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North Korea on Sunday launched what it claims to be a communications satellite. The first stage of the rocket fell in the Sea of Japan, and the second stage fell in the middle of the Pacific Ocean after flying over the Tohoku region. It is regrettable that Pyongyang went ahead with the launch in defiance of an international call for restraint.

Although the North has the right to launch a satellite for peaceful use of space, Sunday’s launch, even if it did put a satellite in orbit, threatens to destabilize the security situation in Northeast Asia and beyond. It is not known whether North Korea has the capability to equip missiles with nuclear weapons. But the launch alarms the international community about the danger that the North may acquire such capabilities.

It is fortunate that the debris from the North Korean rocket did not fall in Japanese territory. If this had happened, the situation would have become extremely tense. The international community should send a strong signal that the North’s behavior is unacceptable, especially in view of the existence of the framework of the six-party talks aimed at eventually denuclearizing North Korea and the fact that the North is a party to the talks.

North Korea is gradually stepping up its efforts to acquire the technologies to possess nuclear weapons that can be actually deployed and used. In August 1998, it launched a Taepodong-1 missile that flew over Japan. Although a Taepodong-2 missile in July 2006 blew up soon after its launch, the North test-exploded a nuclear device in October that year. Now it appears that North Korea has a reliable long-range rocket.

Japan, the United States and South Korea, plus Britain and France, think that the launch violates the United Nations Security Council’s October 2006 resolution that demanded that North Korea refrain from carrying out any more nuclear explosions or missile tests. North Korea apparently aims to drive a wedge between these countries and China and Russia, whose position on the resolution is unclear. It is imperative that Japan, the U.S. and South Korea work harder to get other countries to cooperate and unite with them in dealing with the North.

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