Kim Jong Un’s New “Toy” Missile: Are We Safe Enough?

Kim Jong Un’s New “Toy” Missile: Are We Safe Enough?

Shin Young Jo, MJIL Staff Member

On February 7, 2016, North Korea launched the rocket “Gwang Myung Sung-4.” Despite United Nation’s Security Council resolution’s banning of North Korea’s research and development on nuclear weapons or ballistic missile technologies, Kim Jong Un’s provocation against the international security has gone off the hook.[1]

So what is all this fuss about the world’s poorest communist country located over 6,000 miles away from the States? North Korea is claiming that the recently launched rocket Gwang Myung Sung-4 is a “satellite,” however, there is strong evidence to believe that the rocket’s ultimate purpose is not for a satellite launch, but rather for developing an important technology in developing the inter-continental ballistic missile or commonly known as the ICBM.[2]

ICBMs are long range intercontinental missiles, which through the recent launch of the Gwang Myung Sung-4, North Korea has proved that it has the capacity to launch missiles as far as 12,000 km or about 7450 mi.[3] These missiles are not only a major threat to South Korea, China, and Japan, but due to its long range capacity, North Korea’s potential ICBM can reach all the way to New York or Washington D.C.[4]

A couple days after the launch, Department of Defense has claimed that North Korea’s satellite is not accepting any signals and it is “tumbling” around the earth instead of orbiting in a stable speed. There are three main reasons that aero-space experts and specialists argue that the recent satellite launch is for observatory, but rather technology development for the ICBM.[5]

First, unlike North Korea’s claimed purpose of “observing” the Korean peninsula, experts have claimed that the satellite was launched at the wrong time. In order to properly utilize the satellite as an observatory satellite, the satellite should have launched between 10:30 am and 11:00 am, however, the actual launch was made at 9:30 am instead.[6]

Dr. Kang Kung In, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (“KAIST”)’s Satellite Technology Research Center, stated that “If North Korea’s rocket is a satellite launched for observing the Korean peninsula, it is best for the satellite to move over the Korean peninsula between 10:30 am and 11:00 am.[7] This time period is when the satellites can best capture the surface of the earth because the sunlight creates shadow across the Korean peninsula.”[8] Nevertheless, North Korea’s rocket was launched a full hour earlier than typical time span, which is strong evidence that North Korea’s intention was not too much about observing the Korean peninsula.[9]

Second, according to the director of Korean Aerospace Research Institute Mr. Jo, Gwang Rae, “The covering of the Gwang Myung Sung 4 collected by the Korean Navy seems inappropriate design in launching a satellite.”[10] Mr. Jo also said “If you look inside the covering, it has burnt marks all around. This burnt marks were caused by the explosion of gun-powers when the second part of the rocket was separated from the satellite during the launch, which means that the explosion probably would have masked the satellite’s camera lens and surface with burnt marks as well.”[11] This evidence supports that even if it is true that North Korea actually had launched a satellite for observation purposes, Mr. Jo claims that the satellite probably would not fully function.[12]

Third is the suspicion around the type of fuel used by the Gwang Myung Sung-4. A typical missile uses solid-state fuel, whereas, a rocket for satellite launch typically uses liquid-state fuel instead. Unlike satellites, missiles require immediate launch when needed, so the missiles typically use solid-state fuels, which is permanently installed that allows an immediate launch at need. Whereas, liquid-state fuels require to be kept in cryogenic and high-pressure storage, which the fuel is usually pumped right before the launch.[13]

The Gwang Myung Sung-4 used a liquid-state fuel, which unlike a typical type of liquid-state fuel it was a combination of hydrazine fuel and nitric acid. Although this combination allows a room-temperature storage, this type of liquid-fuels are not typically used anymore because of its high toxicity. But experts state that North Korea only used such type of fuel to cover up its intention of the recent rocket launch.[14]

Also in supporting the suspicion, according to an aerospace journalist James Oberg, he claimed in his recently published IEEE article that “When the Eun Hwa-3 was launched in April of 2012 in North Korea, the North Korean did not use a train or pipe-line to transfer fuel for the rocket, but rather transported using a vehicle, which is a typical way to cover up from U.S. and other countries’ surveillance on North Korea’s development and launching of ballistic missiles.”[15]

So what should we do about it?

On March 2, 2016, the United Nations Security Council and its 15 members agreed to impose an extensive and broad sanctions against the North Korea. United Nations Security Council’s sanction includes almost all economic sanctions including all exportations of goods to North Korea, restriction on financial services, and strictly limiting admittance of all North Korean fleets and vessels in 15 of the United Nation Security Council member countries. However, the sanction excludes daily necessities shipped for the civilians of North Korea.[16]

Unfortunately, the sanction will not solve them problem. There is a complexity of interest over countries that are members of the United Nation Security Council. The main countries involve South Korea, China, and the U.S. South Korea and U.S. are planning to further expand the two countries’ collaborative military defense through installing missile defense system such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, commonly known as the THAAD.[17]

Here, China is concerned over the installation of THAAD because of the system’s capability of monitoring beyond the Korean peninsula. China is against the THAAD because it can monitor all the military movements made by the Chinese military.[18] Even though South Korea and the U.S. have clearly mentioned that they will ensure to reduce the radar capacity of THAAD and only focus on monitoring North Korea, China’s tension against THADD has only been growing and recently launched its ICBM to show its military capability.[19] Immediately after China’s launch, the U.S. also has recently launched several of its ICBMs to prove its military capability as well.[20]

The North Korea’s recent rocket launch shall not lead to an U.S. and China’s arms race. It may only be North Korea’s ultimate intention to increase tension and distrust between countries like U.S. and China. We should not be fooled by North Korea’s obnoxious international political scheme but, we should work as a team in collaboration and cooperation in order to reduce further risk against North Korea and Kim Jong Un’s provocation and childish play against the entire world.

Immediately after the sanction against North Korea had passed by the United Nation Security Council, the United Nations South Korean Ambassador Joon Oh made a concise, yet sentimental message against North Korea.

In Korean, Ambassador Oh said, “Yi Jae Guh Man Ha Sae Yo!” In English Ambassador Oh said “Please, stop it now!” Ambassador Oh continued his speech, “Why do you need these weapons? In South Korea, we do not have nuclear weapons. As we are bordering with each other, you don’t need intercontinental missile if you are aiming us. You say United States is a threat to you. Why a strongest military power in the world would threaten a small country far across Pacific. There is no threat? It is figment of your imagination…If you continue on this way only people suffer will your own people and they are also my people and our people as well…”[21]

Yes, Kim Jong Un, stop this madness and please put your new “toy” missile down.


[1] Choe Sang-Hun, North Korea Launches Rocket Seen as Cover for a Missile Test, N.Y. Times, (last visited Feb. 27, 2016).

[2] Lee Young-Wan, 3 Reasons Why … North Korea’s Gwang Myung Sung is a Missile, Chosun Ilbo, (last visited Feb. 27, 2016).

[3] Yi Whan-Woo, North Korea Closer to Developing ICBM, Korea Times, (last visited Feb. 27, 2016).

[4] Id.

[5] Yang Nak-Gyu, The Current Status of North Korea’s Claimed Satellite, Asia Economics, (last visited Feb. 28, 2016).

[6] Supra, note 2.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Park Jee-Hye, UN Passes Sanction Against North Korea with Unanimous Vote, E Daily, (last visited Mar. 3, 2016).

[17] Shannon Tiezzi, South Korea Eyes THAAD, China Urges ‘Caution,’ Diplomat, (last visited Feb. 29, 2016).

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] No Chang-Hyun, “Please Stop It Now!” Ambassador Oh Joon’s Unexpected Speech in Korean, Newsis, (last visited Mar. 3, 2016).