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March 16 Satellite Launch Announcement

North Korean Nuclear and Missile Tests Briefing Book

Primary Documents

KCNA Announcement of Satellite Launch.

US State Department Response and US State Department March 16 Daily Press Briefing Transcript

ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Statement.

Summary of Chinese Vice Foreign Minister's meeting with DPRK Ambassador.

Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Statement and Press Conference.

UN Secretary-General Statement


Andray Abrahamian, writing for 38 North on March 19, argues that the US should choose to respond to the softer of the DPRK's mixed messages:

The political need for the United States to yank the nutritional supplements will be unfortunate, then, for two reasons. First, the constitution of the food aid does a pretty good job of targeting the most vulnerable in the population; the Korean People’s Army is just not that interested in baby formula. From a purely humanitarian perspective it should continue.

Second, it tells the hardliners that they can mess up any thaw in relations even with provocations that threaten relatively little. It simultaneously strips the softliners of their achievement, so they return to the internal debate empty handed instead of giving them capital with which to say “look, our way is paying dividends.” Instead, the parameters of the US-DPRK relationship are continually set by hardliners.

Morton Abramowitz, in a commentary in The National Interest on April 6, recommends a new approach to North Korea Policy:

The administration could deal with all major aspects of the nuclear issue at the highest level, with a senior U.S. official such as the vice president in the lead. Prior commitment by the North to suspend all its nuclear and missile activities, including satellite launches, would help. There are, of course, all sorts of complications with this approach, but it is about time to change the endless incremental negotiating game.

Ralph Cossa, writing in the Korea Times on March 21, assesses what the international response to the satellite launch may be:

Alas, once again, it all comes down to China. In 2009, when faced with a similar impending satellite launch, the United States (and almost everybody else) made it clear to Pyongyang that this would be a violation of UNSC resolutions and that there would be serious consequences. The Chinese (and Russians) were more circumspect. They had to be dragged into a mild presidential statement condemning the activity, after the fact, as a violation. It was not until after the subsequent nuclear test that any strong UNSC measures were again taken.

John Delury and Chung-in Moon, writing for Foreign Policy on March 29, argue that now is the time for engagement:

Most experts -- even many longtime advocates of engagement -- are arguing that there is now simply no justification for dealing with Pyongyang. But as Obama may have mused when peering across the hazy border, there is a powerful tendency to ignore the complexity of what is happening inside North Korea. Both to de-escalate tensions and gather a sense of the situation inside, Obama should send an envoy to Pyongyang to discuss the deteriorating situation -- among U.S. senators, John Kerry would be the obvious choice; among former officials, Colin Powell might make a strong pick. Whoever the individual, Obama's envoy would ideally be someone senior enough for a first tête-à-tête with Kim Jong Un. Even announcing the idea of an envoy buys everyone some time, cools tempers, and puts the United States back in the driver's seat. It also gives Obama a direct channel to the highest levels of decision-making power in Pyongyang. Although Obama risks attacks from the right for appeasing North Korea, he is better off trying to re-establish a constructive dynamic to monitor North Korea's nuclear program, rather than risk drawing attention in an election year to North Korea's runaway nukes, undermining the international nuclear security success story Obama wants to tell.

Mark Fitzpatrick of IISS, writing on March 16, explains the security concerns a satellite launch poses, and discusses previous North Korean satellite launches:

Space launches differ from ballistic-missile tests in their purpose and trajectory. Where space launches only need to go up, ballistic missiles must also come down, to securely deliver their payload, and need to survive atmospheric re-entry. The 2011 IISS Strategic Dossier on North Korean Security Challenges describes the differences in detail (p. 155). But because satellite-launch rockets and ballistic missiles share the same bodies, engines, launch sites and other development processes, they are intricately linked. The satellite launch also provides missile-development information regarding propulsion, guidance and operational aspects.

Leslie Gelb, writing for the Daily Beast on April 1, warns that the US and North Korea are again headed for a major confrontation:

With neither side backing down, the play-by-play from here on could go like this: around mid-April, Pyongyang fires its rocket into space. If it goes over Japan or South Korea, those governments have promised to shoot it down. If the rocket just falls into the ocean somewhere, Washington will still scrap any plans to resume the six-party talks in the immediate future. In all likelihood, the U.S. also will increase sanctions against Pyongyang, most especially against its banking outlets in places like Macao. When President George W. Bush did his lockdown on Macao banking in 2005, Pyongyang retaliated with missile tests in July 2006 and a nuclear test in October 2006. Bush later canceled the Macao sanctions and opened talks with the North. Obama, being a Democrat, will not be afforded the luxury of that concession, especially before the November elections.

Jared Genser, an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law School, discusses the legality of the launch in a March 26 interview with Steph Haggard, arguing that UN Security Council resolutions supersede the Outer Space Treaty:

The DPRK’s obligation to suspend its ballistic missile program and reestablish its moratorium on testing flows directly from its obligations under the UN Charter. Those Charter duties supersede any other rights and duties provided by other treaties to which the DPRK is a party.

While there may be skepticism regarding the relevance of international law arguments in this debate, there is a healthy interrelationship between the law and politics in this case. The political arguments of various countries opposed to further testing are only strengthened by the clarity of international law on the DPRK’s obligations to refrain from future testing. 

Don Gregg, writing for the Korea Times on April 3, argues that major miscommunication is taking place between the US and DPRK, and advocates sending a high-ranking envoy to Pyongyang.

My first trip to North Korea took place 10 years ago, and I am all too familiar with past errors made by both Washington and Pyongyang as attempts to establish prolonged dialogue have repeatedly failed. To avoid another complete breakdown in communications taking place, I urge that three steps be taken: First, that North Korea should immediately make it clear that they intend to honor their commitment not to conduct further nuclear tests.

Second, the United States should not oppose the sending of technically qualified observers to the North Korean satellite launch.

Third, that the United States send [Sen. John] Kerry as an envoy to Pyongyang, to discuss how better relations can be established between our two countries. 

Jeffrey Lewis, writing for Arms Control Wonk on March 16, assessed recent US-DPRK diplomacy in light of the announcement:

We gave the North Koreans a loophole large enough to fly a Taepodong through and they took it. (Or at least announced their intent to take it.) The North Koreans have really made a mess here: If the Administration admits it made a mistake (fat chance), its political opponents will use that admission as a cudgel against any future agreement its negotiates anywhere in the world.  On the other hand, if the Administration blames North Korea for walking away from an agreement after a few days, then the Administration will get killed in Congress over any future deal.

Evans Revere, writing for the Brookings Institution on March 20, comments on North Korea's long-term planning for the launch:

Last week was not the first time that the DPRK spoke of its plans to launch a satellite. I first became aware of this possibility on December 15, 2011, during an exchange with a DPRK official. The official spoke at length about the DPRK’s “sovereign right” to conduct such launches and warned that any U.S. effort to interfere with or oppose this plan would make the DPRK even more determined to carry it out.

[...] The Obama administration had already heard similar statements from North Korean counterparts, and had already delivered a strong warning to the DPRK. The warning included specific statements that a launch would violate of the U.S.-DPRK understandings that eventually resulted in the Leap Day agreement.

Scott Snyder, writing for CFR's Asia Unbound blog on March 16, says that the launch would derail tentative US-DPRK diplomacy:

If the test goes ahead, it will destroy any prospect for “confidence building measures” with the United States that the DPRK had invoked in its February 29 statement announcing the return of IAEA inspectors in exchange for U.S. food assistance to North Korea.  Despite North Korean appeals to the United States to change its “hostile policy,” a launch may scuttle any future prospects for non-hostility in U.S.-DPRK relations, coming on the heels of negotiations at which North Korea pledged not to conduct future missile tests.  Moreover, it directly challenges one of the rationales for supporting the Obama administration’s support of limited agreements with North Korea that such agreements serve to constrain North Korea’s provocative behavior.

 Georgy Toloraya, writing in 38 North on April 4, argues that the disparity between the Leap Day Deal and the satellite launch announcement may have been the result of mutual misunderstandings, rather than a calculated move:

In all likelihood, this is probably a case of diplomatic mishap, where both sides—both well intentioned to achieve meaningful results and promptly report them—due to internal policy considerations (the election campaign in United States and the official announcement of Kim Jong Un’s  status on Kim Il Sung’s centenary birthday), pushed their luck too far. In fact, they did not quite grasp each others’ real intentions or reach the right conclusions. It has been reported that in the talks, the North Koreans repeatedly said that the DPRK reserved the right to a peaceful satellite launch, and although the American side warned that any such action would be a deal-breaker, the North Koreans probably regarded these warnings as merely rhetoric, while the Americans believed their message had hit home.

Additional KCNA Statements

Foreign Media Persons and Experts on Space Science and Technology Visit Sohae Satellite Launching Station (April 8, 2012)

Interception of Satellite Would be Regarded as Act of War: CPRK Spokesman (April 5, 2012)

Foreign Ministry Spokesman on U.S. Announcement of Suspension of Food Aid to DPRK (March 31, 2012)

Official of KCST Interviewed by KCNA (March 28, 2012)

UN Chief Should Give Up His Biased Attitude: KCNA Commentary (March 28, 2012)

U.S. Should Not Apply Double Standards to DPRK's Satellite Launch: FM Spokesman (March 27, 2012)

DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman on Launch of Working Satellite (March 23, 2012)

DPRK′s Satellite Launch Not Contradictory to DPRK-U.S. Agreement (March 19, 2012)

KCNA Reports about Preparations for Satellite Launch (March 17, 2012)

Launch of Satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 Is Legitimate Right of DPRK (March 18, 2012)

KCNA White Paper: Space is Common Wealth (November 29, 2011)