Question: Can the U.S. Legally Shoot Down A North Korean Rocket?
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Question: Can the U.S. Legally Shoot Down A North Korean Rocket?


On December 12, 2012, after 14 years of trials and failures, North Korea finally put a satellite into orbit around the Earth.  The Unha-3 rocket used to deliver this payload—which was ostensibly launched for weather tracking purposes—is functionally equivalent to a ballistic missile, and South Korea was quick to note that its successful launch proves that Pyongyang can now reach targets at a distance exceeding 10,000 km (6,200 miles), putting much of the western coast of the continental United States within striking distance.

On January 22, 2013, the UN Security Council swiftly passed Resolution 2087, which condemned the launch.  North Korea has since expressed its firm determination to continue pursuing its nuclear program.

Some experts warn that North Korea is only a few years away from mounting a nuclear warhead on a missile. Others doubt its technological capabilities. Indeed, less than a week after the launch of the Unha-3, U.S. astronomers pointed out that the celebrated satellite appeared to be “dead” and “tumbling” through its orbit.

Although the Unha-3 satellite itself may pose no direct threat, it is likely part of a long-term strategy to further develop Pyongyang's ballistic missile capabilities.  If North Korea launches an improved Unha-3, -4 or -5 rocket later this year, could the U.S. preemptively shoot it out of the skies? Would it?

While the U.S. undoubtedly has the capacity to destroy a North Korean satellite, may it legally do so?  Under international law, the answer is less than straightforward.

Pyongyang is already in breach of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, which broadly provide that North Korea must refrain from launching ballistic missiles.  Adopted unanimously in October 2006, Resolution 1718 imposed sanctions on North Korea following its nuclear test earlier that year.  The Resolution states that North Korea “must not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile.”  Resolution 1874, adopted unanimously in June 2009, imposed further sanctions and obligations on Pyongyang following another nuclear test in May 2009.  That resolution authorizes states to inspect North Korean cargo on land, sea and air, and to destroy any goods suspected of being connected to its nuclear program.

But it’s not clear whether Resolution 1874 extends to outer space.  If so, it could provide a legal basis for the U.S. to "seize and dispose of" a suspicious North Korean satellite.  If not, Pyongyang may get a free pass for future space launches.  

Mark S.
April 23, 2013 at 06:41

Perhaps I am missing something, but the way I remember it, the US and North Korea are officially at war.  I've never read the terms of the cease fire agreement, but normally a cease fire means "we will stop shooting at each other for now, but this isn't over."

North Korea has already stated publicly that they have renounced the cease fire.  Without a cease fire, what is the legal impediment to attacking any military asset in North Korea?


j.b. diGriz
April 5, 2013 at 02:12

International law being in the nascent state it is, it's unclear how in practical terms there are limitations imposed through UN resolutions without the will to enforce them.  Things are only effectively 'against UN international law' when the Security Council 1) makes it so in theory, and 2) makes it so in real life.  Without these two elements, the grey area surrounding a preemptive anti-missile strike against a North Korean ballistic missile – whatever their stated intent – makes the calculus so that unilateral action by the United States isn't going to gain any traction as a breach of law.  If the US says space was implied by the original sanction, and the rest of the council isn't willing to energetically challenge the US on this point, it's included.  If it really bothered any of the states, they'll make sure in subsequent statements and sanctions that it gets spelled out.  It's almost like the headline of this article is misleading, or meaningless.

March 25, 2013 at 11:49

I do not think we have the right to shoot down a satellite from NK unless it was falling out of control over the US,any of our overseas bases, or an ally (with their permission). Now if it explodes upon being hit by an AAM then we have a problem. Launching nuclear weapons is aganist resolutions passed by the UN and it could be seen as an attack upon whatever territory it was over. If its over the US or any of our bases or ships that could lead the US to return the favor. The US may have 1 or 2 Ohio SSBN's off one of NK's coasts.1 Sub would reduce NK to an ash pit within 30 minutes. Plus I do not think the PRC would be pleased with NK launching a nuclear missile and would in all likelyhood invade NK and overthrow the government. We can only hope for that. I rather deal with the PRC that the insanity that is currently "governing" the country.

major lowen gil marquez
March 17, 2013 at 16:57

The lauching of the North Korean satelite into the space shows its capability to conduct satelite surveilance in the universe, this satelite should beshotdown for the benefit of the free world, the formla andthe physics study of the combustion most probable it was delivered by the cinese communist in order to have an additional ally in the space of the dictatorial communst regime.

March 8, 2013 at 22:01

yeahh but the current US government in power isnt really fascist is it, thats just not true. I mean im sure you have strong opinions against it all, but fascist isnt the right term, thats like calling North Korea a democratic coutnry, it just is not true. i dont have my head up my arse, any sane person knows that's not right.


[...] 原文: Question: Can the U.S. Legally Shoot Down A North Korean Rocket? [...]

Amerikan Troll
February 5, 2013 at 15:57

Are you speaking for yourself?

[...] Japan’s Demographic Disaster China’s New Militancy Question: Can the U.S. Legally Shoot Down A North Korean Rocket? [...]

Yu Yong-chun
February 4, 2013 at 21:46

Can Russia and China legally shoot down a US rocket?

January 31, 2013 at 15:33

As long as the US is controlled by the Fascist regime of Barak Hussein Obama, the US will never retaliate against unprovoked attacks, or perceived threats to its airspace, even by a North Korean ballistic missile.  The regime is fully occupied disarming its citizens, and confiscating private wealth and treasure.

David Peterson
January 31, 2013 at 13:50

The lawyers who wrote this article jump back and forth between shooting down a satellite and shooting down a rocket, as if the concepts are interchangeable.  In fact, shooting down a satellite is much more difficult — only three countries have ever fielded an ASAT (anti-satellite) capability. Shooting down a rocket, on the other hand, could probably be accomplished by one person with a heat-seeking MANPADS (man-portable air defense system), if he were able to get close enough to the launchpad.
There seems to be little point to shooting down one of North Korea's primitive satellites.  After the satellite has made it to orbit, North Korea has already collected all the telemetry it can about the performance of the rocket.  But if the rocket could be destroyed shortly after liftoff, this would cause the most frustration to North Korea's efforts to refine its ballistic missile technology.

January 31, 2013 at 11:18

While the authors' conclusions seem sound, their legal analysis suffers greatly due to their lack of understanding of the difference between a satellite launch and a ballistic missile launch.
Thus, it is quite misleading to state that "the Unha-3 rocket used to deliver this payload—which was ostensibly launched for weather tracking purposes—is functionally equivalent to a ballistic missile." In fact, there are significant differences between the two. Check out what the experts say about the difference: Brian Weeden and Markus Schiller.
Just for one example, here is what Brian, a former US Air Force officer, said about the NK's December launch:
Since NK's recent launch was a satellite, NK had the right to launch a satellite as a member of the Outer Space Treaty.  Such a satellite launch does not violate SCR 1718, which bans only ballistic missile tests.

January 31, 2013 at 03:28

@ Anon
He might be too lazy to google, but at least he is intellectually honest with what he is saying and does not try to manipulate articles like you have just done. I just read that China daily article you posted and its pretty funny because you forgot to mention one important point that was right in the article:
"The system doesn't have actual combat capability for the time being," said Li.
You also missed this part of the article as well:
"The US and Japan agreed in September to put a second missile defense system in Japan to protect Tokyo from the threat of missile attacks, a move that has raised concerns in China."
So as we can see toumanbeg was correct in his assertion that both China and Russia do not have an active missile defense system, and I doubt China will be able to even deploy one within the next few years. So, while China is conducting experimental tests the USA and Japan are already able to deploy not one, but two fully operational active missile defense systems aimed at containing China.
Perhaps your just too lazy to fully read the articles that you source??

January 31, 2013 at 02:50

sometimes i think Jean-Paul gets lost in his own rhetoric. That said, i agree; North Korea is better wooed than threatened, but the problem is that it seems to vacillate between presenting overtures and then–when everyone relaxes slightly–doing things like the shelling of that island. At least, this is from what i've seen. With regards to the question of legality, however, i think that yes, it is legal under U.N direction, but not in absence of that. Then again, since when have major powers like the U.S, Russia, and China ever obeyed international law?

January 30, 2013 at 23:49

You must have been living under a rock, so ill-informed and ignorant. where did you crawl out from again? Too lazy to Google?

Last year it was reported that Washington was planning a “major expansion” of Asian-based missile defenses, which are ostensibly intended to guard against an unpredictable North Korea, but are most likely being planned with China and Russia in mind.
The US military in 2006 placed a powerful early-warning radar, known as an X-Band, in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan, with further plans to expand the radar to the Philippines.
When asked whether Russia had the military tools for meeting the challengers of any possible aggressor, Serdyukov’s answer was simple and straightforward: "We have them.”

Experts hailed China's technological breakthrough because it is difficult to intercept ballistic missiles that have reached the highest point and speed in the middle of their course. Only a few countries, including the US, have successfully conducted such a test in the past decade.
Experts dismissed speculation that the test was targeted at any country, saying the prime function of the system is to build a shield for China's air defense by intercepting incoming warheads such as ballistic missiles.
Ever since the invention of nuclear weapons, every country has endeavored to develop an anti-missile system for self-protection, Song Xiaojun, a military affairs commentator, told China Central Television.
Although the missile used for the test on Sunday has not been identified, it is clear that China has overcome technological obstacles that have plagued the US for years, he said.
"In all, it (China's test) poses another major chop at the US ability to 'extend' deterrence to its Asian allies, adds another layer to China's 'anti-access' capabilities," Richard Fisher, a China military affairs specialist, told the Washington Free Beacon.

January 30, 2013 at 23:41

Still being paid for spewing? Sorry, I don't deal with hate-mongers who disgrace debates with empty spamming of the same type over and over again. So many posters have expressed annoyance – you're a nuisance poster, a sock puppet, with little in terms of contribution to any debate, as you simply spew from a laundry list you've been given.

[...] Action Also Limited By Ambiguity Of International Law With North Korea raising the rhetoric The Diplomat reporters Lucas Bento & Daniel Firger examine the legal limits that could constrain a US response if the rogue nation takes concrete [...]

Women's Rights
January 30, 2013 at 21:44

This website then probably exposed the TRUTH regarding to one of the hundred cases of  Women's Right abuse under the CCP rule then.

CCP Bloggers – Could you translate what are those poor lady shouting about? 

January 30, 2013 at 20:13

I see no reason for John Chan not to be here…  if we met in a bar, I'd be the first to buy him a beer

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