Satellite launch by Pyongyang served as an excuse for deployment of US missile defense in the region
North Korea has launched an artificial satellite despite a UN Security Council ban. Japan failed to shoot it down as was promised. The event has led to far-reaching political consequences: South Korea blamed Russia for technical assistance for Pyongyang and started negotiations with the US about deployment of missile defense on its territory. The UN Security Council condemned the violation of the ban and is preparing new sanctions against North Korea. Russia calls to avoid the new political crisis in the north of the Korean peninsula.
In the morning of 7 February, carrier rocket Unha-3 took off from Sohae rocket launch site in the North West of North Korea. Satellite Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4 went into orbit 9 minutes later. The information about an unsuccessful launch and the damaged rocket turned out to be false. The rocket’s stage was jettisoned under normal conditions into the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, as well as into the Pacific Ocean near to the zone specified by Pyongyang. Korean Central Television broadcast the message about the successful launch and the video of the event. According to the official line, the rocket carried an Earth observation satellite.
Inspectors didn’t find the information veritable. The major concern is that the true goal of the launch is a ballistic missile test by North Korea. Experts interviewed by The Korea Herald emphasize that missile range may measure up 13,000 kilometers with half a ton of a payload. With a nuclear charge like this, a ballistic missile can achieve the US territory. Pyongyang assures that such a weapon will be only used in case of violation of the country’s sovereignty.
The North Korean nuclear program started about ten years ago when, in October 2006, the country announced a successful test of its first nuclear bomb. The evidence for earthquake confirmed Pyongyang’s official message. In return, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution to stop further tests and freeze missile launches. The tests, however, continued; in 2012, North Korea amended its constitution to declare itself a nuclear power.
North Korea continued elaborating nuclear and thermonuclear weapon despite following UN Security Council resolutions. In the beginning of January 2016, a photo of Kim Jong-un signing an order for a thermonuclear bomb test was published. Even before the statement, the US Geological Survey registered an earthquake with magnitude of 5.1 and estimated its depth as 10 km. Besides, the South Korea Meteorological Agency stated that the earthquake’s epicenter concurs with a military base where Pyongyang used to carry out nuclear tests.
On the day of the satellite launch, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned North Korea’s action. “We are forced to state that Pyongyang has ignored the global community’s appeals and has again demonstrated provocative disregard of international law”, the official statement of the Foreign Ministry says. “We strongly protest against the course chosen by Pyongyang. We recommend that Pyongyang leaders consider whether a policy of confrontation with the global community meets the country’s interests”, an official representative stated. However, Moscow didn’t call for a UN Security Council meeting.
South Korea’s “Radio Erevan”
Despite the critical position of the Russian Foreign Ministry, the South Korean Intelligence Service states that the carrier rocket launched overnight into Sunday is built using Russian technologies and components. Yonhap News released this statement with reference to MP Lee Cheol-woo who was present at a close-door session by the National Intelligence Service. Besides, South Korean media alleged that a fairing found near a South Korean island has Russian origins. No evidence was presented, though.
UN Security Council meeting in New York © Van Tine Dennis/PA Images/TASS
Russia’s reaction to the allegations followed immediately. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin wrote in his Twitter: “Statements of the South Korean Intelligence Service start to sound like ‘Radio Erevan”. He was more serious in his interview for Kommersant where he called the information “absolute nonsense”. “We inspect compliance to non-proliferation regime of rocket technologies; the export committee, which I’m head of, has never issued such a license for North Korea”, he told the newspaper, raising doubts about South Korean intelligence agencies’ competence.
South Korea’s story does really look unconvincing, taking into account that Russia, as a UN Security Council member, puts forward resolution to restrict the North Korean nuclear program. However, considering the anonymity of the real source in the spy agency and that the information was obtained from a member of parliament, one can regard it as politically motivated stovepiping. Such information can justify negotiations between South Korea and the US about the deployment of THAAD, an anti-ballistic missile system, started on the day of the launch.
THAAD is designed to shoot down short and intermediate ballistic missiles and carries no warhead. It allows to destroy enemy missiles without causing them to detonate. According to Andrey Frolov, an expert from the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, THAAD is capable of shooting down ship-based missiles of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, for example, “Sineva”. “It’s a threat for us and for our nuclear power. It won’t further our safety”, Interfax quotes Vladimir Komoedov, the head of the State Duma’s Defense Committee.
China is responsible for what it’s tamed
It is probably for this reason that Russia has agreed with other permanent members of the UN Security Council, including China. This time an emergency meeting was held on the same day. It was called for by the US, South Korea and Japan. The members haven’t adopted a resolution yet, having taken several days to finalize it, but have already condemned the satellite launch by North Korea. In addition, the US, South Korea, Japan, France and the UK stand for enhancing stricter sanctions against North Korea. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has taken up similar stance.
Russia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin has acknowledged the necessity of enhancing the sanctions. Besides, he thinks that the new resolution shouldn’t eventually entail a humanitarian or economic crisis in North Korea. “Of course, it should have not a single hint at any military operations to solve this problem”, Churkin specified. Such cautiousness is understandable after crises of the last two decades.
In this situation, both Russia and China have their own concerns in the region. Churkin underlined that there are "far-reaching geostrategic plans of building up military presence of certain states in Northeast Asia" around the North Korean problem. For a long time, China has tried to invite Washington and Pyongyang to the negotiating table, but the US would like to get the best of North Korea with the help from China. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, stated: “China says they don’t have that much control over North Korea. They have total control. Let China solve this problem”.
Of all countries, China is indeed closest to Pyongyang, politically and economically. North Korea depends significantly on China’s support. In this regard, it is favorable for both Russia and the US to settle down this problem with the active participation of Beijing. Meanwhile, Pyongyang announced that the tests will continue.
Translated by Philipp Chernenko