Press Contacts: Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow and Director of Realistic Threats and Responses Project (202) 463-8270 x103 or Peter Crail, Research Analyst, (202) 463-8270 x102.
(Washington, D.C.): Experts from the independent, nonpartisan Arms Control Association (ACA) declared that North Korea's launch of what is believed to be its long-range Taepo Dong-2 rocket satellite carrier today was a "confrontational move that undermines stability in the region and makes progress in the six-party talks on that country's denuclearization more difficult to achieve."
According to early reports and government statements, the North Korean rocket followed a trajectory consistent with that of a satellite launch.
Declaring the launch to be a violation of UN Security Council resolution, the United States and its allies intend to pursue action in the council during an emergency session today.
Two ACA analysts urged the U.S. government, the other members of the Security Council, as well as Seoul, to remain focused on the goal of Resolution 1718, which is a North Korea without nuclear weapons, rather than taking steps that would likely lead hardliners in Pyongyang to suspend or reverse progress in the six-party talks altogether.
ACA Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann observes that: "However threatening a launch, which advances development of potential delivery vehicles for nuclear warheads, it pales in comparison with the threat posed by the retention and expansion of North Korean abilities to produce fissile material for those warheads."
North Korea first flight-tested its Taepo Dong-2 missile in July 2006. At that time, Pyongyang characterized the failed Taepo Dong-2 test as "as part of the routine military training for self-defense," rather than as a satellite launch.
"Unlike the 2006 ballistic missile test, North Korea's satellite launch permits it to test some, but not all of the performance required by a military system. For example, the 2009 test provides no information on whether North Korea has successfully designed the front end of a long-range military missile, which must withstand the severe stress of reentry through the atmosphere-not a trivial technological challenge," Thielmann noted.
The United States, Japan, and South Korea have argued that the rocket launch violates Resolution 1718, which the council adopted in 2006 in response to North Korea's nuclear test. That resolution prohibited Pyongyang from carrying out "any ballistic missile-related activities." China and Russia do not appear to consider a satellite launch to be in violation of Resolution 1718.
"Ultimately, the determination of whether the launch violates Resolution 1718 is a political decision by members of the council rather than a legal one," said ACA nonproliferation analyst Peter Crail.
"What is clear is that North Korea's provocative behavior ignored calls by the international community not to launch the rocket and violates the spirit of both the resolution and the six-party talks. The council should make this point in a firm but constructive manner that does not jeopardize any potential future progress in dealing with the real threat from North Korea's stockpile of nuclear weapons material," Crail added.
In addition to prohibiting North Korea from carrying out any further ballistic missile activities, Resolution 1718 also forbade North Korea from conducting additional nuclear tests, and required its denuclearization and return to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The resolution imposed a series of sanctions on Pyongyang, which will remain in effect until North Korea complies with the resolution.
"North Korea has been in violation of Resolution 1718 since the day it was passed, and its sanctions provisions have atrophied over the last couple of years. Only 73 countries have submitted reports to a UN sanctions committee responsible for monitoring the sanctions, and few states have taken meaningful measures to implement them," Crail said.
"Rather than explore new sanctions, which are likely to be counter-productive, the council should find ways to reaffirm and reinvigorate the role of the Resolution 1718 sanctions committee as an existing mechanism that can help prevent the most harmful materials from getting in or out of North Korea," Crail argued.