The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) defied warnings from the international community and launched a long-range missile late Saturday, placing an earth observation satellite into orbit.
The launch, described by United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon as a "provocative action," violated current UN Security Council resolutions and quickly spurred international condemnation—as well as an emergency meeting of the Security Council in New York on Sunday.
An announcement broadcasted on DPRK state TV on Sunday said the launch was a "complete success," and that the the Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite, named after the late leader Kim Jong-il, was now orbiting the planet every 94 minutes. An announcer added that the country plans additional satellite launches.
"The U.S. and its allies believe the [North Korean] regime uses satellite launches as covert tests of technology that could be used to develop a missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland," the Guardian reports. The difference, AP notes, is that "a rocket is called a space launch vehicle when it is used to send up a satellite into orbit, but it becomes a missile when its payload is a warhead."
Following the launch, non-proliferation advocates warned against knee-jerk reactions and misrepresentations of the latest launch.
Kelsey Davenport, an expert on North Korea's nuclear program and director for Nonproliferation Policy at the Arms Control Association, said that it is "important to remember that satellite launch vehicles are not ICBMs," or intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The launch was announced just before the start of the ABC News Republican debate Saturday evening, during which the candidates discussed the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against DPRK.
This weekend's launch follows the detonation last month of an alleged (but unlikely) hydrogen bomb, which spurred similar fears and bombast over the growing nuclear threat in that country.
But anti-nuclear activists and experts continue to argue that the best way to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program is through the universal ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty—particularly by the nine nuclear-armed states, particularly the U.S.—as well as a United Nations resolutions declaring any new nuclear test a threat to international peace and security.
These measures, in conjunction with penalties and increased incentives, including a move to open dialogue with the "hermit nation," said Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione, give the global community the best shot of convincing DPRK of abandoning its nuclear weapons and capabilities.