North Korea’s Rocket Plan

Elizabeth Field

The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit is underway in Seoul, North Koreas where leaders around the world have joined together to determine the best plans to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists and to lock down the world’s supply of nuclear material by 2014. However, North Korea’s recent announcement to send a satellite into space has overshadowed the original summit conversation, leading to speculation that North Korea is developing a nuclear program.

North Korea announced on the March 26 that it plans to send a satellite into space abroad a long-range missile in honor of revered leader, Kim Il-Sung’s birthday, a launch that the Obama administration views as a cover for nuclear missile development. President Obama has urged North Korean leaders to abandon this plan or risk jeopardizing a recent United States pledge of food aid in return for a disarmament pledge made last month, considered to be a breakthrough between U.S.-North Korean relations.

Many speculate that this announcement was strategically made during the summit to garner media attention. AP reports that, “Impoverished North Korea has a history of angling for food, oil, and other concessions in exchange for disarmament pledges in on-again, off-again talks, and it periodically launches aggressive, attention grabbing moves to ensure those negotiations stay high on the international agenda.”

This announcement also takes the spotlight away from pressing issues concerning nuclear relations between the United States and Iran, diplomacy meant to halt Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. However, President Obama made it clear that he is stressing the Iran issue with Russian and Chinese leaders in one-on-one talks. The President added, “Iran’s leaders must understand that there is no escaping the choice before it. Iran must act with the seriousness and sense of urgency that this moment demands.”

Satellite images taken just this week have shown that missiles in Korea are in place for a launch and could be ready as early as next week. The images were taken by a private satellite and analyzed at the US-Korea Institute at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies where scholars say that the image shows trucks and fuel tanks outside two large buildings that could house propellant for the launch. It also shows a gantry tower under construction next to a mobile launch pad, the rocket is not yet visible.

“The image shows not only that the launch is going ahead but the preparations seem to be on schedule for the planned launch dates,” said Joel Wit, visiting fellow at the institute and editor of its website on North Korea, “38 North.”

North Korean officials insist that the operation is for peaceful purposes, but the United States, Japan, and South Korea see the launch is a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test and will do everything in their power to ensure the launch does not occur. The United States has halted its food aid program, and Japan and South Korea have pledged to shoot down the missile.