North Korea has informed Japan of its intention to launch a military spy satellite in the coming days. The notice stated that the satellite will be launched between Wednesday and November 30th. Japan’s coast guard has revealed that North Korea identified three potential maritime zones where debris from the rocket carrying the satellite may fall. The areas identified are the same as those used in North Korea’s failed satellite launches earlier this year. This implies that any third attempt to launch the satellite would follow a similar flight path.
The launch notification comes after South Korea warned North Korea about the consequences of going ahead with the launch. South Korea’s military suggested that they would suspend a 2018 inter-Korean agreement to reduce tensions and resume front-line aerial surveillance and live-firing drills in response to a North Korean satellite launch. According to the United Nations Security Council resolutions, any satellite launches by North Korea are seen as a cover for testing its missile technology, which is banned.
North Korea claims that it needs a space-based surveillance system to better monitor its rivals. However, South Korea argues that the North’s launches are also designed to enhance its long-range missile program. It is estimated that North Korea has conducted around 100 missile tests in the past year, as part of its efforts to modernize its arsenal of nuclear-capable weapons targeting the United States and its allies.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has requested that officials coordinate with other countries to ask North Korea to cancel its launch. He has also activated Japanese destroyers carrying Aegis-class radars and PAC-3 missile defense systems in case of any unexpected developments. Senior officials from Japan, South Korea, and the United States have affirmed their cooperation in strongly requesting North Korea to cancel its launch plan.
The previous two attempts to launch a satellite have failed, with the North Korean rocket plunging into the ocean on both occasions. South Korea has retrieved debris from the first launch and determined that the satellite was not advanced enough for military reconnaissance. However, some civilian experts believe that the satellite has the capability to detect large targets like warships and could be militarily useful for North Korea.
Given that North Korea is under existing UN sanctions for its past weapons tests and rocket launches, its recent testing activities and two spy satellite launches did not result in additional sanctions. This was due to opposition from Russia and China, who blocked attempts by the United States and others to strengthen the sanctions against North Korea. In response to North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, South Korea and the United States have been increasing their military exercises and temporary deployments of strategic assets in South Korea.