Associated Press
South Korean protesters, with signs reading "Kim Jong Il out," scuffle with police officers
during a rally against North Korea's missiles near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea,
Sunday, April 5, 2009.

What Does North Korea's Rocket Test Mean for International Relations?

April 05, 2009 12:47 PM
by Rachel Balik
Several countries say North Korea violated a UN resolution with this weekend’s launch of a rocket. While tensions will increase, further sanctions are unlikely.

Launch Puts Japan on High Alert

France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy declared that "This is a regime that has placed itself outside international law," after North Korea launched a long-range rocket into orbit, Reuters reports. The launch of the rocket tests North Korea’s ability to fire a ballistic missile, analysts say. However, a Security Council sanction from 2006 has banned North Korea from such tests. While the United States, Japan and France are angered, China and Russia have urged “calm and restraint” Reuters says.
The missile was launched at approximately 11:30 a.m. local time Sunday. Japan went on high alert in the event of falling debris, though the rocket landed in the water and no one was harmed, Voice of America reports. North Korea continues to claim that the launch was part of a peaceful satellite test, but the Japanese government says regardless of whether it was a satellite or missile test, it still violates Security Council sanctions.

Reaction: Emergency meeting may yield limited action

President Barack Obama had warned the North Korean government not to fire the missile, and Pyongyang’s decision to proceed with its plans is considered an act of hostility by the United States, Japan and South Korea. Obama said that North Korea had violated the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, the Washington Times reports.

Japan’s reaction has been the strongest; the government called for an emergency meeting of the U.N Security Council this afternoon to discuss the launch.

Ultimately, the United States, Japan and South Korea are the the most forceful voices claiming violation of the sanction. In all likelihood, though, no new sanctions will be added, but the old resolution may be strengthened.

There is indication that China and Russia do not favor stronger sanctions, and may not support motions that would punish North Korea. A spokesperson from the Korea Institute of National Unification said that lack of support from China and Russia would likely prohibit any penalties or punishment. Furthermore, the Washington Times reports that while right-wing groups in South Korea are angered and staged protests against the launch, most South Koreans were not bothered by the threat.

White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs noted that North Korea, although hostile in principle, frequently fails in its military endeavors, and the launch of the recent rocket was no exception. Reports say it failed to enter orbit.

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Opinion and Analysis: What Was North Korea’s Motivation?

The Wall Street Journal suggests that North Korea’s decision to launch the rocket was not irrational, but rather carefully calculated and manipulative. In fact, North Korea has been creating crises for years as a way to get the international aid that supports its weak economy. The Journal suggests that this latest act of aggression was a way to ensure that the country held the attention of the White House, which may be focusing more on Afghanistan in coming months and years. It also suggested that the launch was a “sales pitch” to Middle Eastern missile buyers.

And of course, the rebellious decision was impressive to North Koreans, who may doubt the fortitude of leader Kim Jong Il. Hinting at celebration, the missile was launched near the birthday of Kim II Sung, who founded North Korea.

Background: Rocket launch threats coincide with war talk

North Korea has been threatening to launch this missile since last month, and did so alongside threats of war against South Korea. The North Korean government said that the satellite itself was being launched for peaceful purposes, and said that it would use a “just retaliatory strike operation” against any country that shot the satellite down.

North Korea has become more hostile toward South Korea’s new president, Lee Myung-Bak, who has cut off aid to its northern neighbor and demanded that the north get rid of its nuclear program, according to findingDulcinea.

But some speculate that the new military aggression is a way to assert the power of Kim Jong Il, who is in poor health.

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