Late last month, North Korea announced it was getting ready to launch a satellite into space. If the news had been coming from anywhere other than the isolated Communist regime, that might have been the end of it. But while North Korea is calling it a “satellite launch,” U.S. and Japanese officials say it’s likely a long-range missile test—and they’re prepared to shoot it down.
The U.S. and Japan say the Kwangmyongsong-2, which North Korea describes as an “experimental communication satellite,” isn’t the problem; it’s the rocket that will carry it into orbit that’s raising issues. They fear the launch is actually a covert test of North Korea’s Taphodon-2 missile, the most advanced weapon in the country’s arsenal. The missile has the capacity to travel an estimated 6,700 km, allowing it to strike military bases in Japan, Guam and even Alaska.
The announcement comes at a critical time, when the North Korean regime has been straining relations with South Korea. North Korean generals met with the U.S.-led UN military command in South Korea earlier this month for the first time in seven years to protest joint military exercises. According to local news reports, North Korean officials warned that holding such exercises “at a moment when the situation on the Korean peninsula is already tense would only raise more tension.” Pyongyang also recently cut off talks with Seoul and has threatened to annihilate South Korea unless it opens the border to allow aid to flow north.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, the launch won’t take place until late March or early April. In the meantime, Japan’s prime minister, Taro Aso, says he plans to take the issue to the UN’s Security Council. Any rocket launch by North Korea, even one carrying a satellite for civilian use, he warned, would lead to immediate sanctions.