from Asia Unbound

South Korea’s Satellite Launch and North Korean Satellite Envy

October 22, 2012

Blog Post

South Korea tries for the third time to successfully launch its own satellite into earth orbit using Russian technology this Friday, October 26, 2012. A new essay by the Naval Postgraduate School’s Clay Moltz analyzes South Korea’s space strategy in a new U.S.-Korea program essay. The essay analyzes South Korea’s program achievements and strategic challenges in the context of rapidly advancing Chinese, Indian, and Japanese programs. Moltz also analyzes opportunities and challenges to enhanced U.S.-ROK cooperation in space as part of my edited volume released earlier this year entitled The US-South Korea Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges.

South Korea’s satellite launch is sure to enrage North Korea, which responded strongly to the outcome of the U.S.-ROK missile guidelines revision only a few weeks ago. North Korea pursued its own ostensible effort to place a satellite in orbit with its failed April 12, 2012 launch timed to take place just before North Korea’s celebration of the one-hundedth anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth. The fact that South Korea is able to pursue such launches while North Korea is prohibited from doing the same under UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 is perceived in North Korea as exhibit number one of a discriminatory U.S. policy toward North Korea.

In his chapter for The U.S.-South Korea Alliance, Moltz analyzes scientific, commercial, and military reasons for South Korea’s interests in space, along with the history of South Korea’s space collaboration with Russia and the seeming missed opportunities for cooperation between the Korea Aerospace Research Institute and NASA. Given the high financial costs and relative difficulty of competing with larger neighbors, South Korea will need to carefully assess its space strategy and partnerships now that cooperation with Russia appears to be nearing its end.  In space, as with so many other facets of South Korea’s security strategy, pursuit of objectives in partnership with close friends and allies seems to be a more rational strategy than going it alone.