Wednesday, December 12, 2012

So North Korea launched a rocket today.

Predictably, the North Koreans are pretty jazzed about this as they’ve tried unsuccessfully 4 times since 1998. Apparently sending a satellite into orbit is a rather tricky business – it is actual rocket science. Even on Monday there were concerns that the launch would have to be delayed another week or two due to technical problems. However, the scientists prevailed and sent the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite into orbit.

The Kwangmyongsong-3 is an Unha-3, a three-stage “carrier rocket” with a range of about 10,000 kilometers. This website displays all the interesting places located within 10,000 km from Pyongyang, for those curious. North Korea denies any militant intentions, claiming it to be just a satellite launch. They hope that the satellite will send images of crop conditions around the country as well as weather patterns. The rest of the world remains skeptical. The U.S., South Korea and Japan have all deployed naval destroyers with interception capabilities to the Korean Peninsula, just in case.

The same mechanism used to launch a satellite into orbit could easily be used to send a nuclear warhead-tipped long-range missile. North Korea has tested nuclear devices twice since 2006 and is very likely to be attempting to miniaturize warheads in order to mount them on these long-range missiles.

In response to today’s events, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. will most likely seek harsher sanctions from the U.N. Security Council. The current sanctions have placed a ban on buying or selling materials used in missile or nuclear development and have frozen the assets of individuals and organizations involved in this work. Japan has gone further, banning North Koreans from entering the country and cutting off bilateral trade.

For the record, the Security Council has condemned the launch and has said that it will consider “an appropriate response.”

So, what is an appropriate response to such an event? Is this a breach of U.N. sanctions if the satellite is indeed just for taking plant and cloud pictures? Can sanctions effectively halt further progress? Should the U.S. follow Japan’s lead and impose further restrictions?

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