Defying international warnings and UN resolutions, North Korea launched a long-range rocket early on Sunday morning. This is second such violation by North Korea following a hydrogen bomb test last month. Though, Pyongyang insisted its space programme is purely scientific, most of the world views its rocket launches as disguised ballistic missile tests aimed at developing a weapons delivery system capable of striking the US mainland.
North Korean rocket and nuclear tests are seen as crucial steps toward its ultimate goal of a nuclear armed long-range missile arsenal. It says its nuclear and missile programs are necessary to defend itself against what it calls decades of US hostility.
The launch, which was confirmed by the South Korean officials, has drawn strong denouncement from United States, Japan and UN. China too “expressed regret” over North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket, after Pyongyang said it successfully put a satellite into orbit.
North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un has overseen two of its four nuclear tests and three long-range rocket tests since taking over after the death of his father, dictator Kim Jong Il, in late 2011. Earlier, the January 6 nuclear test has led to another push in the UN to tighten sanctions.
It is yet to be confirmed if the satellite-bearing rocket launched early Sunday had successfully achieved orbit though an unconfirmed report from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency suggested the second stage may have malfunctioned.
The rocket, carrying an Earth observation satellite, took off at around 9:00 am Pyongyang time, according to the South Korean defence ministry which was monitoring the launch site. Its pre-orbital flight arc was planned to traverse the Yellow Sea and further south to the Philippine Sea, with both South Korea and Japan threatening to shoot it down if it encroached on their territory.
Soon after the reports of the launch, United States condemned it calling the launch “destabilising” and provocative, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed it as “absolutely intolerable.”
In New York, diplomats said the UN Security Council would meet in emergency session later today. South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said the Council should respond quickly with “strong punitive measures” against what she called a grave challenge to global peace and security.
“It is deeply deplorable that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has conducted a launch using ballistic missile technology in violation of relevant Security Council resolutions despite the united plea of the international community against such an act,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
Multiple UN Security Council resolutions proscribe North Korea’s development of its ballistic missile programme.
Despite Pyongyang’s insistence on a peaceful space mission, its rockets are considered dual-use technology with both civil and military applications. In 2013, North Korea had conducted a nuclear test unnerving the international community.
The Korean border is the world’s most heavily armed and the rivals’ navies occasionally trade gunfire near a disputed boundary in the Yellow Sea. North Korea has spent decades trying to develop operational nuclear weapons.
(With inputs from the Agencies)