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North Korea's Ballistic Missile Program

CNS Resources on North Korea's Ballistic Missile Program

The 31 August 1998 North Korean Satellite Launch: Factsheet

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On 31 August 1998, North Korea attempted to place a small satellite into orbit. The satellite was carried on board a Taep'o-dong rocket. The first stage of the Taep'o-dong splashed down in the Sea of Japan roughly 115km southeast of Vladivostok, Russia. The second stage is reported to have flown over the main Japanese island of Honshu and landed roughly 330km away from the Japanese port city of Hachinohe after flying for approximately 1,320km. A solid fuel third stage is believed to have carried a small satellite and was probably destroyed before reaching orbit.[1]

Technological Advance

Previously, North Korea was only known to have tested the No-dong (1,000-1,300km-range), a modified version of the Scud missile. The test of the Taep'o-dong represents a significant advance in its missile program. The Taep'o-dong is a longer-range configuration of the much publicized No-dong. The first two stages of the vehicle were liquid fueled while the third stage was a solid fuel type, the first ever launched by Pyongyang. The use of three stages means the North Koreans have progressed toward developing a multi-stage missile with a potential range between 3,800 to 5,900km, approaching intercontinental ballistic missile range. The recent launch reveals that it is likely that some progress has been made towards building the follow-up to the Taep'o-dong, the Taep'o-dong-2, which could strike targets as far away as Canberra, Honolulu or Anchorage.[2]

North Korean Statements

North Korea announced on 4 September 1998 that it placed its first artificial satellite "Kwangmyongsong No.1" (Bright Lodestar) in orbit. According to the Korean Central News Agency, "the rocket was launched at 12:07 on 31 August 1998 at a launching station in Musudan-ri, Hwadae county, North Hamgyong province. The satellite was put into orbit at 12 hours 11 minutes 53 seconds. The process of placing it into orbit took four minutes 53 seconds. The rocket used to launch the satellite comprised three stages. The first stage separated from the rocket in 95 seconds and fell into the Sea of Korea, 253km from the launching station (40 degrees 51 minutes north latitude, 139 degrees 40 minutes east longitude). The second stage separated from the rocket within 266 seconds and fell into the Pacific Ocean, 1,646km from the launching station (40 degrees 13 minutes north latitude, 149 degrees 07 minutes east longitude). The third stage placed the satellite into orbit within 27 seconds after separating from the second stage. The satellite is currently in an oval orbit that runs 218.82km nearest to the earth, and 6,978.2km furthest from it. One revolution of its orbit around the earth takes 165 minutes 6 seconds. The satellite is equipped with necessary sounding instruments and is currently transmitting melodies of North Korean revolutionary hymns in 27 MHz. Its purpose is to: (1) contribute to North Korean scientific research for peaceful use of outer space, (2) confirm the calculation basis for future satellite launches, and (3) encourage the Korean people in the efforts to build a powerful socialist state under the wise leadership of General Secretary Kim Jong Il."[3] North Korea said the satellite launch was the "internationally recognized legitimate right of a sovereign state" and stated that whether the rocket will be used for military purposes is completely dependent on the attitude of countries towards it.[4]

International Reactions

  • United States: On 10 September 1998, the United States announced a package of agreements aimed at defusing tensions and resuming the stalled Four Party Talks on the Korean Peninsula.[5] US President Bill Clinton used his executive authority to circumvent congressional opposition to the 1994 Agreed Framework by shifting $15 million to fund the purchase of 150,000 tons of heavy-fuel oil for North Korea.[6] On 1 October 1998, US officials led by Assistant Secretary of State Robert Einhorn, re-opened missile talks with North Korean representatives in New York. However, the talks yielded no substantial progress.[7] State Department spokesman James Rubin said that if North Korea continued missile production, deployment and flight tests as well as the export of missile technology, it would be highly destabilizing and would have very serious negative consequences.[8]
  • Japan: Japan responded to the overflight by denouncing it as a "missile launch" and announcing a policy review of its plan to contribute $1 billion to finance the construction of two light-water reactors in North Korea.[9] It also suspended diplomatic talks aimed at normalization of political ties and food aid to North Korea. However, on 28 September 1998, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura suggested that Japan will, in fact, contribute towards the construction of the two light-water nuclear reactors under the 1994 Agreed Framework.[10] North Korea's missile/satellite launch has also increased pressure in Japan to cooperate with the United States in developing a theater missile defense system (TMD) and launch its own reconnaissance satellites to avoid reliance on other countries for intelligence data.[11] On 20 September 1998, the United States and Japan reiterated their earlier decision to conduct joint research on a ballistic missile defense system.[12]
  • South Korea: South Korea's response has been relatively muted. In his UN speech on 25 September 1998, South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Hong Soon Young called on the global community to make a concerted effort to deter North Korea from developing, testing, and exporting missiles. He also released a joint press statement with Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright condemning North Korea's missile launch, but reaffirming support for the 1994 Agreed Framework.[13]
  • China: China stated that it had no prior knowledge of the launch and has promised the United States that it will help keep "nuclear missiles out of North Korea."[14] However, China has expressed concern over the proposed joint US-Japanese TMD plan and warned that, "[Japan and the United States] should exercise restraint and refrain from doing anything that may cause tensions in the region."[15]
  • Russia: According to the head of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces Vladimir Yakovlev "in accordance with international agreements" North Korea warned Russia of the rocket launch. Yakovlev also reported that an accident during the launch caused the rocket to change its trajectory and therefore not enter the tracking zone of Russian monitoring systems. However, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs contradicted Yakovlev's report. Ministry sources said that no agreements on missile launch warnings exist between Russian and North Korea, and that no one was notified about the test ahead of time.[16] A spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that although North Korea's missile launch concerned Moscow, Russia would like to have normal, friendly relations with North Korea.[17]


[1] Joseph S. Bermudez, "North Koreans Test Two-Stage IRBM Over Japan," Jane's Defense Weekly, 9 September 1998, p.26.

[2] Robert D. Walpole, "North Korea's Taep-o'dong Launch and Some Implications on the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States," Speech delivered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8 December 1998; Joseph S. Bermudez, "North Koreans Test Two-Stage IRBM Over Japan," Jane's Defense Weekly, 9 September 1998, p.26.

[3] Korean Central News Agency (Pyongyang), 4 September 1998, <>.

[4] "North Korea Says Use of Satellite Launch Depends on US and 'Other Hostile Forces,'" BBC Asia Pacific Political, 26 September; in Inquisit, 26 September 1998, <>.

[5] Jun Kwan-woo, "Pyongyang Agrees to Return to Four-Party Peace Talks," Korea Herald (Seoul), 11 September 1998; in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, 9 April 1999, <>.

[6] Thomas W. Lippman, "Perry May be Named to Try to Salvage Pact with N. Korea," Washington Post, 4 October 1998, p.27.

[7] Chris Michaud, "Little Progress in U.S.-Korea Missile Talks," Inquisit, 2 October 1998, <>.

[8] "U.S. Warns N. Korea About Further Missile Tests," Inquisit, 2 October 1998, <>.

[9] "Angry Japan Sets Measures Against North Korea," Reuters, 9 September 1998; in Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network Daily Report, 9 September 1998, <>.

[10] "Japan Mulling End to Freeze on N. Korea Reactor Funds," Inquisit, 29 September 1998, <>.

[11] Willis Witter, "Japan Makes Missile Defense a High Priority," Washington Times, 6 November 1998, p.A12.

[12] "U.S., Japan Agree to Study Missile Defense," Washington Times, 21 September 1998, p.1.

[13] "Joint Statement on North Korea Issues," Kyodo News Service (Tokyo), 25 September 1998; in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, 25 September 1998, <>.

[14] Simon Beck, "Beijing 'to Help U.S.' Over North Korean Missiles," South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), 17 September 1998, <>.

[15] "China Warns U.S., Japan About Missile Defense Agreement," Indian Express (Delhi), 23 September 1998, <>.

[16] Yuriy Golotyuk and Sergey Golotyuk, "Russian Pacific Fleet Scared by Russian Rocket Forces," Russkiy Telegraf, 2 September 1998.

[17] "Moscow Analyzes Impact of North Korean Missile Launch on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Situation in the Region," Interfax, 2 September 1998.

Kevin Orfall and Gaurav Kampani, with Michael Dutra
© Center for Nonproliferation Studies,
Monterey Institute of International Studies

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