North Korea May Be Gearing Up For Additional Rocket Test

February 15th, 2013

Another North Korean rocket launch may soon occur, as satellite footage shows increased activity at the Tonghae rocket test site. In an analysis for 38 North, Nick Hansen states that the North could be modifying the site in order to launch intermediate or long-range rockets, or could even be planning to attempt another Unha rocket launch similar to last December’s. When completed, Hansen speculates that rockets “three to four times the size of the Unha” could be launched from the site, though he does not expect that to occur until at least 2016. Other construction activity at Tonghae indicates that the North may be receiving assistance from Iran.

Reuters also published a report that the North has told China that it may conduct a fourth and fifth nuclear test, as well as another long-range rocket launch, by the end of this year. The unnamed source told Reuters the tests will be undertaken unless Washington enters negotiations with the North and ends its attempts at regime change. NK NEWS has discussed the problem with Reuters’ articles based on a single, unnamed source, though it was not clear if this article was based on the same source from the past. However, following the nuclear test a spokesman for the North’s Foreign Ministry said, “If the U.S. takes a hostile approach toward the DPRK to the last, rendering the situation complicated, it will be left with no option but to take the second and third stronger steps in succession,” which some analysts believe is an implicit threat of further tests.

The North celebrated the nuclear test with a massive rally in Pyongyang on Thursday, with photos showing large numbers of civilian and military personnel. Though Kim Jong Un did not appear, Kim Ki Nam, a member of the Politburo and Secretariat, was one of a slew of speakers singing his praises. In its report of the event, KCNA said “The successful nuclear test is the brilliant fruition of the extraordinary decision and matchless gut of the dear respected Kim Jong Un…” and that “If the U.S. continues going reckless, the DPRK will deal unpredictable merciless retaliatory blows at the U.S.” While Kim Jong Un was too busy to appear at the rally, he took time to issue promotions days before his father’s birthday. According to KCNA, Jang Su Gil, a deputy director in the Workers’ Party Finance & Planning Department, and nine others were made Lieutenant Generals, while Cha Yong Bom and 37 others were made Major General. 

Meanwhile, South Korea is reportedly pushing for a U.N. resolution that would authorize military means to enforce sanctions. These military means, which are found under Chapter 7, Articles 41 and 42 of the U.N. Charter, would enable countries to use naval vessels to intercept and board any North Korean ships they suspect have illicit material. An unnamed diplomat told Yonhap, “Our basic target is to persuade the Security Council members to adopt a resolution including Chapter 7 against North Korea…The reason is that any sanctions against North Korea would be effective only if Chapter 7 is included in a resolution.” However, the move could represent a sharp escalation of the current sanctions regime, and may prove to be a bridge too far for China, which has veto-power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

The question of what type of nuclear test was performed by the North Koreans still remains up in the air, as South Korean scientists have been unable to detect radioactive gas from air samples collected over the East Sea. JoongAng Ilbo reported that Navy helicopters “collected air samples for 12 hours after the underground nuclear weapons test Tuesday” but came up empty. In particular, the scientists were looking for traces of xenon, which would have been able to confirm whether the bomb used plutonium or uranium.

In the U.S., legislators pushed forward legislation that would “lead to unprecedentedly tough steps” against the North, including increased sanctions and strengthened measures to prevent the transfer of dual-use technology to the North. In addition, the legislation would require the Secretary of State to issue a “comprehensive report on U.S. policy towards North Korea based on a full and complete interagency review of current policy and possible alternatives…” The bill was introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bob Corker (R-TN), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Though there is bipartisan support for the bill, the bill has attracted criticism, with Rand Paul (R-KY) saying that it could authorize the use of force against the North. There was also talk that the U.S. may brand North Korea a “money-laundering state” under Article 311 of the Patriot Act. The article “authorizes the U.S. Commerce Department to identify an individual, financial institution or state as a ‘primary money-laundering concern’” which “would ban the target from transacting business with any system that handles U.S. dollars.”