SEOUL — North Korea defied the likelihood of more sanctions by the United Nations Security Council by declaring the successful launch of a long-range rocket on Wednesday, demonstrating that the government of its new leader, Kim Jong Un, is pressing ahead to master the technology needed to deliver a nuclear warhead on intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The Unha-3, or Galaxy-3, rocket blasted off from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri on North Korea’s western coast near China on Wednesday morning, a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.
North Korea has said its three-stage rocket would carry an earth-observation satellite named Kwangmyongsong-3, or Shining Star-3, and that it was exercising its right to peaceful activity in space.
But Washington and its allies have said they think that North Korea’s rocket program has less to do with putting a satellite into orbit than with developing a delivery vehicle for a nuclear warhead and turning the country into a more urgent threat that Washington must deal with by offering diplomatic and economic concessions.
While North Korea may still have other technological thresholds to cross, like the miniaturizing of its nuclear weapons, a successful launching of a satellite into orbit suggests the country had overcome a hurdle in its efforts to demonstrate its potential of mating its growing nuclear weapons program with intercontinental ballistic missile capability.
Wednesday’s launching also demonstrated a shrewd political maneuver by Kim’s regime. Only Monday, it told the rest of the world it had found a technical glitch with its rocket and needed until Dec. 29 to fix the problem and carry out the launch. Outside analysts speculated what might be going on behind the dark cover engineers had put up around the launching pad to prevent US spy satellites from watching.
The unusual winter-time rocket launch came five days before the one-year anniversary of the death of the young leader’s father on Dec. 17.