Despite continuous calls from the international community to forgo its plan to launch a missile-based satellite, North Korea has moved three stages of the rocket into position in anticipation for the launch that is expected to take place within the next two weeks. Preparations are currently underway at Sohae satellite station, northwest of the state.
Needless to say, North Korea’s refusal to heed the advice of neighboring countries and those in the West has been causing a rise in tension within the region. Japan, South Korea and China are particularly concerned with the isolated state’s plans because previous attempts to launch rockets had crossed boundaries of nearby countries and threatened the peace and security in the region. ASEAN leaders at the recent ASEAN summit also called for North Korea to put an end to its nuclear program.
North Korea has said that launching of the satellite, which they hope to send into orbit, is meant to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim il-Sung. It also said that the satellite would help improve the nation's faltering economy by providing detailed surveys of the countryside.
The satellite launch will violate UN Security Council resolutions, which prohibits the launch of rockets that use long-range intercontinental ballistic missile technology. It may also void an agreement which North Korea had previously made with the US as part of the six-party talks. The agreement explicitly forbade missile tests or satellite launchings, and stated that the US would provide food aid to the country in return for its cooperation on matters related to its nuclear program.
Despite these reasons, general manager of West Coast Launching Site Jan Myong Jin said that North Korea plans “to launch other satellites in the future”, including a “stationary satellite”. Experts believe that North Korea’s fallout with the international community because of this launch will impact future arms talks and defense planning in the region. However, few are as wary as countries like Japan when it comes to the risks involved with the satellite launch. According to some of these experts, the rocket, named Unha-3, will have a low chance of landing on a densely populated urban area. The worst case scenario would see Unha-3 straying into China’s territory.
A report by a South Korean news agency published yesterday said that the North is also preparing for an underground nuclear weapons test. A new tunnel is purportedly being dug in the Punggye-ri nuclear test site northeast of the country – the same place where it conducted two previous nuclear tests.
Report: All eyes on North Korea’s rocket launch [Channel NewsAsia, 9 April 2012]
Report: South Korea suspects that North may test nuclear device as well as rocket [The New York Times, 8 April 2012]
Report: North Korea moves rocket into position for launch [Guardian, 8 April 2012]
Report: North Korea neighbours call for dropping rocket launch [Bloomberg, 9 April 2012]