North Korea on Wednesday successfully tested a long range rocket according to American and South Korean officials which promises to unnerve a region already concerned about the communist regime’s nuclear weapons program.
The test of the Unha 3 rocket came as a surprise because the North had announced a few days earlier that it was delaying the launch due to technical difficulties. South Korean officials reported that the missile was then taken off the launch pad for repairs.
However, there is speculation that the warning could have been a ruse in order to achieve maximum effect from a surprise launch. Also because Japan pledged to shoot down any North Korean missile that passed over its territory.
North Korea has claimed the missile launch was used to put a satellite into orbit, something that it has failed to do on four previous occasions. That seemed to be confirmed in a statement from the United States Northern Command which said that “initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.”
Analysts acknowledge that the test was probably a success which shows that the North has made advances in its long range intercontinental missile technology development. The fear in the region is that this will help the country in its desire to build longer range rockets. But the ability to put a nuclear warhead atop such a missile is seen as still years away.
The surprise launch could be indicative of problems within the North Korean government too between the new young leader, Kim Jong-un, who many had hoped would open the country up to some modest economic reforms, and the military, which is said to be supportive of further tests.
According to a report last week in the state media, Kim issued orders to security officials to eliminate those “maneuvering behind the scenes to destroy our unity and prompt a riot.”
Japan, South Korea and the United States denounced the missile launch, with the Americans calling it “a highly provocative act that threatens regional security.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it “regrets” the launch. China is North Korea’s only ally in the region and has long been pressured by the Western allies to rein in the smaller country’s nuclear ambitions.
The test comes as elections are scheduled in both Japan and South Korea on December 16 and December 19 respectively.