The draft resolution on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs reportedly agreed to by the security council’s permanent five members, plus Japan and South Korea, is nothing new. In fact, it is full of references back to unenforced provisions of previous resolutions, particularly from October 2006. More than anything else, its weakness points to two things: The critical need for missile defense and China’s unhelpful role in addressing the problem of a nuclear North Korea.
The draft resolution renews calls for the inspection of vessels that went unheeded the last time around; it does not demand inspections. It expands a list of banned arms exports to North Korea from a list that already included battle tanks, combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles to “all arms”. It makes an exception for “small arms and light weapons.” What else is left? The resolution similarly expands a ban on exports from North Korea- without exception. And it calls on, but doesn’t require, member states to impose expanded financial sanctions, to cover export credits, grants, assistance, and concessional loans. And it is all done under Chapter VII, Article 41 of the UN Charter, which excludes the use of force – a contentious issue in previous rounds of Security Council talks and a key problem with enforcing the October 2006 resolution.
As is always the case, regardless of Administration, we will all now be told how big a deal this is. “Unprecedented” is already being rolled out. And most importantly from the Administration’s view, we will be told that China has stepped up to its responsibility. The Chinese will be rewarded for their weeks of interference on behalf of North Korea with literally years of praise for being “a responsible stakeholder.”
But nothing has changed. The game is still about enforcement, and it’s about China’s unused bi-lateral leverage. We pretend in the Security Council like we all care and all have equal leverage. Actually, the Chinese have more influence over their North Korean allies than everyone else. Yet they still value stability and a perpetually divided peninsula over the threat of a Nuclear North Korea. A few days ago, former Deputy Secretary of State – not your average right wing “hardliner” – told a CNBC audience that he was convinced China will “accept” a nuclear North Korea. Chinese compromise at the Security Council on behalf of its client state in North Korea does nothing to prove him wrong. The Chinese and Russian prevented a tougher resolution, and will continue to prevent effective enforcement of this one. And that will be the problem. Like the others, it will be ignored.
The civilized world gets the worst of both worlds in the end. Because, as happened after the missile test in April, even a half-hearted statement of condemnation will elicit a typically furious North Korean response.
What has been happening at the United Nations over the last several weeks is about two things: China and the need for missile defense. It is about China because our diplomats appear to be more concerned with consensus in the Security Council than actually doing something that will really bite. They are certainly averse to forcing the Chinese to veto a tough resolution ,which would show more about Chinese objectives than anything else. It is about missiles more than North Korea, because no matter where the missiles are coming from, the United States needs a defense; its diplomatic efforts, however skillful, will not stop them.
As if the list of demands in today’s draft resolution is not long enough, it calls on the North Koreans to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Maybe that’s their fallback. I prefer missile defense.