March 26th, 2012
09:22 AM ET

How to stop North Korea's satellite test

Editor's Note: Scott A. Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared.

By Scott A. SnyderCFR.org

As over fifty world leaders gather in Seoul to address the task of how to more effectively secure nuclear materials, their landing path at Incheon airport will take them within range of North Korean surface-to-air missiles.  Although North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities are not formally on the agenda for the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, Pyongyang’s leaders have done their best to ensure that North Korea won’t be forgotten in the global confab, first by announcing plans to launch a satellite in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, and then by threatening war if the summit issues a statement on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The United States and DPRK in their respective February 29 “Leap Day” statements tentatively seemed ready to hit the “reset” button in U.S.-DPRK relations, but Pyongyang has apparently hit the “replay” button instead by rewinding to the events surrounding North Korea’s long-range rocket launch in 2009.Even more worrisome is that the recent satellite launch announcement puts North Korea on a collision course with the international community as the DPRK seeks to consolidate political leadership under Kim Il’sung’s grandson, twenty-something Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong Il’s formal succession was accompanied by the launch of a Taepodong missile in 1998, and plans for Kim Jong-un’s succession were marked at an early stage three years ago by the North’s 2009 satellite launch, which was roundly condemned by a U.N. Presidential Statement.North Korea’s outraged response to international efforts to ban its freedom to use outer space for peaceful purposes in 2009 included threats to conduct a nuclear test, which North Korea carried out only a month later. The strong international reaction that is building in response to defiant North Korea’s latest satellite launch announcement will heighten outrage in Pyongyang, while Pyongyang’s defiant insistence on its right to conduct a satellite launch will further outrage the international community.

For the United States, continued North Korean long-range missile testing (even under the guise of a satellite launch) highlights the priority concern of North Korean vertical proliferation, identified in the June 2010 findings of CFR’s Independent Task Force on Policy Toward the Korean Peninsula, and underscores the concern expressed by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in December 2010 that North Korea’s development of a long-range missile capability could become a direct threat to the United States.

The current path illustrates a fundamental dilemma for North Korea: actions taken to consolidate political leadership around Kim Jong-un may subject the DPRK to international protest, while deference to international concerns may undermine internal political legitimacy. But what if there are efforts to call Pyongyang on its assertion that it is only exercising its freedom to the peaceful use of space? What if the international community makes an offer that respects their right to send up a satellite but not a missile?

If one sets aside the challenges of securing inter-agency support, North Korea’s clear efforts to wed the rocket launch to Kim Jong-un’s political consolidation, and the backdrop of electoral politics in South Korea and the United States, how might one construct a policy path that combines diplomacy and force in ways that offer Pyongyang a face-saving way of advancing its satellite aspirations without damaging internal legitimacy by backing down to international demands? Such a course might include the following steps:

1)      The United States seeks a third party willing to offer North Korea launch services to place a North Korean satellite in orbit, and mobilizes support for such an offer among allies and partners in the six party framework.

2)      The United States quietly puts into place assets designed to give the U.S. president a credible preemptive option by following through on the past policy recommendations of former Secretary of Defense William Perry and current Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter that a North Korean multi-stage rocket be the object of a preemptive strike if it is placed on the launch pad.

3)      The U.S. pursues U.N. authorization in advance of a North Korean satellite test to enforce Security Council resolution UNSC Security Council Resolution 1874 with action to preempt North Korea’s satellite launch, arguing that North Korea’s 2010 provocations have shown that limited use of force on the peninsula need not escalate into full-scale war.

4)      The United States sends a special envoy to Pyongyang to make the offer of launch services, while underscoring American will to stop North Korea’s planned launch, with the understanding that acceptance of such an offer may be used by North Korean authorities as evidence of international support for North Korea’s new political leadership.

5)      The United States coordinates with Beijing to underscore to Pyongyang the sincerity of the international community’s willingness to launch a North Korean satellite into orbit so as to uphold restrictions on North Korean long-range missile launches of any kind as stated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874.

6)      Having sidestepped confrontation, the United States and DPRK implement “Leap Day” pledges, opening the way for the confidence building measures that North Korea called for in its own February 29 statement.

This admittedly unlikely script would avoid a serious case of déjà vu in which we are doomed to repeat the cycle of 2009.  It would also deprive Pyongyang of the ability to use international outrage as a means to unite North Korea’s population in support of the succession process.  It might also instigate a serious debate in Pyongyang over the future of North Korea and its relationship with the international community. But does the political will exist to pursue it?

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Scott A. Snyder.

Post by:
Topics: North Korea • Nuclear • United States

soundoff (95 Responses)
  1. Sid Airfoil

    Those of you who blame the US for provoking NK in various ways are ignoring history. The US and SK have spent the past 50+ years PROVING that we are not interested in attacking NK. We've had fifty years any MANY opportunities to do so if we'd wanted to. But as long as NK stay inside of it's little self-imposed cage and minded their own business, we also minded ours. It was THEY who escalated this conflict starting 20 years ago by beginning a nuclear weapons program. They did this because, with the utter failure of their political, economic and social systems, they needed some way to get the world to pay attention to them and send them aid. Now that they have nukes they continue to progress by developing missile technology under the guise of putting a satellite into orbit. What nonsense! What possible use would a satellite be to NK? How many people own GPS? How many get cable TV? How many have cell phones? The only possible use for a satellite is to help the government 1) test new missile tech, 2) provide new routes for propaganda, 3) develop a GPS system to help target weapons (like we have).

    Stop blaming the U.S. NK is the basket case. And they have WMDs, and are developing delivery systems for them. And they are led by a megalomaniacal child and his megalomaniacal sycophants.

    Sid

    March 26, 2012 at 11:44 am | Reply
  2. lolita from rhode island

    give them what they want...Lots of junk American food

    March 26, 2012 at 11:44 am | Reply
  3. Phil J

    The US could always hit it with one of their space based lasers, a ship based infrasonic weapon or they could just jam all communications between launch control and the missile and watch it crash to earth like their last one. They would never know what hit them.

    March 26, 2012 at 11:48 am | Reply
  4. Nicholas Smith

    Ascending launch rockets blow up all the time, so could this one. (Smile.)

    March 26, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
  5. Vince

    Wait a second. Wasn't the White House and Hillary Clinton hailing a "diplomatic breakthrough" with North Korea just a few weeks ago? They were going to let in inspectors in the country in exchange for food. Thinking people everywhere rolled their eyes while looking at the naivety of the Obama administration. Lo and behold, look at things now.

    March 26, 2012 at 11:59 am | Reply
  6. BB

    I understand what you all are saying about we don't have a right to tell them what to do and what not to do, but you have to look at it from all angels. North Korea doesn't particulary have the best track record when it comes to following directions or holding agreements. The reason we are against this is because we are trying to get rid of the worst case possibilites. As Pyongyang said, anybody who is agianst what they're doing, he will assume it as a decleration of war. Korean's are basically the bullies of the world, and we just cant let them get out of hand, because one day, they won't be bluffing.

    March 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  7. carl ford

    If they can afford to put a rocket in the air they they shouldn't get a bite of food from here

    March 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
    • BB

      Agreed

      March 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  8. bing520

    1) What country need a third country to launch its own satellite? We certainly don't want another country to launch our satellite. 2) We would preemptively strike a country that plan to launch a satellite. What country should be on the list of preemptive strike? 3) Our preemptive strike would not provoke North Korea's escalating to a full-scale war. Can UN guaranttee that? The only way to ensure no fuul-scale war is we don't retaliate when NK starts retaliation. UN can't decide what NK would do. UN can't decide what China would do. UN can't decide what we'd do. 4) Do we really want to offer NK luanch service to show the world we really like NK leaders? How gullible are NK leaders? 5) Ask China to convince NK of our sincerity to help launch a NK satellite? To be really sincere, we can give NK a satellite at our cost. Every other country can demand our sincerity by developing satelite program at our cost.

    March 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  9. George Patton

    I see that these right-wing idiots here are at it again, ranting about going to war with North Korea! All this stupid warmongering does get old after a while!!!

    March 26, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  10. blaze562

    The only thing that north Korea understands is violence and shall be met with violence and more than they wished for.
    The only reason that N.K. does these type of things is to irritate south Korea with the backing of China and Russia, If it weren't for those two than north Korea would be absolutely nothing but beggars.

    March 26, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  11. Honest John

    Scott's plan sounds like a bizarre, reckless idea.
    It will certainly re-ignite the dormant Korean War.

    Glad he is not sitting in the White House!

    Under the 2/29 announcement, the Obama administration said
    the US has no "hostile" intent. By shooting down the satellite,
    Uncle Sam will be the one breaking its pledge.

    The smartest thing is to welcome NK into the space age.

    March 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  12. Michael

    Once again too many sledgehammer history revisionist are spewing propaganda and keep tensions tight. Cliinton deak w/N. Korea was not broken by them but by a Republican regaln of Congresr and led by Gingrich and the same Neo ConA*Holes that led us into Iraq. Korea spent hundreds of millions under DIRECT SUPERVISION OF UN AND US building all the nessesary buildings and infrastructure only to see US Hawks refuse to sell them the reactor. What has changed? It was the very same group* C F R* that advised Hawks to break deal back then.

    March 26, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  13. Michael

    To all the immature saber rattling, or is it baby rattles, N K does indeed have but one millitary responce to any attack that would hit their homeland, Full bore nn punches pulled, allout war to the death and assassinations are acts of war, just be US finds or at least the hawks have glorified a cowardly act into a foreign policy. Armitage. yes of Valery Plame affair. wrote what amounts to an Asian PNAC paper and our millitary knows well what a war with NK would cost. Iran like NK har same ideas towards attacks upon sovereign soil full bore millitary reasponce. They do not have the luxury to play war games but knowing they cant win will darn well at least give even worlds biggest bully* US* a darn bloody nose.

    March 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  14. mongolian karl

    of course i like north korea...we are dont havent success move US !?

    March 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  15. toadears

    Let's see now... a story about Syria, a story about Kurd and Turks who obviously dearly love each other so giving them both arms to go to Syria should be OK, and a story about a North Korean woman who had to leave her child behind. Uh huh. Excellent! I'd say the CFR and Bilderberg members are rubbing their hands together in delight at how well this is all lining up. They have destabilized Libya and Egypt. Demonized Iran and al-Assad. Yes, things are coming along very nicely now. Always remember, the Rothschild banking family cartel outright own both Reuters and the AP wire services. Newsspeak.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  16. toadears

    There has been a regime change. I smell a large, stinky fish. Best thing the youngster can do is go on YouTube and denounce all these scary stories as a plot to involve him in a World War.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  17. Bill Simpson

    As soon as the missile clears North Korean air space, shoot it down as per UN resolution prohibiting them from conducting missile tests. Shoot down every one they test until they run out of cash. The South Korean economy dwarfs the North Korean economy.

    March 27, 2012 at 6:53 am | Reply
  18. clearick

    I see no problem with N. Korea launching a satellite. I see a lot of hand-wringing over a nation trying to develop technology for peaceful purposes. The US has many satellites in orbit as do a lot of other countries, that space is open to everyone including N.K.

    March 27, 2012 at 10:31 am | Reply
  19. Grant

    It's a joke,Russia and China are the problem – If they weren't so corrupt and worried about there arms industry then they would back the USA in sorting out all the rogue countries and this problem may be easier to solve.
    Why did the greedy businessmen of USA take all the industry off to China and help build that corrupt country, they made a few bucks and now China owns them.
    GREED is behind all wars,a chosen few in each government are benefitting and most working people don't care about foreign policy

    March 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  20. dudley0415

    Knocking it down in during second stage boost is the best way I know. Who's gonna say?

    March 27, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  21. mahakattalan

    LET NORTH KOREA DO THE JOB AND WHY NOT? THEY HAVE NATIONAL RIGHT TO TEST A MISSILE. WORLD MADE BIG PROPOGANDA AGAINST THEIR NUCLEAR PROJECT. THEY LIED ON THAT THEY ARE CONDUCTIONG ONLY FOR PEACEFUL PURPOSES. BUT THEY DETONATED NUCLEAR DEVIVE. EVENTHOUGH IT WAS A FAILURE, THEY DID IT. WHAT THE REST OF THE WORLD DID/ VIRTUALLY NOTHING. NOW THEY ARE SELLING NUCLEAR BOMBS TO IRAN AND TERRORISTS. WHO CAN STOP IT? ANSWER IS NO ONE.WE HAVE A PRESIDENT. AND HIS JOB IS TO SIGN THE PAPERS AND TAKE SALARY. I AM SORRY TO SAY THAT. ALL HIS PROMISES DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN ARE FAILED. NOW HE WILL COME WITH NEW PROMISES. WE WILL VOTE FOR HIM OR ANOTHER GUY. THIS CYCLE WILL CONTINUE FOREVER AND USA WILL BECOME A BIG ZERO IN THIS WORLD.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:09 am | Reply
  22. desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Bohdan or Voiceinthedesert)

    It's a great idea that the North Koreans be offered satellite launching facilities. Russia could provide such services in Siberia. The world should pick up the tab in the name of permanent peace! If the largest world power, the United States, can use the Russian services for launching rockets, without losing sovereignty, why the North Koreans couldn"t?

    March 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply
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