Both North and South Korea are making significant strides in space development. While Seoul is preparing to launch its first homegrown military reconnaissance satellite from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base, Pyongyang has plans for a third attempt to launch its own satellite into orbit. The success of these satellite programs has broader implications for the geopolitical landscape, with both Russia and the U.S. invested in the respective successes of North and South Korea.
The development of spy satellites by these rivaling countries could impact the widening divide between the U.S., South Korea, and Japan, and China, North Korea, and Russia. It may lead to a potential proxy tech war, according to experts. The modernization of defense and military systems on both sides necessitates responses from the U.S., South Korea, and Japan, countering alliances between Russia, China, and North Korea.
Compared to Japan, China, and Russia, the Korean space programs have less experience. However, South Korea has made progress, becoming the 10th nation to deploy a satellite in space using domestically-developed technology last year and launching a commercial-grade satellite in April. Nevertheless, South Korea does not have its own military reconnaissance satellites and relies on data from U.S. spy satellites to monitor North Korea.
Intelligence gathered from U.S. spy satellites primarily focuses on North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities, while South Korea seeks data that directly affects their close-range geographical proximity. South Korean satellite data could also be valuable to the U.S. in monitoring the North Korea-Russia alliance, which poses a perceived threat to regional security.
North Korea’s space program is shrouded in opacity, making it difficult to assess its true capabilities. It has launched low-Earth observation satellites in the past, but it remains uncertain whether they effectively transmit data. Recent attempts to launch spy satellites have been unsuccessful. The delay in North Korea’s progress may be attributed to incorporating Russian technological contributions, as promised by Russian President Vladimir Putin in September.
Experts suggest that North Korea’s desire for a military presence in space is primarily aimed at boosting local morale and countering the perceived threat of the U.S.-South Korean alliance. North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un aims to enhance the country’s defense arsenal and gain political support from China and Russia. Moscow’s participation in Pyongyang’s satellite program allows for a greater security presence in Northeast Asia.
In conclusion, the race between North and South Korea to launch spy satellites not only affects the Korean peninsula but also has broader implications for the geopolitical division between major powers in the region.