North Korea claimed it has launched a spy satellite into space for the first time, prompting South Korea to partially suspend a military deal aimed at lowering tensions between the neighbors.
It was not immediately clear if the satellite is functional, or if the launch was in fact successful. Pyongyang’s two previous attempts at launching a satellite into space failed. The U.S., Japan, and South Korea have said that they’re so far unable to verify the North’s claims, but Pyongyang says it has already received images of U.S. military bases in Guam.
South Korea responded by suspending parts of a 2018 inter-Korean agreement that created no-fly and buffer zones between the nations, saying it would restart aerial surveillance of the North.
If the satellite is indeed operational, it poses a new security threat for South Korea, one analyst told South Korean outlet The Korea Times. The satellite “is not only capable of obtaining real-time information about South Korea’s military assets, but it would also bolster the regime’s ability to conduct accurate missile strikes on targets,” Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said.
Questions are swirling about Russia’s involvement with the satellite, but analysts are split on whether Moscow had direct influence in its launch. Yang believes it’s possible that the satellite is using advanced Russian systems, but Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the BBC there was no clear evidence of Moscow’s involvement. Seoul, meanwhile, said it had detected signs the North’s space program was receiving some assistance from Russia following a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September.
North Korea’s broader collaboration with Russia and its exploitation of the growing rifts between Moscow and the West should, however, prompt U.S. leaders to reevaluate Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities, Jamie Kwong and Ankit Panda wrote last week in Foreign Affairs. “The theory that pressure could change Pyongyang’s strategic calculus and force Kim to disarm has proved futile,” they argued. “Washington must adopt a more pragmatic approach centered on proactive risk reduction and conventional deterrence.”