North Korea launches controversy
Ellie Smith | Asst. News Editor
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) launched a satellite into space early Sunday morning from the city of Pyongyang, according to news reports. This launch generated a response across the world, as many countries viewed it as a threat to security.
The United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the launch, and quickly worked on a response to these dangerous and serious violations, according to the U.N. News Centre.
While the DPRK claims the launch was simply for an earth observation satellite, named Kwangmyongsong-4, officials see it as a test launch for ballistic missiles, CNN reported.
According to the Associated Press, this launch comes a month after the country’s fourth nuclear test, making international allies and enemies nervous about the DPRK’s nuclear capabilities.
On Monday the satellite appeared to be in orbit but not functioning, according to United States defense officials.
The first pieces of debris from the launch were recovered Tuesday, and were being analyzed by South Korean officials, CNN reported. The recovered pieces show that the rocket had a self-destruct device and exploded into many pieces. South Korean officials reported that the pieces did not indicate that they came from the satellite.
International Relations Professor Randy Willoughby elaborated on some of the immediate consequences of the launch.
“One of the most immediate consequences will be that South Korea will step up collaboration with the U.S. on missile defenses even though the Chinese will not be happy with such a deployment,” Willoughby said. “Until recently, the South Koreans were more concerned with Seoul being within range of North Korea artillery. But now that North Korea has both advanced its nuclear weapon state of the art and advanced its understanding of missiles, we have a game changer.”
According to Willoughby, another area of interest lies with Japan, and their response to the launch.
“The Japanese have already stepped up their missile defense capabilities, indeed advanced patriot systems we deployed in Tokyo over the weekend, an evolution going all the way back to the first unpleasant long range missile surprise of the North Koreans back in 1998, their taepo dong launch,” Willoughby said. “Even though it was a semi-failure, it was still a shocker given the bankruptcy of their political system and the fact that it flew at all. The Japanese of course are less worried about annoying the Chinese, even though they do have an important economic relationship with China, because their relationship has been tense for the past several years.”
Willoughby mentioned that other Asian countries, including South Korea, may be tempted to acquire nuclear weapons if North Korea continues down this path.
“Much more importantly, but more gradually, South Korea and Japan are going to be increasingly tempted to get nuclear weapons of their own,” Willoughby said. “Japan already has the technological capability to move quickly into a capability, and depending on your technical opinion about the suitability of the plutonium in the spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors, they have the material for hundreds if not thousands of weapons, so they can breakout and breakdance with atomic groove.”
South Korean nuclear development would be different from Japanese, but according to Willoughby it is a realistic next step for the country.
“A South Korean development would be equally controversial domestically and of course would also make us policymakers go almost as ballistic as the North Korean rocket, but it would require more time and technology,” Willoughby said. “Still, South Korea has significant technological expertise and sophistication so it is really just a matter of political will and time.”
For University of San Diego students, the threat of a North Korean nuclear attack is about as likely as any other terrorist attack or act of violence.
“I wouldn’t recommend spring break in Pyongyang [the launch city], although I wouldn’t avoid going to Seoul or Tokyo for BBQ or cherry blossoms just like I wouldn’t pass up a trip to Paris after November 13 attacks,” Willoughby said.
Despite the lighthearted Spring Break recommendations, Willoughby believes that North Korea should be thought of as a real threat to national security.
“North Korean leadership has cultivated a reputation for irrationality, and they deserve it,” Willoughby said. “The only good news is that they do have an address, something Al Qaeda didn’t have until we found a mailbox in Abbottabad.”
While many questions are still circulating around the launch and what actions the U.N will take, the USD community does not seem threatened by North Korea.