Putting the Squeeze on North Korea
by Gregory Elich
Tensions are escalating since North Korea’s launch of a satellite into orbit on December 12, 2012. Overwrought news reports termed the launch a “threat” and a “provocation,” while U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor called it “irresponsible behavior.” Punishment for North Korea was swift in coming.
North Korea’s Kwangmyongsong-3 was just one of 75 satellites that a variety of nations sent into space last year, but Pyongyang’s launch, and a failed launch earlier in the year on April 12, were the only ones singled out for condemnation.  In Western eyes, there was something uniquely threatening about the Kwangmyongsong-3 earth observation satellite, unlike the apparently more benign five military and three spy satellites the United States launched last year.
We are told that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, the official name for North Korea) used the satellite launch to test ballistic missile technology. But the North Koreans could hardly have sent their satellite into orbit by slingshot. The Kwangmyongsong-3 was equipped with a camera intended to help assess the nation’s natural resources and forest distribution and to collect crop estimates. The Western press was quick to scoff at the satellite as having no rational economic purpose. Although the satellite failed to become operable, a common enough experience for nations putting their first satellite into space, the intent was to support much-needed ecological recovery in North Korea and to aid agricultural planning.
Specialists argue that the DPRK’s Unha-3 missile, used for the launch, is not a suitable candidate for delivering a nuclear warhead. According to analyst Markus Schiller of Schmucker Technologie in Germany, for North Korea to “become a player in the ICBM game, they would have to develop a different kind of missile, with higher performance. And if they do that seriously, we would have to see flight tests every other month, over several years.”  The North Korean missile “was developed as a satellite launcher and not as a weapon,” Schiller says. “The technology was suited only for satellite launch.” Brian Weedan, a space expert at the Secure World Foundation, agrees, and points out that the missile took a sharp turn to avoid flying over Taiwan and the Philippines. “That is definitely something more associated with a space launch than with a ballistic missile launch. It’s not what you would expect to see with a missile test.” 
The Unha-3 is simply too small for the job of delivering a nuclear warhead, even assuming that the DPRK had miniaturized a nuclear bomb, an endeavor requiring significant time and effort. The North Koreans would also need to develop a long-range guidance system and a reentry vehicle capable of withstanding the heat of returning through the atmosphere. Experts consider the DPRK to be years away from achieving such steps. 
In regard to North Korea’s satellite launches, Lewis Franklin and Nick Hansen of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation remark, “The oft-repeated phrase ‘readily convertible to an ICBM’ posed by non-technical policy experts is engineering-wise unsupportable.” They explain that while other nations have utilized ICBMs for sending satellites into space, conversion of a light missile like the Uhha-3 into an ICBM “requires considerable redesign and testing, and no country has taken this route.” 
The other aspect of the launch that the U.S found so provocative was its violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1874 of June 12, 2009, which enjoined the DPRK from conducting “any launch using ballistic missile technology.” That resolution was prompted by a North Korean nuclear test. Yet, when Israel, Pakistan and India – all non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – not only performed testing, but proceeded to build substantial nuclear arsenals and missiles capable of delivering nuclear payloads, no action was forthcoming. This double standard has not gone unnoticed in the DPRK, which understands that the distinction between the North Korean case and that of Israel, Pakistan and India hinges on the latter three nations being U.S. allies, while for decades it has been the target of Western sanctions, threats and pressure.
Interestingly enough, India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapon-capable ballistic missiles at around the time of North Korea’s failed satellite launch on April 12, 2012.  The Indian and Pakistani missiles did not carry satellites; these were purely military tests, a fact which did not perturb the Obama Administration. Criticism was reserved for North Korea alone, while in regard to India’s test, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner merely noted that the U.S. has a “very strong strategic and security partnership with India.”  Following Pakistan’s launch, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland’s only comment was, “What’s most important is that they do seem to have taken steps to inform the Indians.”  These mild remarks contrasted with the vociferous abuse poured upon North Korea for its non-nuclear capable missiles carrying satellites.
Since the April ballistic missile launches, India and Pakistan have continued their tests, including India’s test of a nuclear-capable ballistic missile fired from underwater, part of its program to develop submarine-based nuclear missiles.  India conducted its underwater ballistic missile test on January 27, only a few days after the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea for putting a satellite into orbit.
When North Korea launched its satellite, India condemned the launch as “unwarranted,” and termed it an action adversely impacting peace and stability.  That same day, India test fired its nuclear-capable Agni-I ballistic missile, again without complaint by the U.S.  And just days after passage of the UN Security Council resolution against the DPRK, Japan put two spy satellites into space, both aimed at North Korea.  Not surprisingly, these missile launches evoked no complaint from U.S. officials.
South Korea successfully placed its own satellite into orbit on January 30, 2013, with the complete support of the U.S., which only added to North Korea’s growing sense of irritation over the blatant double standard. The hypocrisy is quite breathtaking. The U.S. sits atop the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, possesses the largest military machine on earth, regularly invades or bombs other nations, threatens nations who refuse to bend to its will, turns a blind eye to tests of ballistic missiles by India, Pakistan and Israel, and it condemns the small nation of North Korea for engaging in “provocative” behavior by sending a peaceful satellite into space.
The DPRK bears the distinction of being the only nation to have a UN Security Council resolution in effect banning it from launching a satellite. Yet, the international outer space treaty affirms that outer space “shall be the province of all mankind,” and that “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind.”  Note the language used here: “without discrimination of any kind.” This is absolutely unambiguous. The treaty does not say “except when the powerful choose to deny this right to a small nation.”
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