Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 170

Russia’s Glavkosmos space service said on September 15 that it still could not determine whether North Korea had launched a missile or a satellite on August 31. According to a senior Glavkosmos official, Gennady Khromov, Russia lacks reliable information on whether the August 31 launch was intended to put a satellite into orbit. Khromov admitted that Moscow had contributed to the development of North Korean missile technology during the Soviet period, when it exported Scud missiles to Pyongyang. He denied allegations, however, that Russian specialists are involved in North Korea’s current efforts to further improve its missile technology. Khromov said that the North Korean program has found aid instead from China–which, he pointed out, is not bound by international commitments aimed at restricting missile production and proliferation (Russian agencies, September 15).

Khromov’s remarks came on the same day that the U.S. State Department announced a reassessment of its views on the North Korean missile launch. Department spokesman James P. Rubin said that the United States now believes that North Korea had in fact tried–but failed–to place a satellite into orbit during the August 31 launch. The U.S. administration had earlier been skeptical of Pyongyang’s claims that the launch had involved a satellite.

The North Korean action rang alarm bells in Japan, both because a portion of the missile passed over Japanese territory and because the test launch suggested that North Korea may now be capable of striking any portion of Japan’s territory with a missile. The August 31 test has also caused consternation in the United States and elsewhere because it demonstrates–the satellite failure notwithstanding–that Pyongyang is increasing the range of its missiles. The United States regards the North Korean missile launch, Rubin said, as “a threat to U.S. allies, friends and forces in the region” (Washington Post, September 15).