North Korea remains defiant

North Korea on Wednesday morning launched a long-range multistage rocket and claims to have put a satellite into orbit. In a preliminary assessment, the United States also said that an object carried by the rocket went into orbit. Pyongyang’s action must be condemned in the strongest terms. It ignored repeated calls by the international community to cancel the launch, the second this year following an attempt on April 13. At that time, the United Nations Security Council issued a presidential statement condemning Pyongyang’s action.

North Korea had announced that it planned to launch a long-range rocket sometime between Dec. 10 and 22, with the aim of placing a satellite in orbit. It tried to justify its plan by arguing that every country has a right to pursue a peaceful space development program and insisted that it was following the final instructions left by its late leader Kim Jong Il, who died on Dec. 17, 2011. Apparently the North’s current leader, Mr. Kim Jong Un, is trying to consolidate his regime by showing the North Korean people that he is obeying his father’s final wishes.

The rocket launch is a serious violation of two U.N. Security Council resolutions adopted in October 2006 and in June 2009, which state that North Korea must not carry out further missile tests. The resolutions also demand that the country conduct no more nuclear tests. The North Koran leadership should understand that this rocket launch will only deepen its isolation in the international community. Even China, the North’s most important ally, has expressed its regret over the rocket launch.

Pyongyang’s top priority should be the reconstruction of its economy, which has been in shambles for years. Following this rocket launch, sanctions against North Korea will likely be strengthened, and Japan and other countries will be much more reluctant to provide economic assistance.

As Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura pointed out, the rocket launch violates the September 2002 Pyongyang declaration, in which Japan apologized for its past colonial rule over Korea and promised to provide economic assistance to North Korea if diplomatic relations are normalized. For his part, Kim Jong Il apologized for the past abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents. North Korea should realize that the rocket launch has placed a great obstacle in the path of efforts to improve the relationship between Japan and North Korea through dialogue.

If North Korea did indeed succeed in placing a satellite into orbit, its rocket technology has made rapid progress, and the fact that the launch took place in December likely means that it now has the capability to launch rockets in any weather conditions.

North Korea will probably try to follow up this launch with direct talks with the U.S. in order to shore up its regime. But Pyongyang’s reckless behavior, which Washington has denounced, has damaged its ability to improve its position in the international community.