(Bloomberg) -- North Korea confirmed that its effort to launch a military spy satellite into orbit failed, and said it would try again soon, drawing condemnation from the US, Japan and South Korea.
A rocket launched on Wednesday crashed into the Yellow Sea after losing propulsion in the second stage of the ascent, according to the Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang. Authorities will analyze the cause of the accident and launch another rocket “as soon as possible,” it added.
Separately, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military was retrieving an object from the sea that they suspected was the North Korean projectile.
The launch comes days after leader Kim Jong Un said North Korea planned to put a reconnaissance satellite into orbit, sparking condemnation from Japan and South Korea. Both countries and their mutual ally, the US, had said that any launch using ballistic missile technology would be a breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and they urged North Korea to abandon the plan.
The failed mission also follows South Korea’s successful launch last week of its first rocket and satellite made from domestically sourced parts.
The US, Japan and South Korea strongly condemned Pyongyang over its rocket launch in a three-way call, according to a statement from Japan’s Foreign Ministry. They also reaffirmed their view that North Korea’s launches of ballistic missiles represent a clear and serious provocation to the international community and agreed to continue to cooperate closely on the matter.
US National Security Council Spokesperson Adam Hodge echoed the condemnation. President Joe Biden and his national security team are assessing the situation in close coordination with allies and partners, Hodge said in a statement.
“The door has not closed on diplomacy but Pyongyang must immediately cease its provocative actions and instead choose engagement,” Hodge said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the launch was contrary to UN Security Council resolutions and urged North Korea to cease such acts, according to a statement from his spokesman.
Despite the chorus of criticism, analysts said there was almost no hope of ramping up UN sanctions on Pyongyang given the changed geopolitical landscape since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a development that is enabling North Korea to forge ahead with missile development.
“The problem right now is that the UN Security Council is dysfunctional because China and Russia are on the side of North Korea,” said Naoko Aoki, an associate political scientist at Rand Corp. in Washington.
Both Beijing and Moscow have veto power on the council.
“There were new sanctions against North Korea in 2016, but that is unlikely to take place today. This is of course because of larger geopolitics at play, including the U.S.-China competition and the war in Ukraine,” Aoki said.
The launch initially prompted missile alerts to residents in both Japan and South Korea. Japan’s alert for the southern prefecture of Okinawa was quickly lifted. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that there were no reports of damage.
South Korea said its alert for residents of Seoul to take shelter was sent in error. After the mobile alert was issued, pedestrians were seen rushing toward subway stops.
While North Korea has launched a barrage of missiles this year, it last launched a space rocket in February 2016, when the country claimed to have put an observation satellite into orbit as part of what it said was a lawful space program. The satellite is thought to have never reached orbit.
The country is barred by the UNSC resolutions from conducting ballistic missile tests, yet Pyongyang has long claimed it is entitled to have a civilian space program for satellite launches. While it doesn’t issue notifications for missile launches, Japan said earlier this week it had received advance warning about a satellite launch.
The US and its partners have warned that technology derived from the North Korea’s space program could be used to advance its ballistic missile technology.
The failure comes as Pyongyang’s directing testing of ballistic missiles is taking place with far more frequency. North Korea has tested 17 so far in 2023, including a new type of of solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile that Pyongyang says could deliver multiple nuclear warheads to the US mainland.
Analysts say that what’s concerning is not just North Korea improving its ballistic missile technology, but also the potential improvement of its information-gathering capabilities. A satellite would give the North the ability to monitor the movements of the American military ahead of time.
North Korea believes its nuclear capabilities are not complete without the spy satellites, according to Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that Pyongyang has been all this time developing ballistic missile technology to launch reconnaissance satellites,” he said. “It has been developing ICBMs, tactical nukes, and so on, but their argument is that they are only half effective without a spy satellite.”
--With assistance from Youkyung Lee, Isabel Reynolds and Seyoon Kim.
(Updates with more details and comments throughout.)
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