February 06, 2023

South Korean Rocket Launch Heightens Peninsula Tensions

Recent South Korean satellite launch does nothing to dampen increasing tensions

The successful launch of a satellite by South Korea last week, albeit coming at their third time of trying, has intensified tensions on the Korea peninsula in the wake of North Korea's nuclear threats and December rocket launch. The South Korean rocket launch and its tacit acceptance by the international community will do nothing to soothe tempers in Pyongyang, tensions that have been raised by international condemnation of their own rocket test and by the imposition of UN sponsored sanctions in its wake.  With the world’s attention focusing largely on the Iranian nuclear stand-off, unfolding events on the Korean peninsula serve a timely reminder that the Middle East is not the only nuclear ‘hotspot’ in current global politics.

The most recent episode of hostilities between the Korea's long-term adversaries began in December last year when Pyongyang defied international opinion and successfully launched a satellite into orbit – a move that was seen by many as a long range missile test in disguise.  While the December launch may have been as much about domestic politics as it was to serve a reminder to an international community currently focused elsewhere, the reaction from the government in South Korea has effectively now ramped up inter-Korean tension. These strains will unquestionably be upped further if and when the North decides to conduct its third nuclear test, preparations of which already appear to be underway at the Punggye test site. Making things worse is the fact that Pyongyang has also made explicit threats to its ‘great foe’ the United States, which given progress made by the DPRK in both missile and warhead technology, will be of mounting concern in Washington, not least Tokyo, Seoul, and elsewhere.