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North Korea’s Rocket launch: Mounting regional tensions

Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi - 12/22/2012

After initial success of North Korea in putting a satellite into orbit by launching a long-range rocket on the previous Wednesday, the Pyongyang’s ambitious space exploration programme appears to be going awry because the satellite is now reported to be hurtling uncontrolled and is apparently tumbling from the scheduled path amidst all the other satellites that the world uses for different purposes.

As the satellite is said to be following an unstable trajectory about which the US’ administration officials have confirmed, it may come crashing back to Earth. But, according to South Korean Defence Ministry sources, the satellite is orbiting normally at a speed of 7.6 km per second. Amidst conflicting versions, the North Korea has repeatedly asserted that the successful launch- hailed as a ground-breaking achievement by its official media while paying tribute to the late Kim’s vision and leadership- was meant only for placing its satellite into space for study of crops and weather patterns and not as a banned inter- continental missile test. But, it was being regarded by analysts as an attempt of consolidating the new leader, Kim Jong-un’s position- as a mark of his almost 12 months in power- amidst deep economic crisis and, consequent, instability & chaos, the country is passing through.

Despite being considered as one of the most unpredictable nation with dubious track records, North Korea did inform to the anxious neighbours in the region and also to the world about the self-proclaimed success which was likely to intensify the threat posed by the nuclear-armed state and might also provoke global condemnation because it was being regarded as North’s veiled attempt to test and develop nuclear missile delivery technology. This launch was its second exercise as the first launch had failed due to breaking apart of rocket minutes after taking off in April this year - the first under the new young ruler of the country, who was supposed to be very keen about the next launch to be observed close to the first anniversary of the death of his father and former leader Kim Jong-il on December 17.

In fact, putting a satellite into orbit means that one has the technology to launch a warhead to a targeted area. Obviously, the US and its allies were not only infuriated but also worried and even China, having soft corner for Pyongyang, expressed regrets at the successful launch by its wayward communist ally while calling on all sides to avoid “stoking the flames”. Also, it was being condemned by the neighbours in the region- particularly, South Korea and Japan- as a long range missile test which would not only reignite tensions in and around the Korean peninsula by provoking them but also cause heavy strains on global peace and security as Pyongyang was said to be covertly pursuing its nuclear weapons programme and was also closely connected with many prominent global terror networks. All these have made the neighbouring countries very much suspicious and concerned about North Korea’s real intentions and so is the USA, too. As the country has already aroused deep suspicions from all around the world, the launch was seen as yet another surprise and shock because the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had cited some technical problems last week and had extended the launch schedule for December 29.

Already, the United Nations Security Council, vide its Resolution 1874, has restrained Pyongyang from continuing ahead with its clandestine nuclear programme- like Iran- which is in violation of the NPT and CTBT. This is why, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki- Moon has condemned the launch “as a clear violation” of the 2009 resolution that banned the North Korea from carrying out tests using ballistic missile technology. Further he said that the Security Council would consider the issue and its likely impact, at a scheduled meeting on Wednesday. The President of South Korea, Lee Myang-bak has also expressed his concern by calling the launch as violation of the UN resolution. Similarly the US has described this event as “a provocative action”, and so has protested Japan’s Foreign Minister, Koichrio Gemba, who had called for a tough stand to be taken by the UNSC.

Under this scenario- despite the North’s satellite getting tumbled from the orbit- the rocket launch programme and its likely repercussions on regional and global security must be carefully discussed by all conscience seeking leaders with its (the North’s) ruler without provoking Pyongyang by unnecessary international uproar because that may prove to be counterproductive as the North has vowed to perform more such launches. “No matter what others say, we will continue to exercise our legitimate right to launch satellites,” said a foreign ministry spokesman, urging the international community to stay cool “to prevent the situation from developing (in an) undesirable direction.” Against such intransigence of North’s, all careful and judicious means be employed, as a first step, so that overall peaceful and stable situation on the Korean peninsula may remain protected without further aggravating it to take an ugly turn. Again, what is very much needed at this crucial juncture is that Pyongyang, instead of being alienated, be properly engaged in constructive and meaningful cooperation by extending generous economic assistance for strengthening of its economy and socio-political development. Further, there is also an urgent need to ensure proper development of democratic institutions and full respect to human rights in North Korea because it is people’s awareness that matters in policy decisions of a ruler. If all these steps fail to bring the desired result, the coercive means against North Korea may be adopted only under the authority of the United Nations.

Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi is Associate Professor of Political Science in M.D.P.G. College, Pratapgarh (UP), India.

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