The South Korean military has warned of suspicious activity by North Korea. “North Korea has launched what it claims to be a military surveillance satellite towards the South,” said South Korean joint chiefs of staff. This is Pyonyang’s third attempt, following failed attempts to put a military satellite into orbit in May and August last year.
Japan and South Korea Condemn the Launch
Minutes after the launch, Japan reacted strongly. “We have already lodged a strong protest against North Korea, and we have condemned (this launch) in the strongest terms,” said Fumio Kishida from his office in Tokyo. Tokyo even urged residents of Okinawa to take shelter as a precaution against a crash or explosion near the coast. “This is an important situation that affects the security of the Japanese people. We will continue to gather information and remain vigilant,” he added.
The Danger Zones
In August, North Korea designated three maritime areas that could be affected by the planned launch: two in the Yellow Sea to the west of the Korean Peninsula, and a third in the waters east of the Philippines. “The danger zones mentioned by North Korea this time are the same as those announced during their satellite launch project in August,” commented a South Korean official cited by the Yonhap news agency.
Violation of UN Resolutions
“There were already reports of damage. Even if they call it a satellite, launching an object using ballistic missile technology is clearly a violation of United Nations resolutions,” emphasized the Prime Minister. Before the missile launch, the Japanese Prime Minister had stated that any use of ballistic missile technology would constitute a violation of UN resolutions. He also mentioned that Japan was coordinating its response with South Korea and the United States, its partners in a trilateral defense agreement.
Risk of Escalation
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol could potentially suspend the September 19 military agreement, according to Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. This agreement, concluded in 2018 during a summit in Pyongyang, aimed to reduce military tensions along the highly fortified inter-Korean border by creating maritime “buffer zones.” However, the South Korean response could go even further. The possibility of medium or long-range solid-fuel ballistic missile tests by Seoul is not excluded either, added Yang Moo-jin.
Concerns over North Korea-Russia Relations
The recent rapprochement between North Korea and Russia has also raised concerns for the United States and its South Korean and Japanese allies. According to Seoul, Pyongyang is providing weapons to Moscow in exchange for Russian space technology to launch a military spy satellite. In early November, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced the “growing and dangerous” military ties between Pyongyang and Moscow following a visit to South Korea.
Joint Defense Efforts
In response to growing threats from Pyongyang, Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo have strengthened their defense cooperation. In October, a B-52 bomber capable of carrying atomic bombs conducted a rare mission in South Korea, less than a week after the visit of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to a South Korean port. On Tuesday, a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, arrived at the naval base in Busan, South Korea, to enhance the “position of allies in response to nuclear and missile threats from North Korea,” as part of a recent agreement to improve the “regular visibility of US strategic assets,” emphasized the South Korean Navy.