April 5th

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On this day in 2009, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea/DPRK) launched a rocket carrying the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 satellite in an attempt to place it into low Earth orbit.

Little is known about the specifics of the satellite which launched from the secretive nation, but in the run up to the launch, the DPRK drew international condemnation for launching a rocket, with many noting their attempts to create intercontinental ballistic missiles set a poor precedent for such tests. Nevertheless, under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty – one of few international treaties North Korea is party to – the DPRK government claimed to deny them the right to test such systems would be a violation of the country’s right for space exploration, as embodied in the treaty.

The satellite was launched on this day and flew over the Sea of Japan, but never made it into orbit, with many, not least Japanese and South Korean officials, claiming that the satellite was a dummy used for the purposes of testing rocket technology, not satellite.

Prior to the launch, North Korea had been a member of the Six Party Talks which included the US, South Korea, Russia, China and Japan, and was also supported by the EU, UN, NATO and numerous other nations and which had been organised following their withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2003. However, following the launch, they withdrew from the talks and faced heavy international condemnation.

Reactions to the launch from the members were as follows;

  • South Korea – Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan stated that “The North’s launch is a provocative act that clearly violates United Nations Security Council [Resolution] 1718 that regardless of the North’s claims threatens peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia.”
  • Japan – Prime Minister Tarō Asō stated that “the fact that North Korea went ahead with the launch despite repeated warnings from around the world, especially the United States, South Korea and Japan, was an extremely provocative act and one that Japan cannot let go unchallenged. So, cooperating with the international community, we want to respond (considering that) it was clearly a violation of the U.N. resolutions.”
  • China – Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu stated “We hope related parties stay calm and exercise restraint, appropriately deal with it and together maintain peace and stability in this region. The Chinese side is willing to continue to play a constructive role.”
  • Russia – A Foreign Ministry spokesman said, “We are checking whether this (launch) is not a violation of certain resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and call on all sides to refrain from actions that could lead to escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.”
  • United States – President Barack Obama stated “North Korea’s development and proliferation of ballistic missile technology pose a threat to the northeast Asian region and to international peace and security. With this provocative act, North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint, and further isolated itself from the community of nations.”Barack Obama gave a speech in Prague about the missile launch. Obama stated that “North Korea…has broke the rules…once again…by testing a rocket that could be used for long range missiles. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread to these weapons. It is time for an international response to prevent the spread of these weapons.”

The current US President Donald Trump has pledged to take a much harder line against North Korea and, speaking in the Financial Times, said; “Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.” (read the full story here)

This was the first of a number of rocket tests by the North Korean government and it remains to be seen whether they will continue to resist international calls for them to disarm and end their pursuit of nuclear weapon technology or instead continue to develop their  ballistic missile technology to the point that it can carry a nuclear payload.

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