The South Korean army has warned North Korea not to proceed with its planned satellite launch, suggesting that Seoul could retaliate by suspending an inter-Korean peace agreement and resuming frontline aerial surveillance. North Korea has failed in its two previous attempts to orbit a military spy satellite earlier this year, and has not fulfilled its commitment to make a third attempt in October. South Korean officials have said that this delay is likely due to North Korea receiving technological assistance from Russia and that the North may proceed with a launch in the coming days.
South Korean military officer Kang Hopil has urged North Korea to cancel its third launch attempt immediately. He stated that “our military will take necessary measures to protect the lives and safety of the population if North Korea proceeds with the launch of a military spy satellite despite our warning.” South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik also confirmed that the launch is scheduled for later this month and that South Korean and American authorities are monitoring North Korea’s movements.
The United Nations Security Council prohibits any satellite launch by North Korea, as it considers it a disguised test of its missile technology. Kang stated that while North Korea may need a spy satellite to improve its surveillance of South Korea, the launch also aims to enhance its long-range missile program.
South Korea has accused North Korea of receiving Russian technology to strengthen its nuclear capabilities and other military capacities in exchange for the supply of conventional weapons to support the Russian war in Ukraine. Both Moscow and Pyongyang have rejected the alleged arms transfer agreement, but the two countries, facing separate and prolonged security tensions with the United States, have openly sought to expand bilateral cooperation.
In September, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited Russia and met with President Vladimir Putin at the Russian national launch center. When asked by Russian state media if his country would help North Korea build satellites, Putin responded, “That’s why we’re here. The leader (of North Korea) shows keen interest in rocket technology.”
Kang did not specify what retaliatory measures South Korea might take if North Korea carried out a third launch. However, he strongly hinted that these measures could include suspending the inter-Korean military agreements of 2018, which would require both Koreas to halt their aerial surveillance activities and live-fire drills along their tense border.
Kang stated that North Korea had already violated the 2018 agreement multiple times. He mentioned the North’s destruction of an unoccupied inter-Korean liaison office in North Korea, the launching of drones into South Korean territory, and the conducting of live-fire exercises along the maritime border.
Despite North Korea’s repeated violations of the agreement, Kang stated that South Korea’s military had patiently adhered to the clauses of the agreement, but this has caused significant problems in the preparation of their army.
The agreement, reached during a brief rapprochement between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, created buffer zones along the land and maritime borders, as well as no-fly zones above the border to avoid accidental clashes.
Relations between the rivals have since strained after the failure of extended nuclear diplomacy between Kim and former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2019. Since then, North Korea has focused on expanding its nuclear arsenal, prompting current conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to increase military exercises with the United States.