K. Bharath Kumar, M.S. (USA)
The Launch Background
In the month of March 2012, North Korea i.e., Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced its plan to launch an “earth observation” satellite between April 12th and 16th , 2012 to mark the 100th birth anniversary of its founder Kim Il Sung. North Korean space officials said the Unha-3 rocket was meant to send a satellite into orbit to study crops and weather patterns — its third attempt to launch a satellite since 1998.
In addition, Pyongyang took the unusual step of admitting dozens of international television reporters, who were taken on a tour of the launch site. Television has been broadcasting a stream of video of the missile called Unha-3, or “Galaxy-3,” emblazoned with the North Korean red star, against a backdrop of mountains.
However, the launch had appeared to have failed, with the rocket splintering into pieces moments after takeoff, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in Seoul. The satellite failed to enter orbit after its launch on the morning of April, 13, 2012, the official KCNA news agency reported. North Korea’s much-anticipated rocket launch ended quickly in failure early Friday (13/04/2012), splintering into pieces over the Yellow Sea soon after takeoff. Scientists and technicians are now looking into the cause of the failure, reported Xinhua.
South Korea said that North Korea will have to “take responsibility” for the alleged failed long-range rocket launch, which breached a UN ban. North Korea acknowledged in an announcement broadcast on state TV that a satellite launched hours earlier from the west coast failed to enter into orbit. The U.S. and South Korea also declared the launch a failure.
A failure would be a huge blow to a nation that has staked its pride on a satellite launch seen as a show of strength amid persistent economic hardship as North Korea’s young new leader, Kim Jong Un, solidifies power following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, four months ago.
The United States, Britain, Japan and others have called such a launch a violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity. Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to launch a long-range missile aimed at the U.S. and other targets. North Korea has already tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
U.S. Warnings before the Launch
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking for the Group of Eight nations after their foreign ministers met in Washington, said Thursday that all the members of the bloc agreed to be prepared to take further action against North Korea in the Security Council if the launch went ahead. “Pyongyang has a clear choice: It can pursue peace and reap the benefits of closer ties with the international community, including the United States; or it can continue to face pressure and isolation,” Clinton said.
The planned satellite launch later this month by North Korea was provocative, the US government said on Monday, April, 09, 2012. “North Korea’s launch of a missile would be highly provocative, it would pose a threat to regional security, and it will be inconsistent with its recent undertakings to refrain from any kind of long-range missile launches,” State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
She noted that Washington considered the launch as a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 and 1874, which prohibited Pyongyang from conducting launches that use ballistic missile technology, Xinhua reported.
Pentagon Monitoring of Launch
The US defense department was closely monitoring the prospect of a satellite launch this month by North Korea, a top Pentagon official said on April 6th, 2012. George Little, acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said the US was “monitoring it closely. We understand the impact it could have on regional stability”. ”We’re working very closely with our Republic of Korea (South Korea) allies as well as our Japanese allies to monitor. We hope it doesn’t happen. But if it does, we’ll be ready to track it,” Little was quoted as saying by Xinhua. “I believe we have what we need to track (the launch) and to also work closely with our allies in the region to respond,” he added.
Little said North Korea would be “violating UN Security Council resolutions if they move ahead with such a launch”. He called upon Pyongyang not to go ahead with the launch, but said the Pentagon was operating on the assumption that the launch could happen. North Korea has indicated that it intends to launch the satellite, he noted. “They have done so in the past. So if history is any guide to the future, we would be remiss if we didn’t take those announcements for what they are”, he added.
Launch Details and Results
The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite was fired from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri along the west coast at 7:38 a.m., but failed to reach orbit, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. “Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure,” KCNA said.
U.S. and South Korean intelligence reports say the rocket quickly broke up and splashed into the Yellow Sea. “The missile traveled one to two minutes and broke apart in the air. It broke into 20 separate pieces,” Shin Won-shik, a South Korean Defense Ministry official, said at a briefing Friday morning. Shin said some of the debris fell 60 to 90 miles off the west coast of South Korea.
“For all their advanced technology, these rockets are fairly fragile things,” said Brian Weeden, a technical adviser at Secure World Foundation who is a former Air Force officer at the U.S. Space Command. “You’re looking at a metal cylinder that has fairly thin walls that contains a lot of high pressure liquid.”
North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) officials said that the U.S. detected and tracked the launch of the North Korean missile at 6:39 p.m. EDT. NORAD said that the missile went south over the Yellow Sea about 165 kilometers west of Seoul.
NORAD said the first stage of the missile fell into the sea about 100 miles west of Seoul. Stages two and three failed and no debris fell on land and the missile and the debris were never a threat.
According to projections, the first stage of the rocket was to fall into the ocean off the western coast of South Korea, while a second stage would fall into waters off the eastern coast of the Philippine island of Luzon. Weeden said the launch appeared to be a failure of both space and missile objectives. “The earlier it breaks up, the less data you’ve collected, so the less useful that test is likely to be,” he said. “It’s very likely that the U.S. and its allies probably gathered more information about this test than the North Koreans have” He said U.S. and other nations had been poised to keep close watch on the launch to gather intelligence about the state of North Korea’s rocket program.
Rocket Failure Disgrace
The failure could be a domestic and international public relations disaster and undermine the legitimacy of North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, who is still in his 20s. He took over in December 2011, after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. “North Korea’s provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments,” the White House said in a statement. “North Korea is 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.”
An administration official who requested anonymity while discussing sensitive topics predicted that the failure “will have ramifications internally.” The official credited tough economic sanctions with restricting North Korea’s access to advanced electronics and other crucial equipment.
Unlike previous occasions, North Korea acknowledged that the satellite had failed to reach orbit. “Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported. Previous attempts to launch a satellite also failed, most recently in 2009 when a missile and its payload splashed into the Sea of Japan. This current latest launch was designed not only to commemorate the birth of Kim Il Sung on April 15, 1912, but also to confirm the legitimacy of his grandson Kim Jong Un, the third generation of the dynasty.
International Reactions after the Satellite Launch
Republic of Korea ROK-(South Korea)
The Republic of Korea condemned the rocket launch as a provocative threat to peace and stability in Northeast Asia and pressed Pyongyang (North Korea’s Capital city) to take full responsibility for any repercussions, Yohnap News quoted ROK Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan as saying on Friday. Kim and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to take “resolute” action against the launch and agreed to refer the issue to the UN Security Council, according to Yohnap. During a 10-minute conversation, Kim and Clinton “shared the view that the international community should send a clear and strong message” to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Yohnap quoted an ROK official as saying.
United States of America
Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, Pyongyang’s provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments, said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, in a statement in Washington. “While this action is not surprising, given North Korea’s pattern of aggressive behavior,” Carney said, “any missile activity by the DPRK is of concern to the international community. The US remains vigilant in the face of the DPRK’s provocations and is fully committed to the security of US allies in the region”, he said.
The White House Office of the Press Secretary issued a statement, which said: “Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea’s provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments. While this action is not surprising given North Korea’s pattern of aggressive behavior, any missile activity by North Korea is of concern to the international community. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations, and is fully committed to the security our allies in the region.” In response to the launch, Washington announced it was suspending plans to contribute food aid to the North in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear programs. The launch of the satellite, even though it failed, also put a question mark on an agreement between the US and North Korea; Washington had agreed to ship 40000 metric tonnes of food if Pyongyang put its nuclear and missile testing on hold.
Group of Eight
The G8 group consists of the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia. The G8 foreign ministers condemned the launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and blamed the launch as a violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1695, 1718 and 1874, said a statement from the US Department of State in Washington. “Sharing the view that the launch undermines regional peace and stability, we call on the DPRK to abstain from further launches using ballistic missile technology or other actions which aggravate the situation on the Korean Peninsula,” said the statement.
“We are ready to consider, with others, taking measures responding to all activities of the DPRK that violate UN Security Council Resolutions, and calling for an appropriate response by the UN Security Council,” said the statement. The ministers urged the DPRK “to abstain from further launches using ballistic missile technology or other actions which aggravate the situation on the Korean Peninsula”.
China urged “calm and restraint” from all sides after Pyongyang’s failed rocket launch drew strong condemnation from the US, ROK and Japan. “We hope all relevant parties can maintain calm and restraint, and refrain from acts that would harm peace and stability on the peninsula and in the region,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement. He also called on all sides to maintain “contact and dialogue” in the brief statement.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura also condemned DPRK’s satellite launch, said AFP. “Even if it was a failure, it is a grave provocation to our country and other countries concerned and violates UN Security Council resolutions,” he said. According to a Reuters report, Japan may consider economic sanctions against the DPRK, depending on the response of the international community, Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi said. “It’s become clear that they launched a flying object so I’ll consider, if necessary, how to respond to it while taking into account movements in the international community,” he said, when asked about whether Japan will seek new economic sanctions against the DPRK.
Tokyo, which was prepared to shoot down any rocket flying over its territory, also confirmed a launch from North Korea. “We have confirmed that a certain flying object has been launched and fell after flying for just over a minute,” Japan’s Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said. He said there was no impact on Japanese territory.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who was at the United Nations, said the launch “will increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula”, and the Security Council “must give a strong answer”, AFP reported.
The DPRK’s launch of a rocket contradicted a Security Council resolution restricting the use of ballistic technology – the Interfax news agency cited an unidentified Russian foreign ministry official as saying. “UN Security Council resolutions voice unambiguous calls not to conduct such launches. This approach is shared by the participants in the six-party negotiations,” Interfax cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.
The United Nations Response
Reuters reported that the U.N. Security Council will convene on Friday to discuss a response to the launch, according to council diplomats. ”The North Korea rocket launch is a clear provocation and a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions which prohibit this activity,” Kap-soo Rim, First Secretary of the Republic of Korea Mission to the U.N., told CBS News. “The Security Council should act decisively, and strongly,” Rim said, “the Ambassador is waiting for instructions from Seoul.” CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk said that the launch “is unlikely to provoke more than a statement of alarm from the U.N. in the short term, and perhaps more extensive sanctions in the long term, particularly since the launch failed.”
China’s Reply to Japan’s Reaction
Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said: “China stresses that the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in northeastern Asia is a common responsibility of, and in the interests of, all sides.” China had expressed concern after the Communist regime announced its plan to launch the satellite. ”We have kept close communications with the DPRK, Russia, the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan for a while,” Liu told a press conference. “Under the current circumstances, we will continue to coordinate with all sides in an effort to jointly maintain regional peace and stability,” he added.
While expressing concern ahead of the launch, China has also said Japan for one was using the launch as the pretext to reinvent its armed forces as more proactive rather than defensive one. “Japan hopes to use the DPRK’s satellite launch to examine its missile defense capabilities under simulated conditions. But its high-profile response to the launch – deploying seven ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles on Okinawa, Ishigaki and other areas and stationing three destroyers with Aegis combat systems and Standard Missile-3 interceptors in the Sea of Japan and in waters around Okinawa – underscores the transition of its exclusively defense-oriented policy to a proactive policy aimed at containing China and reinforcing its hold on islands it seized from China,” the government-controlled China Daily newspaper said on Friday, 13th April, 2012.
India noted this attempted rocket launch by North Korea with concern. Noting with serious concern the attempted rocket launch by Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), India asked that country not to undertake action which is in violation of international law. New Delhi also said that such attempts by DPRK adversely impacts peace and stability in the Korean peninsula.
“India notes with serious concern the attempted launch of a rocket by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) which violates United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 and adversely impacts peace and stability in the Korean peninsula. “India calls on DPRK not to undertake actions in violation of UNSC Resolutions,” an official spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs said.
Dream Dare Win