A long-ranged rocket was launched on Sunday from the northwestern launch site in Dongchang-ri, North Korea, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions; claiming the main purpose is to launch and put an earth observation satellite into orbit (YONHAP NEWS AGENCY, 2016). “North Korea says it has a sovereign right to pursue a space program. But it is barred under U.N. Security Council resolutions from using ballistic missile technology. Coming so soon after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, a rocket launch would raise concern that it plans to fit nuclear warheads on its missiles, giving it the capability to strike South Korea, Japan and possibly the US West Coast” (Business Insider, 2016). In the short-run, a security dilemma has already been caused; in the long-run, nuclear proliferation could become a means of collective security.
However, the U.S. and other governments have only expressed doubt whether N. Korea did explode a hydrogen bomb last month – which was its fourth test of a nuclear device (REUTERS, 2016). According to “Henry D. Sokolski, the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and former Pentagon official and consultant to the Office of Net Assessment, countries that seek to improve nuclear stability must avoid the pitfalls of diplomacy by inattention and repeated downplaying of nuclear risks that undermined lengthy but unsuccessful nonproliferation efforts with North Korea and Iran. Adding nuclear instability to a region already beset by geopolitical rivalries . . . is a recipe for catastrophe” (The Diplomat, 2016). From a realist perspective, S. Korea, Japan and the U.S. have every reason to perceive their security threatened despite no conflict occurring thus far. Although being within close proximity to a country with nuclear devices while having none gives something to think about. The main reason being that nuclear weapons are banned under the non-proliferation treaty because it gives one convincing advantage – it makes up for a lack of conventional weapons.
In short, the launching may be deemed as a failure but this was not the first encounter of a security dilemma with N. Korea and therefore cannot be singled out to be the last. From a realist perspective, with the state security of S. Korea, Japan and (possibly) the U.S. under threat, these three states would follow the inevitable actions of increasing security possibly through securitization or other means. Sokolski makes it clear that nuclear non-proliferation is a slow method and states would therefore have to look towards faster alternative methods of peacekeeping as time is possibly not a consideration until the next time a rocket is launched towards space or the sea or Japan.
By Abdullatif AL-Mannai – a guest writer under our “Bamboo Shoots Scheme” which endeavours to help young IR students make their appearance in academia.
Business Insider. (2016) North Korea has fired a long-range rocket. Available from: http://uk.businessinsider.com/north-korea-has-fired-a-long-range-rocket-2016-2?r=US&IR=T [Accessed: 7 February 2016]
REAUTERS. (2016) North Korea launches rocket it says is carrying satellite. Available from: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-satellite-idUSKCN0VG00H?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews [Accessed: 7 February 2016]
The Diplomat. (2016) Nuclear Instability in the Asia-Pacific Region? Available from: http://thediplomat.com/2016/02/nuclear-instability-in-the-asia-pacific-region/ [Accessed: 7 February 2016]
YONHAP NEWS AGENCY (2016) N. Korea launches long-range rocket. Available from: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2016/02/07/0200000000AEN20160207000900315.html [Accessed: 7 February 2016]
Featured image: Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-satellite-idUSKCN0VG00H