December 04, 2020

Groundhog-Day: 5 Post Satellite Launch Predictions

If North Korea goes ahead with its announced satellite launch in mid-April, it is quite likely that not long afterwards we can expect the near collapse of bilateral U.S. – DPRK relations, a further nuclear test, and a return to extremely frosty inter-Korean relations. Depending on when things happen, and who wins in forthcoming U.S. and South Korean presidential elections, limited conflict between all parties might even be plausible by early 2013.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  If policy makers in Seoul and Washington DC look at the bigger picture and do not make North Korea’s proposed satellite launch a major issue, then an alternative scenario can be envisioned in which things might move forward, rather than backward.

As the background to North Korea’s proposed test becomes clearer, we can see that according to remarks made by Evans Revere yesterday, the U.S. knew since December that Pyongyang was toying with the idea of a satellite launch.  But with the DPRK gearing up for its 100 year celebrations for at least five years now, in all likelihood these plans may go back even further than the failed launch of the Unha SLV in April 2009.  Given the importance dedicated to April 15 2012, it is understandable why the U.S. was so keen recently to come to a deal that might prevent a further missile / nuclear test in North Korea from occurring, just months before elections.  But while Washington thought it had succeeded in communicating just how objectionable satellite launches would be, the wording that explicitly denied them was for some reason excluded from the bilateral “leap-day”agreement made two weeks ago (see Jeffrey Lewis).  South Korea now says Pyongyang is in the process of making another “grave provocation”, while the U.S. has said the launch would be “a violation not only of their U.N. obligations, but of the commitments they made to us”. If the launch therefore does go ahead (which it almost certainly will), then what can we expect in the coming months?