North Korea’s Kim Gloats Over Spy Satellite Images, Courtesy of Google Maps, as the Peninsula Is Roiled by Breakdown of 2018 Pact Between North and South

‘There are plenty of images of the Pentagon and the White House online,’ says a Defense Department spokesman, when asked about the North Korean report boasting of the spy satellite’s success.

Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP
On November 23, 2023, North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, right, and his daughter attend a celebration of the launch of a spy satellite. Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un would do well to stop gloating over the images that the North says he’s receiving from a spy satellite his regime launched last week in defiance of America and South Korea.

While the satellite is orbiting earth, it’s not at all clear if the pictures North Korea says Mr. Kim saw were from the satellite or simply downloaded from the internet. They were all targets that North Korean propaganda has vowed it might bomb someday — including the White House.

“There are plenty of images of the Pentagon and the White House online,” said the Defense Department press secretary, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, when asked what he thought of the North Korean report boasting of the satellite’s success.

For Mr. Kim, there’s no doubt the launch of the satellite was more than just a propaganda victory. He’s been hyping it as a breakthrough ushering in “a new era of space power” while claiming the North has every right to have its own spies in the sky in a “full-fledged exercise in self-defense.”

Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency reported he was poring over satellite photos showing the White House and the Pentagon, Andersen Air Base on Guam, and American naval facilities at Norfolk and Newport News, Virginia.

“Four US Navy nuclear carriers and one British aircraft carrier were spotted in the photos of the Norfolk Naval Base and the Newport News Dockyard,” said KCNA.

The satellite, though, is not believed to be fully operational. 

Mr. Kim, said  KCNA, expressed “great satisfaction” with the “successful preparations” of the satellite before its “official mission” — a phrase suggesting it was doing less than claimed. “The fine-tuning process of the satellite is being hastened to end one or two days earlier,” said KCNA. 

In Seoul, South Korea’s Yonhap News reported “skepticism” over “whether the quality of those photos would be sufficient enough to aid military operations.” One question was whether the North had “a high-resolution camera” needed to spy on targets.

There was no doubt, though, of Mr. Kim’s joy over getting the satellite spinning around the earth. Pictures distributed by the North Korean state press show the proud father huddling with his tween-aged daughter Ju Ae at a celebratory banquet attended by technicians, scientists, military officers, and officials who had made the launch a success after two failures. 

His  exuberance contrasted with the total breakdown of an agreement signed by Mr. Kim and South Korea’s former president, the liberal Moon Jae-in, in September 2018 at the height of a period of rapprochement between the two Koreas.   The deal banned reconnaissance flights and military exercises close to the Demilitarized Zone dividing North from South Korea.

The launch of the satellite gave South Korea’s conservative president, Yoon Seoul-yul, the pretext for nullifying the portion of the deal banning reconnaissance flights near the DMZ.  In the next step in the tit-for-tat between North and South, the North canceled the entire agreement.

Now it’s back to Square One in the decades-long North-South confrontation.  For the first time in more than five years, North Korean troops on their side of the line at the truce village of Panmunjom 35 miles north of Seoul are hefting pistols while the North Koreans are rebuilding and repairing 11 guideposts on their side of the line.

The breakdown of the agreement was another act in a drama that’s gone on  ever since the Korean War ended in a highly armed truce 70 years and four months ago. “Military Agreement with North Korea Wasn’t Worth the Paper It’s Written on,” headlined the South’s biggest selling paper, Chosun Ilbo, in a sardonic report declaring, “for North Korea, the agreement never really existed.”  

The North, said the paper, had “violated it countless times,” test-firing more than 600 missiles last year and sending drones across the line even as far as the skies above Seoul. 

A sign of rising tensions has  been the escalation of joint American and South Korean military exercises — and cooperation between South Korea and Japan.  American, South Korean and Japanese warships are churning the waters near Jeju, the island province off the South’s southern coast, while an American aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, is moored at Busan ready to join the war games.

In Seoul, the South Korean command said “The drill was held to bolster joint capabilities and combined defense posture” against North Korea in the wake of the launch of the spy satellite and the North’s “rising nuclear and missile threat.”

The New York Sun

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