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A “Hostile” International Response to North Korea’s Satellite Launch Announcement

by Scott A. Snyder
March 16, 2012

A Taepodong-2 rocket is launched from the North Korean rocket launch facility in Musudan Ri. (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters) A Taepodong-2 rocket is launched from the North Korean rocket launch facility in Musudan Ri. (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters)

The New York Times today reports North Korea’s announcement that it will launch a satellite next month as part of festivities to mark the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth.  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 UNSC 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 the DPRK had invoked in its February 29 statement announcing the return of IAEA 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.-DPRK 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 has 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.

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  • Posted by Kazem Zarrabi

    WHY NOT?

    Does North Korea protest to the US, Japan, and South Korea for their satellite launch? So, what is the fuss about? Why should the US, Japan, and others at the so-called international community monopolize launches?

    I don’t support the undemocratic North Korea, which isn’t the point here. The relevant point is to be fair, which isn’t the aim of the CFR article here.

    Frankly speaking, countries with the stockpiles of nukes and space domination telling the others what they can or cannot do?

    The CFR article by Mr. Scott A. Snyder is only to serve the interests of the US and its allies. Therefore, it isn’t a balanced assessment of a highly complex regional issue.

    In foreign policy and international negotiations “fairness” is the key to success. Otherwise, one will end up in protracted talks that can go nowhere.

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