North Korea launches 'satellite'; US calls it a 'missile test'
As promised, North Korea launched what they are calling a "satellite" into orbit, ratcheting up tensions on the Korean peninsula and causing the US to threaten more sanctions for violating UN resolutions on North Korean missile tests.
No one believes the "satellite story." North Korea launched another "satellite" back in 2012 that has never emitted any electronic signals whatsoever. Most observers believe the object now in orbit to be a dummy warhead.
North Korea said the launch of the satellite Kwangmyongsong-4, named after late leader Kim Jong Il, was a "complete success" and it was making a polar orbit of Earth every 94 minutes. The launch order was given by his son, leader Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be 33 years old.
The launch prompted South Korea and the United States to announce that they would explore the feasibility of deploying an advanced missile defense system in South Korea, which China and Russia both oppose, "at the earliest possible date."
North Korea's state news agency carried a still picture of a white rocket that closely resembled a previously launched rocket, lifting off. Another showed Kim surrounded by cheering military officials at what appeared to be a command center.
North Korea's last long-range rocket launch, in 2012, put what it called a communications satellite into orbit, but no signal has ever been detected from it.
"If it can communicate with the Kwangmyongsong-4, North Korea will learn about operating a satellite in space," said David Wright, co-director and senior scientist at the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"Even if not, it gained experience with launching and learned more about the reliability of its rocket systems."
The rocket lifted off at around 9:30 a.m. Seoul time (0030 GMT) on a southward trajectory, as planned. Japan's Fuji Television Network showed a streak of light heading into the sky, taken from a camera at China's border with North Korea.
North Korea had notified U.N. agencies that it planned to launch a rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite, triggering opposition from governments that see it as a long-range missile test.
The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the launch, at the request of the United States, Japan and South Korea, diplomats said.
UN resolutions forbid the North Koreans from testing ballistic missiles that can carry a nuclear warhead. Obviously, if they can launch a "satellite" they are more than capable of eventually marrying a nuclear warhead to their long range missiles. Most nuclear experts believe the North Koreans are years away from being able to construct such a warhead as it requires First World technology to build.
And what of China and Russia, North Korea's most important allies?
China expressed regret over the launch and called on all sides to act cautiously and refrain from steps that might raise tension. China is North Korea's main ally, although it disapproves of its nuclear weapons program.
Russia, which has in recent years forged closer ties with North Korea, said the launch could not but provoke a "decisive protest", adding Pyongyang had once again demonstrated a disregard for norms of international law.
"We strongly recommend the leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea think about whether a policy of opposing the entire international community meets the interests of the country," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.
Not very encouraging to those who wish to impose additional sanctions on the regime.
The North's nuclear and ballistic missile program is tolerated by China and Russia because it keeps America occupied and on edge. But the problem with riding the dragon is that you never know when it might turn on you. Both major powers are playing with fire by supporting this paranoid regime.