North Korean rocket works, puts something into orbit

Cunning PR ruse had West thinking launch would be delayed due to glitches


North Korea has successfully launched a rocket that it claims is a peaceful vehicle, but which western nations suspect is a long-range missile.

The launch took place at around 01:00 GMT and saw a Kwangmyongsong-3 rocket soar aloft, according to Reuters.

The North American Airspace Defense Command (NORAD) published the following assessment of the launch:

North American Aerospace Defense Command officials acknowledged today that U.S. missile warning systems detected and tracked the launch of a North Korean missile at 7:49 p.m. EST. The missile was tracked on a southerly azimuth. Initial indications are that the first stage fell into the Yellow Sea. The second stage was assessed to fall into the Philippine Sea. Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.

The launch is a win for the reclusive nation for two reasons, the first of which is that it comes just days before elections in Japan (Dec 16) and South Korea (Dec 19,20). Security, especially apropos North Korea, is therefore well and truly on the regional agenda. That may look bad for North Korea, but the nation has in the past traded assurances not to do things like launch rockets for increased foreign aid. Launching a rocket therefore gives it another pretext for negotiations.

The second is that just yesterday the world seemed to think North Korea had fluffed its lines. This Bloomberg report, for example, is one of many saying the Kwangmyongsong-3 needed to be disassembled to make repairs. That assumption was made on the basis of surveillance photographs. North Korea may have encouraged such talk, as this emission from its official news KCNA agency says the launch window was extended due to a "technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket."

World leaders aren't keen on the launch. Australia's Julia Gillard, for example, declared the launch “another disappointing example of North Korea choosing a path of militarism and isolation.” ®

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