North Korea has made an apparent third attempt to place a military spy satellite into orbit. It is the latest demonstration of North Korea’s determination to build a space-based surveillance system amid tensions with the United States. The launch is certain to invite strong condemnation from the US and its partners, as the UN bans North Korea from conducting satellite launches, considering them covers for missile technology tests.
Japan issued a J-Alert missile warning for Okinawa, stating that North Korea fired a possible missile. The Japanese Prime Minister’s Office urged residents to take shelter inside buildings or underground, but later announced that the missile had passed into the Pacific Ocean and lifted the earlier advisory. The office advised residents to stay away from suspicious objects and to report anything to the authorities.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un covets a spy satellite as a key military asset. He aims to modernize weapons systems to cope with perceived US threats. North Korea attempted two satellite launches earlier this year, but both failed due to technical issues. A third launch was expected in October but did not materialize. South Korean officials speculate that the delay may be due to North Korea receiving Russian technological assistance for its launch program.
In September, Kim traveled to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin and visit military sites, raising speculation of a weapons deal between the two nations. Foreign governments and experts suggest that North Korea seeks Russian help in enhancing its military programs in exchange for supplying conventional arms to refill Russia’s ammunition stock. The alleged deal, however, would violate UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting weapons trading involving North Korea.
North Korea’s desire for spy satellites is driven by the need to monitor South Korean and US activities and enhance the effective use of its nuclear missiles. If successful, the launch of a military reconnaissance satellite would signify an advancement in North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities. South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol has stated that reinforcements in countermeasures will be necessary in such a scenario.