[Viewpoint] Not making any friendsNorth Korea has the world stirring over its contentious mission that it claims is only for the purely scientific purpose of analyzing the weather and earth. North Korea will launch the 100-kilogram (220-pound) Kwangmyongsong-3, calling it an earth observation satellite to help assess crop yield and prevent natural disasters, into orbit via the Unha-3 rocket in April. The country remains defiant revealing details of the mission and preparing for a launch near the Chinese border despite condemnation from most of the world including South Korea, the United States, China and Russia for violating the banned missile agreement.
Unlike its previous satellite missions, North Korea has been open and specific in touting the event, notifying U.S. space authorities and inviting foreign experts and journalists. The Korean Central News Agency published an interview with an official from the Space Development Department of the Committee for Space Technology to disclose the details. The Kwangmyongsong-3, with a life span of two years and equipped with cameras, will circle in a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers (310 miles), sending video data to the ground command center. It resembles in scale, space travel and function South Korea’s 1999 multipurpose satellite Uribyol-3 that weighed 110 kilograms travelling at an altitude of 730 kilometers. The North pledged to go public with the rocket launch and satellite mission.
Pyongyang appears to be capitalizing on the pretext of peaceful use of space to sidetrack the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 it exacted with the rocket launch of Kwangmyongong-2 and subsequent testing of nuclear weapons in 2009. The resolution bans any rocket launch using ballistic missile technology. But no matter how it tries to advocate it, Pyongyang cannot escape the consequences for violating the resolution if it goes ahead with the launch next month.
It thumbs its nose at international meddling over its rights to peaceful employment of space, claiming the international guarantee on free use of space is above the Security Council resolution. Pyongyang’s elaboration on its satellite program is aimed to fend off repercussions from its rocket launch. It has debated with Washington for a long time over its new satellite program. North Korea said it notified the U.S. of the plan on Dec. 15, the night before the sudden death of its leader Kim Jong-il. Washington responded that the move would violate the Security Council resolution. The issue also had been fought over during a bilateral meeting in Beijing in late February. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it insisted that the satellite mission cannot be affected by the ban on a long-distance missile. As a result, Washington and Pyongyang agreed in Beijing that the U.S. would resume food aid on the condition that North Korea suspends its long-range missile program. The North argues that Washington agreed to a deal even when Pyongyang was firm on its satellite plan.
Washington declined to respond specifically to Pyongyang’s revelation of the behind-the-scenes negotiations in Beijing. But it assured the U.S. had been clear about its stance on satellite launch - that the action is against the UN ban - and North Korea knew of it.
The two sides are at opposite ends and likely to stay so after the launch. The U.S. and Western allies will likely take the issue to the Security Council. But a new resolution and sanctions are doubtful as long as China and Russia stand behind North Korea.
Washington’s initiative on new sanctions is also unlikely to go into action. The U.S. administration is suspected to have reached a deal with North Korea to keep the country out of trouble ahead of the presidential election in November. Can Washington employ the same harsh financial sanctions on North Korea it put together with its allies against Iran? It may not be able to afford to raise the stakes against nuclear-armed North Korea that could cost bold provocation ahead of the election season.
Unfortunately, there are few things the international community can do to prevent North Korea’s maverick ways. But one thing is clear: The new leadership under not-yet-30 Kim Jong-un will likely have as poor of a reputation in the international community as his father’s.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kang Young-jin