by MT Smith
This post is part of the student blogger project from the summer session of Space Security Law.
MT Smith is from Jacksonville, FL and grew up in a military family, moving around the U.S. He calls Jacksonville, FL and Charlotte, NC home. MT graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies. He then pursued a career in Naval Aviation as a pilot in the US Navy, flying multiple aircraft with his primary platform being the Navy’s E-6B Mercury. His many deployments as an Aircraft Commander and Mission Commander in support of USSTRATCOM’s TACAMO and Looking Glass operations fueled his interests in the arena of Communications and National Security issues as well as Air and Space Law. He is in his second year of law school at The University of Mississippi where he hopes to earn the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law Certificate.
It’s easy to point the judging finger at North Korea, condemning their recent attempted launch of the UNHA-3 rocket, and to claim that it is a masked attempt to conduct intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing operations. Of course, there is North Korea’s history of deceitful uranium enrichment, deliberate and defiant prior launches, and their ultimate blatant disregard for U.N. Security Council Resolutions, which justify a certain amount of skepticism, but is it that simple to conclude the UNHA-3 launch was a definitive violation of international space law, in fact an attempted launch of an ICBM, or were they in fact, as they claim, simply exercising their right to peaceful space development? Whether it is an absolute violation of international space law or a launch of peaceful purposes, how do we legitimately make that determination?
In addressing what constitutes an internationally legal space vehicle launch, one could find numerous articles clearly suggesting the legal parameters of “peaceful purpose” space launches and the international standards regulating, or prohibiting, ICBM launch activities. The problem facing North Korea’s launch is in their defining rhetoric which claims no more than an attempt to peacefully launch an “earth observing satellite” via a rocket that is incapable of intercontinental travel.1 According to the Encyclopedia Astronautica website, “despite western press speculation that the UNHA-3 could be the basis for an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States, this three stage rocket is incapable of lofting the payload necessary for that mission.”2 If this is true, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 clearly states in it’s preamble that there is a “common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes”3 While White House Press Secretary Jay Carney claims North Korea’s “provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments,” it would seem a case for North Korea’s claim could certainly be made.4
On the other hand of the equation, if mere words were taken as truth at the international level, one could obviously see the inevitable problems that would arise. Although North Korea claims “peaceful purposes” as a given right in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, often enough, they have shown the international community that their intentions do not appear “peaceful” at all. As previously mentioned, this is not the first occurrence of a defiant act from the North Korean regime. Launches in August 1998, July 2006, and April 2009 were all met with international resistance and even resulted in The U.N. Security Council Resolution 1695, stating, “the United Nations Security Council today condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s recent test-firing of a series of missiles, and demanded that the North-East Asian country suspend all ballistic missile related activity and reinstate its moratorium on missile launches.”5 There are documented cases of North Korea’s secret uranium enrichment operations which have caused much international skepticism and concern.6 To add insult to injury, a defected North Korean propagandist went on record in front the House Committee on Foreign Affairs reporting that the sole mission of the current North Korean regime is to find any, and every, source for hard currency to fund ICBM technology.7 To further this accusation, Scott Snyder, the US – North Korea policy director on the Council for Foreign Affairs, claims that the Chinese government has turned a blind eye to the activities between the two nations in many hard currency producing illicit activities, in a sense, opening the back door to the current closed front door financial sanctions imposed by the United States.8 If “peaceful purposes” are the goals of the North Korean regime, in the eyes of the international community, they have done a fine job of conveying anything but that.
Needless to say, the debate on international space law and the legality of North Korea’s string of launches, UNHA-3 being the most recent, has once again opened a heated debate among the international community. While there may not yet be a definitive answer as to the character of North Korea’s launch, it would seem that the international community listening to North Korea has heard their claims, but have seen much more. Whether it’s “말로만하지 말고 행동으로,” Taten sprechen lauter als Worte,” or “الأعمال أعلى صوتا من الأقوال,” around the globe, the meaning is the same, “actions speak louder than words.”
1 Evan Ramstad and Laura Meckler, Pyongyang Admits Test of Rocket Collapses; U.S. Condemns Provocative Action, ONLINE.WSJ.COM, (April 13, 2012).
2 Encyclopedia Astronautica, UNHA-3.
3 UNITED NATIONS TREATIES AND PRINCIPLES ON OUTER SPACE.
4 Evan Ramstad and Laura Meckler, Pyongyang Admits Test of Rocket Collapses; U.S. Condemns Provocative Action, ONLINE.WSJ.COM, (April 13, 2012).
5 Security Council Condemns Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Missile Launches, UN.ORG, (July 15, 2006).
7 House Committee On Foreign Affairs Convenes to Discuss North Korea’s Recent Failed Rocket Launch and New Leader, ORWELLSHANKY.WORDPRESS.COM, (April 19, 2012).