North Korea Defends Spy Satellite Program At UN

North Korea recently defended its intentions for a failed rocket launch on August 31st, 2023 asserting the launch was to deploy a spy satellite into space, which is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) “legitimate right as a sovereign state.” In a rare address to the United Nations, the DPRK’s ambassador to the multinational body, Kim Song, denied that Pyongyang’s satellite launches are related in any way to its program to develop Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). The obvious rhetoric from Pyongyang comes as the country has suffered two satellite launch failures since May, which has drawn international alarm. 

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), headed by the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has strongly condemned North Korea’s attempts to put a spy satellite into earth’s orbit. According to CNN, the UNSC has referred to Pyongyang’s attempts as a “brazen violation” of several of the UNSC’s resolutions. The UNSC  alleges that the launches necessitated the usage of technology “directly related to the DPRK’s intercontinental ballistic missile program.” Ambassador Song’s speech directly responded to this point, defiantly asserting that North Korea has never “recognized UNSC resolutions infringing on the rights of a sovereign state.” According to North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang will attempt another satellite launch in October. 

While the United Nations Security Council must ensure to respect the sovereignty of independent states, the North Korean spy satellite program, and its importance to its ICBM program, are a threat to the collective security of East Asia and beyond. The United Nations Security Council, through continued resolutions and further coordinated sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime, must continue to signal that North Korea’s provocative military adventurism is unacceptable. This is especially true while Pyongyang continues to allocate a significant portion of its budget to expensive weapons programs, despite the fact that much of the North Korean population lives under devastatingly poor economic conditions. According to the U.S. State Department, North Korea spent roughly 26% of its Gross Domestic Product, or $4 billion, on defense in 2019, by far the most per GDP in the world. 

North Korea’s history of provocative ballistic missile and rocket programs is well documented and extensive. The country began developing its nuclear program in earnest at the end of the Cold War, with the changing global security dynamics due to the fall of the communist bloc and the Soviet Union. Since then, North Korea’s regional neighbors and the United States have attempted  to work with Pyongyang, proposing concessions in exchange for freezing or dismantling the small country’s nuclear program. However, these attempts at disarmament have proven entirely fruitless, and North Korea’s nuclear and rocket programs are an ever more entrenched facet of their foreign policy. The recent satellite launches appear to be a cover for North Korea’s growing ballistic missile program, which combined with their highly belligerent rhetoric and unpredictability, is a clear sign of the growing security concern that the Kim regime represents to the peace and stability of the entire Indo-Pacific. 

The future of North Korea’s nuclear and rocket programs, which is now being developed under the guise of the country’s satellite program, have grave implications for the region and beyond. Continuous bilateral and multilateral attempts at denuclearization have resulted in denial, delay, and deceit by Kim’s regime. It is clear the primary state goal for Kim, North Korea’s volatile leader, is a nuclear weapons program, which he believes will ensure his survival and his dynasty’s rule. The country’s nuclear program and burgeoning rocket capabilities give the floundering state the leverage it desperately seeks given its anemic economy and degenerated military. While there are no obvious or easy solutions, the international community must continue to resolutely oppose North Korea’s aggressive overtures, by denying Kim the economic concessions and respect he covets until he demonstrates an earnest attempt at negotiating in good faith.