South Korea issued dire warnings to North Korea as it prepares to launch a long-range rocket this February.
Although North Korea claims that the rocket launch is intended to launch a satellite into space, others say that the official claims are just a cover for a ballistic missile test.
The world is reacting accordingly. "We warn that if North Korea proceeds with a long-range missile launch,” said South Korean official Cho Tae-yang, “the international society will ensure that the North pays searing consequences for it."
South Korea is just one of the neighboring countries to offer warnings. Japan and Russia both condemned North Korea for what they see as its blatant disregard of international law.
The United States has called for further UN sanctions on North Korea, which they say will be violating a UN missile launch ban if the country goes forward with its plan.
Another neighbor, however, advocated for a deescalation of tensions. "We hope all sides show restraint and take prudent action,” said China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, “to avoid any moves that may increase the tensions on the [Korean] Peninsula."
China has long been friendlier with North Korea than other countries in the region, and has continued to advocate for restraint in handling its neighbor. Critics like the United States say that China’s reticence to pursue North Korean issues has contributed to the current charged situation.
North Korea announced its launch plans yesterday. The launch is scheduled to occur between February 8 and 25. The satellite is purportedly named Kwangmyŏngsŏng, or Lodestar. The rocket’s first and second stages are supposed to fall off the coast of South Korea and the Philippines, respectively.
In 2012, North Korea launched a similar rocket. At the time, South Korea expressed concerns that its northern neighbor was testing a ballistic missile that was capable of striking the United States.
North Korea’s announcement comes just weeks after the country completed a nuclear test in early January. On January 5, the country said that it had performed its first successful test of a hydrogen bomb.
Although experts have viewed North Korea’s past nuclear claims with suspicion, seismologists detected an event near the country’s nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, that registered a 5.1 on the Richter scale.
Since the alleged launch in early January, the United States and others have been involved in drafting a UN Security Council Resolution that would penalize North Korea for its tests. If North Korea has truly been testing nuclear weapons, it is in violation of a similar resolution, which bans North Korea from nuclear tests and launches of any kind.
In response to the nuclear tests, the United States also engaged in a show of force in South Korea earlier this year. The United States sent a famous bomber model, the B-52, on a flight across South Korea shortly after the tests.
As of September 2015, the United States had 25,775 troops stationed in South Korea, according to a Defense Manpower Data Center report. That number represents a slight reduction from July’s total of over 28,000 troops. Troop numbers in South Korea have remained relatively static over the last ten years.
North Korea has offered to scale back its nuclear testing, provided the United States ceases engaging in joint military drills with South Korea. "Still valid are all proposals for preserving peace and stability on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia,” a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman told the country’s KCNA news agency, “including the ones for ceasing our nuclear test and the conclusion of a peace treaty in return for U.S. halt to joint military exercises."
In response, the US State Department Spokesman John Kirby affirmed alliance commitments to South Korea. Joint military drills between South Korea and the United States typically occur from late February to early March.