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2009/02/26 11:09 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 43 (February 26, 2009)


Satellite Launch Is Also Violation of International Law

By Lee Kyu-chang (Research Fellow, Korea Institute for National Unification, Seoul, Korea)

Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea's Workers' Party, said on Feb. 7 that North Korea is entitled to "advance into space any time and use it for peaceful purposes." The editorial, titled "DPRK (North Korea) entitled to use space for peaceful purposes," noted Iran's recently successful launch of its first domestically made satellite, "Omid" (Hope), carrying a Safir-2 rocket. "Iran's recent satellite launch has not only demonstrated her national power but shown before the world that there can be no longer any monopoly of space development and its use."

   In a separate statement on Feb. 24, North Korea said it is preparing to launch a satellite from a launchpad on its northeastern coast, reiterating the state's claims after weeks of intelligence reports suggesting Pyongyang may test-fire a long-range missile. "Outer space is an asset common to mankind and its use for peaceful purposes has become a global trend," a spokesman for the North's Korean Committee of Space Technology said.

   The North's announcements can be interpreted as justification for the country's recent activities involving a possible long-range missile launch from Musudan-ri, Hwadae County, North Hamgyong Province. However, if North Korea proceeds with the launch of either a missile or a satellite, it would violate not only the teachings of its founder, Kim Il-sung, as well as inter-Korean agreements, but also its own domestic and international law.

   In numerous writings by Kim, the father of current leader Kim Jong-il, the "Great Leader" argues that the threat of nuclear war will exist as long as there are nuclear weapons in this world. His work, which outweighs the nation's constitution in its significance, states that the production, testing, and proliferation of nuclear weapons should be banned so as to reduce their number and eventually free the world from the threat of nuclear war.

   Even the state's own Environmental Protection Law, first proposed in 1986 and amended in 2004, explicitly prohibits the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Article 7 of the law bans the development, testing, and use of nuclear and chemical weapons and condemns any environmental damage that could arise from their use. Upon its passage, Kim Il-sung declared the law “legally affirms the achievements we have already made in protecting our environment. It will create a more splendid natural environment for our people to live autonomous and creative lives, and give our future generations a legal guarantee of inheriting an even more beautiful fatherland."

   Any launch by North Korea would also violate the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, signed by both the North and the South on Feb. 19, 1992, in which the two sides agreed not to test, produce, possess, store, proliferate, or use nuclear weapons (Article 1), and to use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes (Article 2). In the North-South Basic Agreement, signed in Dec. 13, 1991, the two countries consented to settle disagreements and disputes through peaceful negotiation rather than military confrontation (Articles 9 & 10). Rejecting South Korea's requests for dialogue and threatening military conflict are clear violations of both inter-Korean agreements.

   North Korea announced on Jan. 30 through its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland that it would nullify all inter-Korean agreements. Nevertheless, an agreement made between two countries cannot be unilaterally scrapped. The 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties makes clear that states must follow a specific set of guidelines in order to nullify a treaty. Although North Korea has not technically signed onto this convention, this agreement is one that has been codified as common law in the international community. Even if the North-South Basic Agreement and Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula are not specifically "treaties" by definition, it is still problematic for North Korea to unilaterally void them.

   Finally, North Korea's planned launch would also infringe on international law. The UN Charter requires that all member states "settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered" (Article 2, Clause 3). North Korea's launch preparations would breach the UN Charter, as it creates tension not only on the Korean peninsula but also throughout the East Asia region.

   Furthermore, North Korea was sworn in as a member of the UN on Sept. 17, 1991 at the same time as South Korea. On Dec. 13, 1963, the UN Assembly passed the Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space (henceforth, "Space Declaration"). This resolution declares a comprehensive set of legal principles to govern activities in outer space. As the Rodong Sinmun article argues, the Space Declaration states that "outer space and celestial bodies are not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means" (Article 3).

   However, the editorial neglects to mention any of the other articles in the declaration, which state that the use of outer space should be "carried on for the benefit and in the interests of all mankind" (Article 1) and "on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law" (Article 2), particularly with the Charter of the United Nations (Article 4). The declaration also details that "States shall be guided by the principle of co-operation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their activities in outer space with due regard for the corresponding interests of other States." Although North Korea claims that its launch is for peaceful purposes, insofar as these movements serve only the national interest of North Korea alone, threaten international peace and security, and don't take into consideration the interests of any other countries in East Asia, including South Korea, they are violations of the Space Declaration.

   North Korea needs to abide by Kim Il-sung's teachings and their domestic Environmental Protection Law by immediately dismantling its nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang must also fall in line with the North-South Basic Agreement and Oct. 4 Joint Declaration by accepting South Korea's requests for dialogue to settle disputes through peaceful negotiation. Only when these actions are taken can North Korea be considered a responsible member of the UN and one that abides by the assembly's Space Declaration.