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 »

Statement by the (North) Korean Committee for Space Technology

[Following the unsuccessful launch of a DPRK satellite into orbit on Friday, 13 April 2012, and a UN Security Council President’s statement on 16 April 2012 condemning the launch and pledging to add  “additional entities and items” to the existing sanctions, the DPRK Foreign Ministry pledged to launch more satellites, and declared that it would no longer be bound by the 29 February agreement with the USA. Numerous North Korean organizations have since made their own statements, in each case adding copious insults against outgoing ROK President Lee Myung Bak. Considering that this was the first time that the DPRK admitted that its satellite launch had failed, we found the following statement by the Korean Committee for Space Technology (KCST) particularly worthy of note. The statement is taken from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) website. –CanKor]

DPRK’s Satellites for Peaceful Purposes to Continue Orbiting Space: KCST Spokesman

Pyongyang, April 19 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology (KCST) Thursday released the following statement:

Unha-3 rocket at launch (photo source unknown)

Since the KCST’s announcement of the planned launch of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 on March 16, the issue of the DPRK’s satellite launch has become topic of debate in the world. Those who sympathize with truth and love justice were unanimous in praising the plan with much expectation. But, the unjust and ill-tempered hostile forces have worked hard to mislead public opinion with groundless assertions and sophism.

The U.S. and Japanese reactionaries and their special class stooge Lee Myung Bak are taking the lead in the smear campaign. It is their brigandish assertion and their lackey’s nonsensical talk that the DPRK should not be allowed to launch a satellite for peaceful purposes. They claim that as Kwangmyongsong-3 was launched by Unha carrier rocket, it was not a satellite but a long-range missile and it, therefore, seriously threatened the U.S. mainland and Japanese archipelago and made south Korea unstable. Finally, they made a far-fetched assertion that the DPRK’s launch of the above-said satellite was “a violation” of the UNSC resolution and a grave “violation” of the DPRK-U.S. agreement and a military “provocation” to them. Read the rest of this entry »

Statement by the President of the United Nations Security Council

[The following is Statement number S/PRST/2012/13 taken from the UN Security Council website. Distr.: General, 16 April 2012, Original: English. -CanKor]

(photo by UN)

At the 6752nd meeting of the Security Council, held on Monday, 16 April 2012, in connection with the Council’s consideration of the item entitled “Non-proliferation/Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, the President of the Security Council made the following statement on behalf of the Council:

“The Security Council strongly condemns the 13 April 2012 (local time) launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

“The Security Council underscores that this satellite launch, as well as any launch that uses ballistic missile technology, even if characterized as a satellite launch or space launch vehicle, is a serious violation of Security Council resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009).

“The Security Council deplores that such a launch has caused grave security concerns in the region. Read the rest of this entry »

“Dual Disconnected Monologues”: NASA Expert James Oberg Visits DPRK Launch Site

[The following are two interviews with James Oberg, NBC “space consultant” and NASA Mission Control veteran. Both were conducted by Ed Flanagan, NBC News Producer, and published on World News on MSNBC.com. The first interview (Monday, 9 April 2012) carried the title NBC space expert on North Korea satellite launch: ‘It’s not a military missile … but it’s darn close’, with the second (Wednesday, 11 April 2012) titled North Koreans desperate for Western approval of launch. –CanKor]

First Interview:

A close up view of North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket at the launch platform of the Tongchang-ri space center. (Photo by Pedro Ugarte, AFP - Getty Images)

When we learned that North Korea was planning on opening its tightly restricted Sohae Satellite Launching Center to foreign journalists for the first time, NBC News quickly decided we would need an expert eye to determine the accuracy and authenticity of Pyongyang’s claim that this latest rocket launch was for peaceful scientific purposes.

North Korea says it is planning to launch a weather observation satellite using a three-stage rocket during mid-April to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. But the United States and South Korea say it is a test of a ballistic missile.

So NBC News invited James Oberg, our “Space Consultant,” to accompany us into North Korea to view the Kwanggmyongsong-1 satellite.

With a 22-year career as a space engineer in support of NASA’s spaceflight operations, Oberg has the experience and technical expertise to determine the veracity of North Korea’s claims about this mission.

NBC sat down with Oberg after visiting the Sohae Satellite Launch Center on Sunday to get his initial impressions of the facility, the mysterious satellite and the future of North Korea’s space program.

Q:  What are your first impressions from this visit to Sohae?

A: It was just amazing to be there, and the impression was that someone in the North Korean government made a very courageous decision to let us in. Read the rest of this entry »

The DPRK Rocket and Korean Peace by Georgy Toloraya

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by Russian North Korea expert Georgy Toloraya. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

Why would North Korea sacrifice its long-cherished dream of improving relations with the United States for such a trivial thing as “fireworks” for a national holiday? Around the world, people are wracking their brains trying to explain this seemingly sudden “satellite launch” decision, and the theories that have emerged so far can be grouped as follows:

  1. The DPRK had a calculated plan: first, reach an agreement that is attractive to the United States; then do something highly provocative to raise the stakes and create crisis; and finally, after the dust settles, negotiate from a position of strength to get more. In the process, North Korea also planned to confirm its status as a nuclear power and undermine the position of South Korean conservatives.[1]
  2. The decision to launch a rocket is the result of a rift between “soft-liners” and “hard-liners” in Pyongyang, in the absence of strong leadership (as President Obama said, “we don’t know who’s calling the shots”). The North Korean negotiators did not know about the launch plan and did not discuss this issue with their American interlocutors when working out the “Leap Day” agreement.
  3. There are even more exotic theories that imply it was a US plot to reach an agreement that demonstrated its desire for peace, while fully understanding that a satellite launch, about the right to which North Koreans have warned, would break the deal. As a result, there would be no need to fulfill controversial US obligations (like discussing the provision of an LWR and the lifting of sanctions), and they would gain new leverage to pressure an inexperienced North Korean leader to the brink of surrender. Paradoxically, the events unfolding so far fall well into such a scenario.

I believe, however, as often happens when real-world politics are analyzed by theoreticians, that the extent to which multistage planning was involved has been exaggerated, and that the influence of chaotic factors has been largely underestimated. In all likelihood, this is probably a case of diplomatic mishap, where both sides—both well intentioned to achieve meaningful results and promptly report them—due to internal policy considerations (the election campaign in United States and the official announcement of Kim Jong Un’s status on Kim Il Sung’s centenary birthday), pushed their luck too far. In fact, they did not quite grasp each others’ real intentions or reach the right conclusions. It has been reported that in the talks, the North Koreans repeatedly said that the DPRK reserved the right to a peaceful satellite launch, and although the American side warned that any such action would be a deal-breaker, the North Koreans probably regarded these warnings as merely rhetoric, while the Americans believed their message had hit home. Read the rest of this entry »

38 North: The US-DPRK “Choose Your Own Adventure” Experience by Andray Abrahamian

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by  Andray Abrahamian.  Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

The US-DPRK deal signed last month is a softline message; the Satellite Launch is a hardline one. Washington would do well to ignore the hardline one.

In 1962, with the United States and the USSR seemingly spiraling towards nuclear war, Khrushchev and Kennedy engineered history’s most important diplomatic breakthrough.

At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with both the White House and the Kremlin under incredible pressure, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a message that demanded a declaration of non-aggression from the United States towards Cuba in return for a Soviet withdrawal. The next morning, however, after consultation with government officials more inclined to take a harder line, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a second letter. This one demanded the United States remove its Jupiter missiles from Italy and Turkey as part of the deal, a proposal that would have made Kennedy appear to cave to high-stakes blackmail had he accepted it. Read the rest of this entry »

Double Down on North Korea’s Bluff by Carl Baker

[A great deal of effort has been expended in the past days on the question of how the USA should respond to the latest North Korean ballistic bluff. Is there any alternative to yet another fruitless cycle of condemnation and provocation? Carl Baker, Director of Programs at Pacific Forum CSIS published an interesting suggestion in PacNet #18A on Monday, 19 March 2012. Why not call the bluffer’s bluff? Of course, during a US election year, that course of action would be hard for the Obama Administration to sell domestically. Yet it does seem to suggest a direction towards a more rational policy option than those proposed by the usual suspects. –CanKor]

The instinctive reaction to last week’s announcement by North Korea that it plans to launch a satellite next month was to denounce it as a violation of the “Leap Day deal.” That arrangement involved “simultaneous unilateral announcements” offering nutritional assistance from the US while North Korea promised to place a moratorium on its nuclear program, including long-range missile launches.

We all know what will happen next. The US demands additional sanctions, North Korea withdraws from its part of the bargain, and tensions increase. Let me suggest a way to avoid another rerun: rather than insisting that the launch violates the long-range missile launch moratorium, Washington should test the North Korean claim that it is launching a satellite and not a missile by accepting Pyongyang’s offer to allow experts and journalists to observe the launch. Read the rest of this entry »

DPRK to Launch “Application Satellite” – KCNA

[The following is billed as “major news” on KCNA (Korean Central News Agency), North Korea’s official international news outlet. The intended launch of an “application satellite” is timed to mark the 100th anniversary of founding President Kim Il Sung’s birth. The article claims that the DPRK “will strictly abide by relevant international regulations and usage concerning the launch of scientific and technological satellites for peaceful purposes” and that “a safe flight orbit has been chosen so that carrier rocket debris to be generated during the flight would not have any impact on neighboring countries.”  

Unha-2 rocket, 2009 (photo by KCNA)

The announcement has surprised especially the USA, coming only days after an agreement was reached between the two countries that included the North Korean promise of a moratorium on missile tests. Victoria Nuland, US State Department Spokesperson, issued the following statement from Washington: “North Korea’s announcement that it plans to conduct a missile launch in direct violation of its international obligations is highly provocative. UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 clearly and unequivocally prohibit North Korea from conducting launches that use ballistic missile technology. Such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea’s recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches. We call on North Korea to adhere to its international obligations, including all relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. We are consulting closely with our international partners on next steps.”

Considering that it was the arms race between the USA and the USSR that gave the impetus for the race into space, there is obviously a continuing (purposeful) disconnect in understanding the difference between a satellite launch and a missile test. –CanKor]

Pyongyang, March 16 (KCNA) — The DPRK is to launch a working satellite, Kwangmyongsong-3, manufactured by itself with indigenous technology to mark the 100th birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung. Read the rest of this entry »

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