The Year in Review 2012: North Korean rocket launch

Dec. 24, 2012 at 4:03 AM
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PYONGYANG, North Korea, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un completed his first year in office in 2012 with a satellite launch using ballistic missile technology, disregarding world opinion and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The Dec. 12 long-range rocket blastoff also was the culmination of year-long acts of North Korean defiance of world opinion despite the sanctions in place since Kim's father Kim Jong Il took his isolated, impoverished country on the nuclear path with two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

After the young but relatively unknown Kim Jong Un came to power following his father's death last December, it was hoped he would be more accommodating to the rest of world and steer the country on the path of development that would help lift his people from destitution and starvation.

None of that, however, appeared under way in 2012 as the new leader, knowing his power derived mostly from the military his father had cultivated, stood firmly by the "military-first policy."

Earlier in 2012, U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korea Marzuki Darusman, commenting on Kim giving military strength the top policy priority, said: "I continue to be concerned with both the human rights and humanitarian situation in the country. Slow economic growth coupled with what is known as a 'military-first policy' will of course be detrimental to the welfare" of North Koreans, 60 percent of whom faced food insecurity and chronic malnutrition.

Human Rights Watch reported as many as 200,000 people remained in North Korean prisons.

A food assistance offer from the United States fell through in April after the North failed to keep its promise to halt nuclear and long range-missile tests.

At the start of 2012, only a month after Kim assumed power, South Korea's Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security had warned the North would likely conduct another nuclear or missile test during the year to help Kim consolidate power as questions remained about his leadership abilities.

The institute said North Korea "could conduct a test explosion of a uranium bomb to maximize the external effect and show off new achievements by Kim Jong Un."

It had been reported at the time the North may have enough enriched uranium for half a dozen nuclear bombs.

In fact, the North's controversial uranium enrichment plant has been a major issue in the Six-Party talks on North Korea's denuclearization. The North has maintained the plant is for peaceful energy development.

It was hoped that under Kim Jong Un, the North would resume the Six-Party talks that have stalled since April 2009 after it announced its decision to pull out and resume its nuclear enrichment program. Despite some hopeful signs, the talks did not resume in 2012. The other countries in the talks are South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States.

During the year, there had also been reports of North Korean exports to some countries of sensitive materials prohibited under U.N. sanctions.

Among other acts that continued to shock the world, North Korea in October claimed it had "strategic rocket forces that could bring the U.S. mainland and other military bases within range." The official Korean Central News Agency, quoting the North Korean Foreign Ministry, said it was natural for the country to bolster its missile capability to strike what was termed the stronghold of U.S. aggression. The statement also accused the United States of being the primary cause of a new missile arms race in northeast Asia.

The October claim came after an announcement by South Korea the United States had agreed to allow Seoul to expand the strike range of its missiles under their 1979 agreement, saying the main objective of the new guidelines was to counter armed provocations from North Korea. The United States had said the missile guidance agreement is defensive in nature.

In the same month, North Korea reportedly test fired a surface-to-ship missile into the Yellow Sea, a day after a presidential security meeting in South Korea.

It was in the background of such North Korean acts that Kim Jong Un ordered the Dec. 12 firing of the long-range rocket for the satellite launch. The launch came despite urgings from several countries, including the United States, Russia, Japan and South Korea, to abandon the plan as a similar test in April had failed.

What angered critics even more this time was that only two days prior to the launch, North Korea had announced extending the launch window by a week until Dec. 29, citing "technical deficiency" in the rocket. That had led some to believe Pyongyang might have realized its folly and was preparing to drop its plan.

But, as reported by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, Kim "gave a final written order" for the launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 rocket and had "keenly observed the whole processes of the launch" from the command center.

Later, applauding the entry of the satellite into orbit, Kim called for more such launches "to develop the country's science, technology and economy."

In a strong statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the launch was "a clear violation" of Security Council resolution 1874 that demanded North Korea not "conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology." He said the "provocative" act was "all the more regrettable because it defies the unified and strong call from the international community."

Separately, the 15-member U.N. Security Council reminded about its determination to take action against North Korea if it made another launch attempt after its April failure.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor termed the "highly provocative" launch another example of North Korea's "pattern of irresponsible behavior" that threatened the already tense region and undermined the global non-proliferation regime.

"North Korea will only truly strengthen itself by abiding by international norms, living up to its commitments and international obligations, and working to feed its citizens, to educate its children, and to win the trust of its neighbors," Vietor said.

There were similar condemnations from across the world.

China, the North's closest ally, expressed regret over the launch, saying as a U.N. member, the North has to abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said the satellite shot was for peaceful and scientific purposes and that those who saw it as a long-range missile launch in "violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions" were prompted by hostility toward the North, KCNA reported.

North Koreans held a rally at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to celebrate the launch with the state television reporting it drew about 150,000 people.

South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik later warned South Korean lawmakers the rocket launch may likely be followed by a nuclear test, the third such since 2006, as "from the analysis of intelligence, significant progress has been made to carry out" for such a test, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

Shortly after the launch, questions arose about whether the satellite was functioning properly in space. The South Korean Defense Ministry said although the object's mission was not known, it had been circling the earth normally. However, a spokesman also said the satellite's success would not be known for some time.

NBC News, on the other hand, quoted U.S. officials the North's satellite appeared to be "tumbling out of control" while orbiting the Earth. The U.S. officials also said the object was some kind of space vehicle, but its precise purpose had not been determined.

CNN, quoting an official, said the United States believes the North Koreans may not have full control of the satellite and experts do not believe North Korea has a nuclear warhead small enough to fly on the kind of long-range missile it used.

Whether or not the satellite's launch is a success, there was, however, recognition the North has made significant advance in ballistic missile technology. A critical question now is whether the North, through its launch, has moved closer to developing ballistic missiles capable of striking targets as far away as mainland United States.

For now, Kim Jong Un can enjoy the present he has given himself to mark the first anniversary of his rise to power but that might prove costly in the long run as his country could face even tougher sanctions further crippling his country's fragile economy. Even China, under its new reform-minded leadership, may be unwilling to help because of its own internal challenges problems.

U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell warned North Korea "is one of the most sanctioned countries on earth and will continue to be so."

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