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Tensions Rise Ahead of Planned North Korean Launch

A military-themed movie is broadcast on a large TV screen near the train station in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 10, 2012.
A military-themed movie is broadcast on a large TV screen near the train station in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 10, 2012.
Michael Bowman

An international chorus is denouncing North Korea’s planned satellite rocket launch. Pyongyang is at odds with the world community over the project, which is seen as furthering North Korea’s quest for intercontinental ballistic missile capability.

North Korea says it will launch this 32-meter-long rocket by April 16, with the goal of placing an Earth observation satellite into orbit. It will be the nation's third ballistic missile attempt, and the United States does not approve.

“We view the potential rocket launch as a very provocative act that would be, if it were conducted, in direct violation of North Korea’s international obligations,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney:

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland summed up the U.S. position this way: “Do not do it.”

Nuland noted that Pyongyang is also thought to be preparing a third underground nuclear test.

“That would be equally bad, if not worse,” she said.

Although the rocket’s projected southward trajectory does not cross over Japanese territory, Japan’s military is on full alert.

“The Japanese government maintains the view that any launch of a missile is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said.

But Pyongyang maintains international prohibitions do not cover space endeavors.

“The Space Treaty clearly states that every country has the right to develop space technology and explore space for peaceful purposes," said North Korean launch manager Jang Myong Jin.

Not so, says former CIA Korea specialist Bruce Klingner:

“After North Korea launched similar missiles or satellites, the U.N. Security Council passed a number of resolutions precluding North Korea from being able to launch any item using ballistic missile technology, as the wording says. So, whether they have a satellite up top or a recording device is immaterial,” he said.

Klingner says the launch is designed to boost the image of North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, at home and to strengthen the country’s bargaining position at international nuclear negotiations.

“North Korea feels that when it is raising tensions, it will make other nations cower and offer concessions in return for lowering the tensions that North Korea has raised,” Klinger said.

Those tensions are keenly felt in South Korea, where officials warn of a threat to the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula, and Asia as a whole, if the launch goes forward.

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