After a week of intense deliberations over North Korea’s missile launch, the UN Security Council (UNSC) opened its doors and emitted a mighty roar…of a mouse. The UNSC’s failure to defend its resolutions against Pyongyang’s unambiguous violation bodes ill for diplomatic efforts to prevent proliferation and denuclearize North Korea. China’s willingness to derail the international push to punish North Korea for its transgression should lay to rest perceptions of Beijing as a “responsible stakeholder.” It is also a stark reminder of the need for US missile defense at a time when the Obama Administration is cutting its budget.
Despite Pyongyang’s blatant violation of UN Resolutions 1695 and 1718, the UNSC only approved a non-binding presidential statement reiterating its “demand” for North Korean compliance. The statement timidly calls for all UN member states to actually implement the sanctions they were already required to do under the two resolutions. The Obama administration may see the UN action as a diplomatic victory but it was a clear failure of President Obama to convince China and Russia to behave responsibly and uphold global defenses against the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea predictably responded by threatening to “never participate” again in Six Party Talks nuclear negotiations, kick out international inspectors, increase its nuclear weapons inventory, and abandon all previous disarmament pledges. Pyongyang’s belligerence, including threats last month against civilian airliners, showed its true nature and eviscerates claims that North Korea would be more accommodating once President Bush left office. Pyongyang has bitten the open hand of dialogue extended by the Obama administration.
Though depicted as a “failure,” North Korea’s missile flight successfully doubled the previous range of its missile threat and demonstrated Pyongyang’s continued intent to develop the capability to hold the entire United States at risk to a nuclear warhead. The failure of diplomatic initiatives to constrain North Korean missile and nuclear threats underscores the continued need for the US and its allies to develop and deploy missile defenses. During the run-up to North Korea’s missile launch, it was reassuring that the US and Japan had missile defense systems in place to provide protection.
The US has policy options, we have only lacked the resolve to date to implement them. The Obama administration should immediately utilize the UNSC statement, as disappointing and deficient as it was, as justification for initiating a multilateral consortium targeting North Korean and foreign government agencies and companies complicit in violating UN resolutions and international law. Washington should also US laws, such as Section 311 of the Patriot Act, to freeze and seize assets of complicit organizations. The first such targets should be those North Korean, Burmese, and Iranian entities involved in Pyongyang’s attempted proliferation in late 2008.
The Obama administration should emphasize that such actions are consistent with and being undertaken on behalf of the international community. The US should also highlight to North Korea that the door to negotiations always remains open but that Washington will not offer additional inducements to simply buy Pyongyang’s return to the table nor will it lower existing Six Party Talks requirements.