Military Threat Hidden in ‘Satellite’ Launch

North Korea has notified Japan that it will launch a “satellite.” It is possible that it will be a military reconnaissance satellite. The international community must unite to urge Pyongyang to call off this outrageous act that heightens the threat to Japan, the United States and South Korea.

North Korea has said that the launch will take place between Wednesday and June 11. It identified three areas as dangerous waters where ship navigation could be affected: two on the west side of the Korean Peninsula and one on the east side of Luzon Island in the Philippines.

The Japanese government has issued a ballistic missile destruction order to the Self-Defense Forces over fears that debris and other objects could come down in Japanese territory, including the Nansei Islands that span Kyushu and Okinawa Prefecture.

SDF units in charge of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missiles on the ground and Aegis destroyers equipped with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor missiles will respond to the situation. It is essential to strengthen vigilance and surveillance and take all possible measures to prepare for unforeseen circumstances.

The Outer Space Treaty, which went into effect in 1967, grants all nations the right of space development. However, North Korea is prohibited by a U.N. Security Council resolution from any launches that use ballistic missile technology.

The technology used in rockets to launch satellites and ballistic missiles is essentially the same. Even if Pyongyang were to launch a satellite using a rocket, daring to do so would be a violation of international law.

The Security Council must quickly adopt a resolution that demands North Korea cancel the launch and warns of tougher sanctions if the country presses ahead with its plan. Japan, a nonpermanent member of the council, must lead these discussions along with the United States. China and Russia must not hinder the resolution’s adoption.

The satellite mentioned by North Korea is believed to be a military reconnaissance satellite that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, ordered to be ready for launching in April.

North Korea has in the past launched ballistic missiles under the guise of “satellite launches,” but no operational satellite has ever been confirmed. However, given the acceleration of North Korea’s missile development in recent years, it is not surprising that the country has acquired reconnaissance satellite technology.

The five-year national defense plan announced by North Korea in 2021 also includes the practical use of military reconnaissance satellites. Once such a satellite becomes operational, the movements of the U.S. and South Korean militaries and the Self-Defense Forces will be monitored.

The technology used to separate satellites from rockets can also be applied to detach warheads from intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Kim may be hoping to enhance his country’s “deterrence” against the United States through satellite launches.

Japan, the United States and South Korea need to further strengthen security cooperation to deal with the growing peril. North Korea refers to such moves as an “imminent threat,” but Pyongyang should recognize that it is North Korea itself that is raising tensions in the region.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 30, 2023)