched just four long range rockets in the past two decades, news that the DPRK will try to put a satellite into space for the second time in a year is striking.  With a date set for between December 10 – 22, the next launch coincides with forthcoming South Korean presidential elections, a Japanese general election, and the anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death. The proposed timing is also noteworthy for following a major leadership change in China and the reelection of President Obama to the White House.

With the last launch having cost an estimated $850 million dollars, it is clear that there must be strong imperatives for cash-strapped North Korea to want to launch another rocket so soon. But what are they and what do they mean?  A close look at the context of today’s news suggests that five motivations internal to the Korean peninsula might be behind this launch. And if this is the case, it seems that little can be done to prevent the launch from going ahead.

A Korean space race

Having been in a space race of sorts with South Korea since President Kim Dae Jung initiated a satellite program in 1998, Seoul had planned to launch a satellite in recent weeks. Eager to be the first country to successfully launch a satellite off the Korean peninsula, South Korean authorities tried twice in the past month to ensure that their third Naro-1 rocket launch would go smoothly. An initial attempt was called off in mid-October, while the rescheduled launch date of November 29 was cancelled at the eleventh hour.

But while technical problems were described as cancelling both Naro launch attempts, its possible that the most recent cancellation was actually related to suspicions about an imminent North Korean launch attempt. After all, it would have been politically difficult for South Korea to go ahead with the planned Naro launch while simultaneously leading efforts to condone North Korea’s own rocket plans. Read the rest of this entry »

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