How to Stop Kim’s "Satellite" Test


As more than 50 world leaders gather in Seoul to address the task of how to more effectively secure nuclear materials, their landing path at Incheon airport will have taken them within range of North Korean surface-to-air missiles.

Although North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities aren’t formally on the agenda for the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, Pyongyang’s leaders have done their best to ensure that North Korea won’t be forgotten in the global confab, first by announcing plans to launch a satellite in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, and then by threatening war if the summit issues a statement on Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The United States and North Korea in their respective February 29 “Leap Day” statements tentatively seemed ready to hit the “reset” button in U.S.-North Korea relations, but Pyongyang has apparently hit the “replay” button instead by rewinding to the events surrounding North Korea’s long-range rocket launch in 2009.

Even more worrisome is that the recent satellite launch announcement puts North Korea on a collision course with the international community as North Korea seeks to consolidate political leadership under Kim Il-sung’s grandson, twenty-something Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-il’s formal succession was accompanied by the launch of a Taepodong missile in 1998, and plans for Kim Jong-un’s succession were marked at an early stage three years ago by the North’s 2009 satellite launch, which was roundly condemned by a United Nations presidential statement.

North Korea’s outraged response to international efforts to ban its freedom to use outer space for peaceful purposes in 2009 included threats to conduct a nuclear test, which North Korea carried out only a month later. The strong international reaction that’s building in response to defiant North Korea’s latest satellite launch announcement will heighten outrage in Pyongyang, while Pyongyang’s defiant insistence on its right to conduct a satellite launch will further outrage the international community.

For the United States, continued North Korean long-range missile testing (even under the guise of a satellite launch) highlights the priority concern of North Korean vertical proliferation, identified in the June 2010 findings of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on Policy Toward the Korean Peninsula, and underscores the concern expressed by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in December 2010 that North Korea’s development of a long-range missile capability could become a direct threat to the United States.

The current path illustrates a fundamental dilemma for North Korea: actions taken to consolidate political leadership around Kim Jong-un may subject the country to international protest, while deference to international concerns may undermine internal political legitimacy. But what if there are efforts to call Pyongyang on its assertion that it’s only exercising its freedom to the peaceful use of space? What if the international community makes an offer that respects their right to send up a satellite but not a missile? If one sets aside the challenges of securing inter-agency support, North Korea’s clear efforts to wed the rocket launch to Kim Jong-un’s political consolidation, and the backdrop of electoral politics in South Korea and the United States, how might one construct a policy path that combines diplomacy and force in ways that offer Pyongyang a face-saving way of advancing its satellite aspirations without damaging internal legitimacy by backing down to international demands? Such a course might include the following steps:

Clarence E. Williamson
April 5, 2012 at 06:25

Very fine article with creative solutions offered that merit strong consideration by the so-called experts in the State Department; however, the pharse “The strong international reaction that’s building in response to defiant North Korea’s latest satellite launch announcement will heighten outrage in Pyongyang…” is just plain wrong. Outrage among the elites of the DPRK as a result of what the international community says or does so far is not outrage at all by normal outrage standards. I submit outrage among the international community is one of the objectives of the DPRK’s public strategy and policy. It is highly likely that elites in Pyongyang will have just one more big period of laughter at the so-called outrage of the international community.

Crazy Ivan
March 29, 2012 at 00:45

It’s time for action that speaks louder than words. It’s time for a mini cold war in the Korean Peninsula. South Korea should arm itself to the level that North Korea would literally FEAR attacking it. The north will not be able to militarily compete against the south with a such a modest economy. The US should reiterate in crystal clear terms that hostile use of nuclear weapon by the north will result in full nuclear retaliation by the US. This statement alone will de-fang the north’s nuclear threats. The north ONLY understands military speak. Weakness by the US and neighbors thus far has embolden the north.

Matt Dowd
March 27, 2012 at 09:14

We are talking about a government who grows heroin to sell abroad to raise funds. These are desperate people. There is no economy, there is no educational system. Its brain washing and concentration camps. It doesn’t get more 1984 that NK.

Matt Dowd
March 27, 2012 at 09:12

North Korea acts this way to outside powers because of Juche. Juche essentially means we don’t give a shit what you have to say we will do it our way because we don’t care about anyone else. Juche is a state of mind leaning towards independence and self reliance, primarily from years of mistrust from outside powers. Korea is a land dominated by outside powers of the years; China, Japan, Mongolians, ect.

Matt Dowd
March 27, 2012 at 09:08

How stop NK satellite: American made SM-6, or SM-2 if you launch it close enough.

March 27, 2012 at 08:35


The North Korean Really want to Chang for the Better of there Peoples,But can not
chang due to the Chinese are the main force of the reigime.The North Korean
are the Guard for the Chinese Back Door.

March 27, 2012 at 08:30

President Obama Just said Not sure who’s is running North Korea?
Every body should know that the Chinese are Running it,
The CIA should know this for many years.
The North Korean Nuclear know how come from China,or The Chinese Scientist are helping North Korea to Build Nuclear Bombs.The Chinese Intelligence are Behind the
Ruling of North Korean Regimes.

March 27, 2012 at 02:30

North Korea can’t even feed its own people. It has no satellite program. All it wants to do is develop its ability to launch a long-range ballistic missile. Money in NK goes to defending the regime and for security, which is generally the same thing. If the US offered to put NK’s “satellite” into space, NK would probably have to scramble to come up with something that is not obviously a garbage can with metal poles glued on the sides. Or try to explain why their “satellite” happened to be the size and weight of a small nuclear warhead.

It costs NK nothing to try to pass off this launch as peaceful and benign, but it is up to everyone else not to buy their explanation.

March 27, 2012 at 00:53

Does anyone actually believe nk is just trying to launch satellites? Give me a break. If you believe this you are part of the problem and the reason the north has duped the international community into decades of talking while they did exactly what they wanted to do and now they have THE BOMB. The most likely outcome of this absurd mess of a policy is that the North will sell a nuke to a terrorist and it will go off somwhere in Europe or the ME and there will be legions of pathetic apologists claiming to have “never” understood how serious the threat was. To trust the North on anything is to believe Satan is trustworthy. Yes, the North should be regarded as Satan as millions of North Koreans who live in absolute hell everyday know all to well. You dance with the Devil at your own peril.

March 27, 2012 at 00:27


People of North Korea would more be inspired by food than this useless launch. After all, North Korea could buy a year’s worth of food by not going through this launch.

March 26, 2012 at 23:02

Does a nation have the right to launch a satellite into orbit? South Korea tried the same yet there was no international outrage. Is there a double standard here?

March 26, 2012 at 22:52

The north korean leadership behave this way is because for decades the US and Koreans have made largely empty threats combined with rewards for bad behavior. Most preschool teachers would disagree how to handle north korea.

March 26, 2012 at 12:35

i find this piece somewhat disgusting. what if it really is just a satellite launch, designed to inspire the people of North Korea? how barbaric is it that we must assume that each and every launch out of that nation is motivated by military means?

March 26, 2012 at 11:48

Firstly, I think North Korean leadership should listen to what President Obama is saying. What he says makes sense, and it is very unlikely that he will go back on his word. Lunching a rocket in North Korean territory – at a time when the entire international community is at a Nuclear Summit in South Korea – would make them look like untrustworthy fools; and embarrass their strongest ally, China, who has stood up for them for so long.

However, the author is right: it is a good moment to play international politics and resolve the situation.

Russia needs an opportunity to be seen as strong while they push for solutions with their middle eastern allies. They have been very vocal opponents of Europe’s missile shield, and their government would probably like to have a strong show of nationalism in a way that doesn’t weaken potential trade agreements. If Russia were to offer a space port as a place to lunch Korean satellites then each countries media organisations can go around shouting about how they’re so awesome, and everyone wins in a way that allows all parties to move towards global stability.

March 26, 2012 at 10:59

the point of the launch is to show that nk can do it itself, thus offering a launch service will not placate them. shooting the thing down or taking action before it launches simply invites even worst behavior(along the lines of shelling sk or something like before). sad as it is, in all likelihood the launch will happen, it might succeed, it might fail, then the world moves on.

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