North Korea is going ahead with plans to launch a rocket despite international calls to abandon the effort.
The secretive regime had announced plans of a possible delay due to "unspecified reasons." But today, North Korea extended the potential launch window by one week. The nuclear armed country is now saying the launch will take place sometime before Dec. 29.
North Korea insists the launch is simply part of an effort to develop a peaceful space program and place a satellite into orbit. But the U.S. and other key allies, including China and Russia -- which traditionally support North Korea -- believe it is a thinly disguised attempt to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. With further development, such technology could be used to develop a missile that could one day reach the U.S.
Official state media is blaming the delay on a technical glitch. A statement from the Korean Committee of Space Technology claimed today that scientists and technicians "found a technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket carrying the satellite."
Satellite images also reveal that a new third-stage booster was delivered to the launch pad on Saturday. It is believed the launch could take place after the booster is installed and the first stage rocket is stabilized.
The United States has mobilized four warships in the Asia-Pacific region to monitor and possibly shoot down the launch. The guided missile destroyer the USS John S. McCain and the guided missile cruiser the USS Shiloh join the USS Benfold and USS Fitzgerald, also guided missile destroyers, to "reassure allies in the region" according to officials.
Some analysts in South Korea are expressing doubt a launch will actually take place this year, citing poor weather in addition to the technical challenges. Nevertheless, South Korea has upped its defense level to "Watchcon 2" which is issued when there is a possible viable threat to the nation. South Korea usually occupies a "Watchcon 3" status due to the official state of war with the North.
North Korea's actions are timely as many notable events overlap this month. Dec. 17 marks the one year anniversary of the country's Dear Leader Kim Jong-il's death. Analysts believe his son and successor, Kim Jong-Un, is under pressure to show the world he is intent on continuing his father's "Military First" policy and demonstrate a show of strength.
The planned rocket launch is also seen as a political statement. It may coincide with the South Korean presidential election, scheduled for Dec. 19. For presidential candidate Park Geun-hye in particular, North Korea holds particular meaning. Her father, Park Chung-hee, served as the South Korean president for 16 years. He was the target of multiple assassination attempts by North Korea. One of those effort killed his wife, Chung-hee's mother. Park took over her mother's duties as first lady until her father was assassinated by the chief of security in 1979.
Park re-emerged in 1997 as an active politician. She is the first female candidate to be seriously considered for president. Her party, the Saenuridang, is a traditionally conservative group that adapts a stricter policy towards North Korea that her opponent, Moon Jae-in. As head of the Democratic United Party, he champions a more lenient approach to the South's belligerent neighbor.