North Korea has made an apparent third attempt to place a military spy satellite into orbit, according to South Korea’s military. The launch is seen as a demonstration of North Korea’s determination to build a space-based surveillance system during heightened tensions with the United States. While it is not immediately known whether the launch was successful, it is certain to invite strong condemnation from the United States and its partners, as the UN bans North Korea from conducting satellite launches.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff detected the launch of what North Korea described as a military spy satellite from North Korea’s main space center on Tuesday night. Japan also confirmed that it spotted the launch. According to assessments from South Korea and Japan, the rocket carrying the satellite flew above international waters off the Korean Peninsula’s west coast, over the Japanese island of Okinawa, and towards the Pacific Ocean.
Both Japanese and South Korean officials criticized the launch, stating that it violated United Nations Security Council resolutions and posed a serious threat to the safety of the people. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been seeking to modernize his weapons systems to cope with what he perceives as escalating U.S. threats. This includes the development of a spy satellite, which is among the key military assets desired by North Korea.
This launch marks North Korea’s third attempt to place a satellite into orbit this year. Previous launches in May and August ended in failure due to technical issues. North Korea had initially planned a third launch in October but delayed it, likely to receive technological assistance from Russia. North Korea and Russia have been pushing to strengthen their relationship, with speculation of a weapons deal between the two nations.
The launch of a spy satellite by North Korea would signify a higher level of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capabilities, according to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. This further fuels concerns regarding North Korea’s evolving nuclear program. South Korea’s military has suggested the suspension of an inter-Korean agreement to reduce tensions if North Korea proceeds with the launch. The United States, South Korea, and Japan have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, while Russia and China have stalled any response from the United Nations Security Council.