South Korea’s military has issued a warning to North Korea, urging them to abandon their plans to launch a spy satellite. In response to the potential launch, Seoul has threatened to suspend an inter-Korean agreement to reduce tensions and resume front-line aerial surveillance. North Korea previously attempted to put a military spy satellite into orbit twice this year but was unsuccessful. However, South Korean officials believe that a launch could happen in the coming days, with the assistance of Russian technology.
The United Nations Security Council already prohibits satellite launches by North Korea due to concerns that they are disguised missile technology tests. South Korea’s military officer, Kang Hopil, emphasized that while North Korea seeks to improve its monitoring capabilities, the satellite launch is also aimed at advancing its long-range missile program. Foreign governments and experts speculate that North Korea is seeking Russian technologies to enhance its military capabilities in exchange for supplying conventional arms to support Russia’s war in Ukraine.
South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik confirmed that the launch is expected to take place later this month. The international community is closely monitoring North Korea’s movements, but both Russia and North Korea have dismissed allegations of an arms transfer deal. Nevertheless, their mutual interest in expanding cooperation has become more apparent in recent months.
If North Korea goes forward with a third launch, South Korea has not explicitly stated the retaliatory actions it will take. However, the country is strongly considering a resumption of aerial surveillance activities and live-fire drills at border areas, which would violate the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement on easing front-line tensions. South Korea asserts that North Korea has already violated this agreement multiple times, pointing to incidents like the destruction of a liaison office and the flying of drones into South Korea.
While the 2018 agreement aimed to prevent accidental clashes, opponents argued that it weakened the South’s war readiness since North Korea’s nuclear capability remained intact. Relations between the two countries deteriorated following the breakdown of nuclear diplomacy between former US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2019. Subsequently, North Korea has focused on expanding its nuclear arsenal, leading South Korea’s current president, Yoon Suk Yeol, to increase military drills with the United States.
Liberal rivals of President Yoon fear that suspending the 2018 agreement will provide North Korea with an excuse to launch further provocations. Just last week, North Korea announced the successful testing of solid-fuel engines for a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, highlighting their continued efforts to develop a larger arsenal of mobile and harder-to-detect missiles targeting the US and its allies.