North Korea yesterday followed through on its pledge to launch a rocket, prompting expressions of dismay from other nations but no immediate action at the United Nations (see GSN, April 3).
The rocket took off at 11:30 a.m. local time, flying over Japanese airspace on a trajectory that suggested that the purpose of the launch was to put a satellite into space, the New York Times reported. Pyongyang has said that it intended only to send a telecommunications satellite into orbit, but other nations suspected the purpose was instead to test long-range missile technology (Choe/Sanger, New York Times I, April 5).
"Our scientists and technicians have succeeded in sending communications satellite Kwangmyongsong 2 through the carrier rocket Unha 2 into orbit according to our national space development project," according to the official Korean Central News Agency (Xinhua News Agency, April 5).
However, the United States and other nations said that the rocket did not put a satellite into orbit.
"Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan/East Sea. The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean," the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command said after tracking the launch. "No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan" (North American Aerospace Defense Command release, April 5).
“It’s got to be embarrassing,” said missile expert Geoffrey Forden, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I can imagine heads flying if the ‘Dear Leader’ finds out the satellite didn’t fly into orbit" (William Broad, New York Times II, April 5).
The second stage of the rocket, though, flew 1,900 miles, a significant greater distance than seen in the 2006 test of the long-range Taepodong 2, the Associated Press reported.
South Korean analyst Kim Tae-woo also said the launch increases pressure on other nations involved in talks aimed at shuttering North Korea's nuclear program.
"Militarily and politically, it's not a failure" because "North Korea demonstrated a greatly enhanced range," he said. "North Korea is playing a game of trying to manipulate the U.S. by getting it within [missile] range, which is the so-called pressure card" (Jae-Soon Chang, Associated Press I/Yahoo!News, April 6).
U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders quickly condemned the launch.
"North Korea broke the rules, once again, by testing a rocket that could be used for long-range missiles," Obama said in the Czech Republic "It creates instability in their region, around the world. This provocation underscores the need for action, not just this afternoon in the U.N. Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons" (Paul Alexander, Associated Press II/Yahoo!News, April 5).
"This is provocative activity which threatens stability and peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia," said South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said.
China, though, called for a measured response to the incident, Agence France-Presse reported.
"Relevant parties must... avoid taking actions that could make the situation even more tense," Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in a prepared statement (Jun Kwanwoo, Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, April 5).
The U.N. Security Council, yesterday in an emergency session requested by Japan, was not able to decide on any response to the launch, Reuters reported.
Seoul, Tokyo and Washington led a contingent that believes the launch violates a 2006 council resolution that bars North Korea from conducting ballistic missile activities. They argue that the rocket that would carry a satellite could also carry a warhead thousands of missiles, possibly to U.S. territory.
China, Russia and three other nations on the council remained skeptical that the resolution had been violated.
"It's 10 against five," one diplomat said (Herskovitz/Charbonneau, Reuters/Yahoo!News, April 5).
Talks among Security Council members are expected to continue for the next few days, AP reported. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said she is looking for a "clear and strong response" from the body.
North Korea "can't act with impunity," she said on CBS' "The Early Show" (Associated Press III/Yahoo!News, April 6).