North Korea's Satellite Vow
Image Credit: Zennie Abraham

North Korea's Satellite Vow


The New York Times reports today North Korea’s announcement that it will launch a satellite next month as part of festivities to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The story includes immediate reaction statements from South Korea, the United States, and Japan criticizing North Korean plans for such a launch.

Despite North Korean protestations that they have an inherent right to peaceful use of space, North Korean testing of multi-stage rockets was proscribed by the United Nations in U.N. Security Council resolution 1874 that was passed following North Korea’s 2009 satellite launch and missile tests.

If the test goes ahead, it will destroy any prospect for “simultaneous moves aimed at building confidence” with the United States that North Korea had invoked in its February 29 statement announcing the return of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in exchange for U.S. food assistance to North Korea. 

Despite North Korean appeals to the United States to change its “hostile policy,” a launch may scuttle any future prospects for non-hostility in U.S.-North Korea relations, coming on the heels of negotiations at which North Korea pledged not to conduct future missile tests.  Moreover, it directly challenges one of the rationales for supporting the Obama administration’s support of limited agreements with North Korea that such agreements serve to constrain North Korea’s provocative behavior.

North Korea attempted to make the case for its right to launch a satellite in 2009 both in advance of and following its April rocket test and continued to make that case even on the day that Kim Jong-il died, foreshadowing the likelihood of a repeat of such a launch this spring. North Korean rocket launches have historically been tied to domestic leadership events, and the renaming of Kim Jong-il’s birthdate using the name of the rocket launched in 2009 also underscored the likelihood that North Korea would pursue such a launch.

North Korea’s pursuit of a missile launch as a symbol of the consolidation of its domestic leadership will come with considerable cost. It will further weaken the international legitimacy of North Korea and strengthen its isolation. With the notable exception of China, few international observers can accept Kim Jong-un’s succession; even if it is consolidated domestically, North Korea’s dynastic succession is perceived as an anachronism. Although plans for a spring missile test were probably made last year, the test will only heighten international suspicion if the fireworks displays planned for April 15 in Pyongyang are punctuated by a North Korean missile test.

Scott A. Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was previously a senior associate in the international relations program of The Asia Foundation and Pacific Forum CSIS. He blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared.

March 20, 2012 at 02:05

@peter: It’s amazing how you twisted the facts to boost china. You were right about the domino effect, however, both VN and china back then worked in favor of “international communism”, whose dream was to dominate the world. china stopped VN from dominating SEA? LOL. china invaded VN because VN foiled china’s lackey, the Khmer Rouge that exterminated 1/3 of Cambodian population. Who trained, supported and supplied these Khmer Rouges? Answer: china.

papa john
March 19, 2012 at 14:08

Anyone, who is much smaller, weaker but willing to stand up against a big bad bully China should be viewed as a better guy for sure. Shame on bully China. How pathetic!

March 19, 2012 at 00:48

That’s because, as I just pointed out above, everyone (including China) knows that it isn’t a ‘satellite’ and North Korea is not trying to put anything in orbit. When India and Japan say they’re sending satellites into orbit, they are actually sending satellites into orbit. There’s a reason why the U.S doesn’t complain when China puts satellites in orbit, it’s because we know that China is actually putting satellites in orbit. When North Korea says it’s putting satellites in orbit everyone knows they are testing missiles.

To quote myself quoting the Chinese ambassador: Look, when even China is saying “We sincerely hope parties concerned stay calm and exercise restraint and avoid escalation of tension that may lead to a more complicated situation” it’s a sign that North Korea has gone too far.

March 19, 2012 at 00:14

Yes, China is very much concern about N.Korea’s nuclear capability and delivery system. China should be seriously concern granted that N.Korean is a paranoid State with leadership worried about existential threat and lessons from ingrateful states that China assisted like Vietnam which could easily turn on them.

Remember, Beijing is closer to N.Korea than Washington and a missile from N.Korea could reach Beijing within 20 minutes.

Another point unrelated to this article about Vietnam and China. As Dr. Kissinger expounded, after the Vietnam war, Vietnam was riding on its victory and trying to extend its influence into the whole of SouthEast Asia, Cambodia, Lagos and Thailand. If successful, would have really achieved the Domino Theory feared by President Eisenhower/Kennedy that motivated the US to get into the Vietnam War: to prevent a Greater Vietnam in SouthEast Asia supported by the USSR. China stopped Vietnam in its foray by attacking Vietnam and forced it to withdrew from Cambodia/Laos. Once that was achieved, China withdrew. A great geopolitical move by China and castrated the Grand ambition of Vietnam. Present think tanks forget about this point and now paint Vietnam as the good guy.

March 18, 2012 at 23:53

The fact is that the US and its think tanks has never forgiven North Korea, with the assistance of China, USSR, fought the Korean War to a stalemate. The Armistice was signed but there was never any signed Peace Agreement.

Despite the fact that N. Korea is a member of the UN as a separate/independent nation, the US and its lackey S. Korea have never given up on trying to engineer a collapse of N. Korea. This would have turned the clock to 1950s and gave them the resounding victory they did not get on the battlefield.

The military drills have been going on ever since. Look at the geographhic location of where the S. Korean warship was sunked. It was firing live rounds akin to some hostile forces firing live rounds right off Long Island Sound off Connecticut. If this is not provocation????

Fu Man-chu
March 18, 2012 at 09:49

So Japan, India’s satellite rockets are alright? Washington’s hypocrisy never cease to amaze.

March 17, 2012 at 09:26

So having military drills is an effort to cause state collapse while sinking ships and launching artillery strikes on civilian areas is not?

Look, when even China is saying “We sincerely hope parties concerned stay calm and exercise restraint and avoid escalation of tension that may lead to a more complicated situation” it’s a sign that North Korea has gone too far.

March 17, 2012 at 05:00

Why exactly is it referred to as a ‘satellite’ test at all? Everyone knew that it wasn’t an attempt to get a satellite in orbit in 2009 and everyone knows this isn’t an attempt to do so now. Nations put out bull all the time, but can our writers at least say what we already know?

March 17, 2012 at 02:38

Even for North Korea,one week after negotiating with America seems fast.

March 17, 2012 at 00:23

N. Korea announced the missile test right in the middle of the massive US-S. Korea military drills right at the border. The intent of the drill was clearly aim at military intimidation of N. Korea and hoping for an internal collapse.

What would you do if groups of enemies start firing machine guns and throwing grenades right outside your windows. You arm yourself with whatever and however you can.

If the US is serious about rappoarchment with N. Korea after the recent meeting, it could have postponed or minimized the scale of the military drills. 250,000 MT of food is nothing as a demonstration to parry the fear of existential threat.

March 16, 2012 at 20:52

“few international observers can accept Kim Jong-un’s succession;”

idk about that, it seems many have already accepted and indeed hopes for consolidation rather than a weak leader surrounded by war-hawks that he must please.

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