N Korea set to proceed with satellite launch soon: S Korea military

Pyongyang has a history of staging provocations when the South’s leader goes abroad.
By Lee Jeong-Ho for RFA
Seoul, South Korea
N Korea set to proceed with satellite launch soon: S Korea military Passengers watch a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing a space rocket, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, August 24, 2023.

Updated at 17:07 ET, Nov. 20, 2023.

South Korea’s military authorities said on Monday they have detected new activities from North Korea, which appears to be a preliminary sign for its satellite launch. The authorities did not disclose specific details, but asserted that Seoul would respond to any new developments that could pose a threat to regional security. 

North Korea’s launch of a military reconnaissance satellite is a violation of U. N. Security Council resolutions amid concerns that this technology can also be used for ballistic missiles. 

In August, North Korea failed in its second attempt to launch a satellite, three months after its first attempt to do so. 

In a stern warning to the North, Kang Ho-pil, the South’s chief director of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly urged “the immediate cessation of the military reconnaissance satellite launch that is currently being prepared.”

In a press briefing on Monday, Kang warned that the North Korean regime must “face the reality that the international community is unanimously condemning its illegal actions.” 

“If North Korea proceeds with the launch of the military reconnaissance satellite despite our warnings, our military will take necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of our citizens,” Kang added. The measures could stem from  the strengthened military cooperation with Washington and Tokyo, as indicated during the trilateral foreign ministers meeting in San Francisco last week. 

They could also include the possibility of suspending the effectiveness of the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement, where the two Koreas agreed to halt what each other defined as hostile actions towards one another near the border. South Korea’s defense minister Shin Won-sik had told reporters last month that the agreement has limited the South’s surveillance capability against North Korean provocations.  North Korea has also conducted a number of provocations near the inter-Korean border, which are violations of the inter-Korean agreement. Critics in South Korea have long argued that the deal has already become ineffective, only to restrict Seoul’s operational and surveillance capabilities. 

Last week, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported the successful testing of a new solid-fuel engine for an intermediate-range ballistic missile, or IRBM. The tests, conducted at two separate occasions, were to assess the technical specifications of the high-thrust solid-fuel engines developed for Pyongyang’s new type of IRBM, KCNA noted.

North Korea’s IRBM has a range of some 4,000 kilometers, capable of striking U.S. territories in the West Pacific, including Guam. 

The report came as South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in the National Assembly earlier this month that Russia has acquired over 1 million artillery shells from North Korea since August. In exchange, the North is most likely to have received technology transfer for what it claims as “satellite” launch from Russia, the spy agency said.

European trip

South Korea’s detection of its northern neighbor’s preparations for a satellite launch coincided with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s departure to Europe on Monday for his state visit to the United Kingdom, and then travel to France. North Korea has a history of conducting ballistic missile tests when South Korean presidents are abroad, seemingly to challenge Seoul’s response capabilities and the efficiency of its systems in the president’s absence.

In response to Pyongyang’s maneuver, as well as to demonstrate South Korea’s readiness and systematic operational strength, the presidential National Security Council, led by its chief Cho Tae-yong, was convened on Monday.

The NSC discussed “North Korea’s potential provocations, such as preparations for the launch of their so-called ‘reconnaissance satellite’ before the President's state visits to the United Kingdom and France,” said a statement from the Presidential Office on Monday.

The NSC Standing Committee members have “checked the readiness of the government's security measures and decided to further strengthen the defense posture of the military to respond effectively and immediately to any provocations from North Korea,” the statement said, adding that the measures were to “ensure that there are no gaps in national security during the president's overseas trip.”

The action appears to communicate a dual message: signaling South Korea’s preparedness to North Korea; and to South Korean voters that the government is effectively handling North Korean provocations even during the president’s absence. The South Korean president’s presence in the country during North Korean provocations has frequently been a central issue in domestic politics, often serving as a primary target for criticism from opposition parties.

South Korea is scheduled to hold its general election in April.

Edited by Elaine Chan and Taejun Kang.

Updates to recast, add context.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.


Nov 21, 2023 07:12 AM

Instead of punching way above his considerable weight, why doesn't the Fat Controller feed his people?