Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
North Korean Rocket Fizzles Shortly After Liftoff
The U.S. Northern Command and NORAD on Thursday confirmed that North Korea had launched a long-range rocket but said the system failed shortly after liftoff (see GSN, April 12).
The military organizations identified the object as a North Korean Taepodong 2 missile, which they said was under U.S. monitoring during its short flight southward above the Yellow Sea.
The missile's first stage splashed down slightly more than 100 miles west of Seoul, South Korea, according to a press release. "The remaining stages were assessed to have failed and no debris fell on land. At no time were the missile or the resultant debris a threat," the release states (North American Aerospace Defense Command/U.S. Northern Command release, April 12).
Pyongyang ignored repeated calls from various nations to cancel what it claimed was an attempt to place a weather observation satellite into orbit. The United States and a number of North Korea's neighbors viewed the rocket launch as a facade for another illegal long-range ballistic missile test.
The flight lasted barely more than two minutes before the rocket "splintered into two parts, probably due to a blast" and then came apart further, Agence France-Presse quoted the South Korean Defense Ministry as saying (Simon Martin, Agence France-Presse I/Jakarta Globe, April 13).
The breakup of the Unha 3 rocket not long after it left the ground is seen as a great humiliation for the new Kim Jong Un government, which had previously touted the launch as proof of North Korea's technological advancement and had timed it with other national celebrations commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim's grandfather, regime founder Kim Il Sung, the New York Times reported.
The North's official news agency took the unusual step of publicly admitting a state failure when it announced several hours after the launch that the satellite "failed to enter its preset orbit." Specialists were "looking into the cause of the failure," the report said.
Previous attempts to place satellites into space using modified versions of long-range missiles were also unsuccessful but North Korea either celebrated those efforts as successes or did not admit publicly to their failures.
Three previous long-range rocket firings have all been largely failures. Most recently, in 2009, the third stage failed to come off what observers said was a Taepodong 2 missile (Choe/Gladstone, New York Times, April 13).
The U.N. Security Council convened an emergency session on Friday to address the rocket launch, but held off on imposing any immediate penalties, Reuters reported.
"Members of the Security Council deplored this launch, which is in violation of Security Council resolutions," said U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who this month holds the rotating council presidency.
Discussions are expected to continue, according to the report (Nichols/Charbonneau, Reuters I, April 13).
Rice said the powerful U.N. body believes "credible action is important," the Associated Press reported (Associated Press I/CBS News, April 13).
South Korea and Japan favor a strong punishment of the North, which has been under heightened Security Council sanctions since its last nuclear test in spring 2009, AFP reported. However, worries that the mercurial and isolated state could respond to new U.N. punishments with a third atomic blast are expected to temper any council response.
"We have to hold our fire. This was bad, but we have to expect worse to come," an anonymous high-ranking U.N. diplomat said before the council meeting.
South Korean intelligence officials recently said they had detected preparations at North Korea's atomic test site that show a third underground nuclear explosion could be in the works (see related GSN story, today; Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, April 12).
U.N. Secretary General characterized the North Korean rocket firing as "deplorable," AFP reported (Martin, Agence France-Presse).
The Obama administration also condemned the attempt as illegal and dangerous troublemaking that would leave North Korea even more cut off from the world, Reuters reported.
"Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea's provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in released remarks.
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