By Andrei Smirnov
The launch of North Korea’s satellite-carrying rocket earlier this week caused a stir not only among its neighboring countries but throughout the entire global community. Although the Unha-2 (Milky Way) flight lasted for less than a minute, the tensions around the launch are still high. Analysts fear that the failed launch will encourage North Korea to make new ill-considered steps and predict the imposition of tougher international sanctions against the country.
Seoul was particularly concerned about Pyongyang’s preparations for the rocket’s launch, which was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung. South Korea did not want to believe that the launch would be just another attempt of its northern neighbour to advance its space explorations efforts. But other countries were also inclined to believe that the launch was a disguised test of a ballistic missile which could carry a nuclear warhead. In particular, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, the UE countries and UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon expressed concerns about Pyongyang’s plan, stressing that North Korea’s actions violate UN Security Council resolutions which prohibit Pyongyang from launching long-range missiles using ballistic technologies.
The North Korean leadership has tried to allay these concerns. Pyongyang, which is well known for being almost closed to the outside world, allowed foreign reporters to visit its secret space facilities. But even this unexpected and demonstrative move failed to convince the global community of Pyongyang’s openness about the issue.
Despite the appeals of the global community, North Korea launched the rocket and the launch failed. Experts note that North Korean engineers do not have enough experience in designing multi-stage rockets. However, the failure has not allayed the concerns of political analysts. Now they expect official Pyongyang to look for an opportunity to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of its people, head of the Center of Korean Studies Alexander Zhebin says.
“It would have been better if this launch had been a success because there are a lot of concerns that in order to bolster its self esteem, the North Korean military could conduct new nuclear tests. A lot will depend on the UN’s reaction.”
At the same time there is another aspect to this issue. Although experts from the US, Japan and South Korea insist that North Korea pursued military goals launching the rocket there is no direct proof of this, Konstantin Asmolov, an expert at the Institute of the Far East Studies, says.
“North Koreans positioned the move as the launch of a civilian satellite, not a military test. In fact, they performed all the procedures needed for the launch of such a satellite. All the claims that they were launching a combat missile are nothing but speculation. Because then, we could make the same claims about the South Korean rocket program.”
Nevertheless, Pyongyang has breached UN resolutions and a predictable reaction ensued. The UN Security Council has condemned the launch of the rocket by North Korea. The US, which in February agreed with Pyongyang on a moratorium on nuclear tests and missiles’ launches in exchange for the delivery of food aid, is now reneging on these agreements. Japan is toughening sanctions against North Korea and is going to send an official protest note via its diplomatic channels. China and Russia, on their part, have urged restraint in order not to escalate the situation on the Korean peninsula. According to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Moscow does not believe new sanctions would be effective. As for North Korea, it will be able to fully implement its space program as soon as conditions are set for the removal of restrictions.