North Korea: Rocket launched but exploded mid-air

Updated On: Apr 13, 2012

North Korea launched its long-range missile rocket this morning despite calls from the international community to refrain from doing so. However, the effort proved futile; according to reports from South Korea, the United States and Japan, the rocket appeared to have fallen into the sea after splintering into four parts approximately a minute after takeoff.  The North American Aerospace Defense Command and US North Command officials confirmed that no debris fell on land, and that the missile posed no threat whatsoever during and after the launch.

The rocket launch was meant to send a weather satellite into orbit, in commemoration of the 100th birthday of its founder Kim il-Sung. The government also claimed that the satellite would help improve the nation’s faltering economy by providing detailed surveys of the countryside. North Korea's announcement to launch the satellite has not been taken well by the international community, as many believe that the country may be using the event to cover up the development of ballistic missile technology.

Today’s event would mark the third time North Korea has failed to launch its rocket. Previous two attempts in 2006 and 2009 were also unsuccessful. Academics and analysts have tagged today's launch as an embarrassment to the country, especially since it invited up to 200 foreign journalists, the largest number of overseas media ever in its history, to Pyongyang for the event.

South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Sung Hwan has said that his government “strongly criticizes [North Korea’s] action” and considers it unfortunate that North Korea would rather spend money on missiles than on “the starvation of [its] people”.  Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura shared a similar stance, saying that the rocket launch, while a failure, “is a grave provocation to [Japan] and other countries concerned”.  

The White House press secretary also released a statement condemning North Korea for the failed launch, which it believes “threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments”. In addition, it pointed out the North Korea was only “further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry”.

In consequence, the US has halted planned shipments of food aid to North Korea. A February agreement between the two countries mandated the moratorium of North Korea's nuclear program in return for food aid and explicitly forbade missile tests and satellite launchings.

The UN Security Council ordered an emergency meeting today to condemn North Korea’s rocket launch, which breaches UN resolutions 1718 and 1874. It already has two sanctions in place on the country, but may be considering others in light of the isolated state’s latest act.  

An issue of concern now is that the launch may soon be followed by North Korea’s third nuclear test. South Korea recently reported that preparation for an underground nuclear weapons test might be underway, with a new tunnel being dug in the Punggye-ri nuclear test site where two previous nuclear tests were held.

Report: North Korea rocket appears to have broken up [CNN, 13 April 2012]

Report: North Korean ‘failed’ rocket launch condemned [AFP, 13 April 2012]

Report: North Korea fires long-range rocket [Associated Press, 13 April 2012]

Report: UN council to condemn N. Korea rocket launch: envoys [Channel NewsAsia, 13 April 2012]

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