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EDITORIAL | We Cannot Just Watch North Korea Play with Spy Satellites

North Korea covets satellite technology to monitor US and other military movements and possibly to facilitate nuclear and non-nuclear missile attacks.



A new type of satellite carrier rocket "Cheonlima 1" is launched carrying the military reconnaissance satellite "Malikyo 1" at the Seohae Satellite Launching Site in Dongchang-ri, northwestern North Korea, on November 21. (©Korean Central News Agency)

At night on November 21, for the third time in 2023, North Korea attempted to send aloft a "military surveillance satellite." 

The state-run Korean Central News Agency, KCNA, reported that a new-type rocket blasted off successfully and that the onboard reconnaissance satellite entered the correct Earth orbit. KCNA also claimed that this reconnaissance satellite had already taken images of United States Air Force installations in the US territory of Guam and other locations.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense was watching. However, it said in a press release, "At this point, we cannot confirm that the satellite has entered an Earth orbit." Experts in Japan, the United States, and South Korea continue to analyze the situation. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida responds to questions at the Prime Minister's Office after North Korea's November 21 missile launch. ©Sankei by Katsuyuki Seki))

Fallout from the Launch

No direct damage was caused by falling debris. Also, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) did not take any measures to shoot it down. However, the launch occurred earlier than the November 22 to December 1 time frame previously announced by Pyongyang. That once again showed that North Korea is a nation that cannot be trusted in the slightest. 

In order to put a satellite into orbit, the rocket carrying it must attain a speed greater than it takes to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile. Satellite-carrying rockets are the same as the ballistic missiles that United Nations Security Council resolutions forbid North Korea to possess. This launch therefore violates UNSC resolutions and is totally unacceptable. North Korea should immediately abandon its nuclear and missile capabilities. 

Kim Jong Un celebrates the successful launch of a new rocket carrying the military reconnaissance satellite "Marikyo 1" on November 21. Saihae Satellite Launching Site ((©Korea Central News Agency via Chosun News Agency)

Words of Warning Will Not Bring Change

North Korea's insistence on acquiring reconnaissance satellites is attributable to its desire to monitor the US military's movements. It also wants to watch Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and the South Korean military. And to possibly use the satellites to facilitate both nuclear and non-nuclear missile attacks.

It is natural that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should criticize the North Korean launch as "a serious situation involving the safety of the public." But such criticism is hardly likely to trouble North Korea's dictator in the least. Japan and other countries must further penalize Pyongyang for its conduct. 

TV monitor in Tokyo shows the J-Alert as it was issued on November 21. (©Sankei by Kenji Suzuki)

Protecting Japan

In a statement made by Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the government expressed its commitment to the steady implementation of measures to fundamentally strengthen defense capabilities. Those include counterstrike capabilities. In that regard, we need to hasten the SDF's deployment of long-range missiles. 

This time, the J-Alert National Early Warning System worked as it was supposed to. But, at the same time, we were confronted with the stark reality that there are almost no underground shelters in Japan. Why the delay in building such shelters? 


North Korea will certainly not give up until it has successfully put operational reconnaissance satellites into orbit. The KCNA reports have mentioned plans to launch several reconnaissance satellites in the near future. 

Responsibility of UN Security Council Members

After failed launchings in May and August, North Korea looked to Russia for technical assistance. However, Russia should not act contrary to the resolutions that it voted for in the UN Security Security Council. Moreover, another Security Council member, China, must also change its stance on defending Pyongyang.

North Korea, China, and Russia are all dictatorships disturbing the peace. Cooperation among Japan, the US, and South Korea is critical, and not just in terms of diplomacy. It is just as important through the promotion of the immediate sharing of detection information on North Korean missiles and participation in joint exercises among the militaries of the three countries. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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