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The backstory: North Korea has an operational space program and is no stranger to sending satellites up into space. But the country also has nuclear weapons, and sometimes these space launches are suspected to really be missile tests. When launching satellites, North Korea has to use long-range missile technology banned by the UN. So, when it sends satellites up into space, there’s always some international panic.
In 1998, North Korea actually did launch a rocket carrying what many believe to have been a Taepodong-1 ballistic missile. In 2012, it launched an Earth-observation satellite called the Kwangmyongsong-3, which triggered rumors that the launch was actually a missile test. And in 2016, North Korea launched another similar satellite, leading to similar fears. The whole worry is that North Korea is really more concerned with advancing its weapons program, which would make it more of a global military power.
More recently: Lately, tensions have gotten worse between North and South Korea and Japan. Since 2022, North Korea has conducted over 100 missile-launch tests, and some of those were nuclear-capable and within range of the US, South Korea and Japan. The country says it’s been doing these tests to counter military drills that the US and South Korea have been conducting on the peninsula. The Japanese military has also joined in some of these exercises.
Earlier in May, South Korea and the US held live-fire drills near the North’s border. And on Monday, North Korea warned against this show of “aggression.” Essentially, the allied countries say these are routine military exercises with the aim of deterring aggression in the region, but North Korea sees them as practice routines for starting a war with the North.
The development: On Monday, North Korea told neighboring Japan that it would be launching a satellite between May 31 and June 11, not mentioning the type of satellite involved. Japan’s coast guard is in charge of maritime safety info in the region, which is maybe why North Korea told it in the first place.
This move is, again, causing anxiety that it’s a missile test in disguise. It would also most likely fly over Japanese territory. Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the launch would violate UN sanctions on North Korea because, based on the way they’ve gone in the past, the rocket launch is the same as a ballistic missile launch. Japan, along with the US and South Korea, are urging North Korea to scrap the plan. Japan also has orders to shoot down anything that flies over its territory.
"Our government strongly warns North Korea against a provocation that threatens peace in the region and urges it to withdraw its illegal launch plan immediately," a statement from South Korea’s ministry said.
“For North Korea to go ahead with a ballistic missile launch that it is calling a ‘satellite’ is a serious provocation against our country’s national security,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters. “Any launch using ballistic missile technology breaches related UN Security Council resolutions.”
"We'd like to ask them if they can cope with the consequences to be entailed by their reckless and dangerous war gambles that are being staged under the eyes of the armed forces of (North Korea)," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said about US/South Korean military drills.