Behind North Korea's New Missile Launches in the Midst of Coronavirus Pandemic

By Santo D. Banerjee

Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump at the Singapore Summit on June 12, 2018. Source: @Scavino45 of Dan Scavino Jr., the White House Director of Social Media and Assistant to the President.Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump at the Singapore Summit on June 12, 2018. Source: @Scavino45 of Dan Scavino Jr., the White House Director of Social Media and Assistant to the President.

NEW YORK (IDN) – While the international community has been engrossed in combating the global COVID-19 pandemic, it has been constrained to respond to North Korea's first missile launches this year. The United Nations Security Council convened behind closed doors on March 5 but failed to agree on a resolution. [2020-03-26 | 33] ITALIAN | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | KOREAN | THAI

However, Britain, Germany, France, Estonia and Belgium said in a "joint statement" that they are "deeply concerned by the testing of ballistic missiles by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (DPRK) on March 1.

While Britain and France are two of the five permanent Security Council members, Germany, Estonia and Belgium are non-permanent.

The statement pointed out that the DPRK has conducted 14 sets of ballistic missile launches since May 2019. "It has continued to operate its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The panel of experts working on the DPRK has continuously highlighted such efforts."

The two permanent and three non-permanent Security Council members condemned "such provocative actions" that "undermine regional security and stability, as well as international peace and security, and are in clear violation of unanimously adopted UN Security Council resolutions".

They affirmed that they "continue to urge the DPRK to engage in good faith in meaningful negotiations with the United States aimed at denuclearization, and to take concrete steps to abandoning all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner and to refrain from further provocations".

They added: "There is no other way to achieve security and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Continued provocations risk undermining the prospect for successful negotiations."

Against the backdrop of the Security Council's failure to agree on a resolution – reportedly because of the dissent between United States, Russia and China – the five said: "It is vital that the Security Council ensures full implementation of its resolutions and that sanctions remain in place."

Russia and China are concerned that sanctions are harming North Korean civilians, and have expressed hope that easing some restrictions could help break a deadlock in nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

The two submitted a draft resolution in December 2019 that would lift sanctions on industries that earned North Korea hundreds of millions of dollars. Those sanctions were imposed in 2016 and 2017 to cut off funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs. The DPRK has been under UN sanctions since 2006 over its missile and nuclear programs, which the Security Council has unanimously strengthened over the years.

China's UN Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters on March 2: "That text of the draft resolution remains on the table and we are open for views on that. We believe that it's a very important step in creating a more favorable environment for the further improvement of the situation in the Korean Peninsula."

The joint statement by Britain, Germany, France, Estonia and Belgium called on the international community "to comply with the obligation to strictly enforce these sanctions, including by reporting on their implementation in accordance with the resolutions adopted by the Council".

Commenting reports of the testing of two more ballistic missiles by North Korea on March 21, a spokesperson of the German Foreign Office "vehemently" condemned the tests of the two short‑range ballistic missiles. "With two tests of several missiles this month…, North Korea has once again violated its obligations under relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. By conducting these tests, North Korea is irresponsibly jeopardising international security," the Foreign Office spokesperson said.

The German Government called on North Korea to abide by its obligations under international law and, in particular, to refrain from testing further ballistic missiles, as well as to accept the United States' offer to resume the negotiations that were broken off by North Korea.

Observers say that since the collapse of the second Kim-Trump summit on February 27–28 in 2019 in Vietnam, the DPRK has resumed ballistic activity and weapons launches to expand its military capabilities. They recall that Kim started the new year vowing to bolster his nuclear deterrent in the face of "gangster-like" U.S. sanctions and pressure.

Christopher Ford, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, reiterated at a briefing on March 19 that the Trump administration is "ready and willing and prepared" to start working-level discussions with North Korea aimed at implementing the commitments made at the first summit in Singapore "as soon as possible".

Kim made a vague pledge in 2018 talks in Singapore to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the two leaders agreed to improve relations to build lasting peace. But their two subsequent summits and other lower-level meetings have not achieved much progress in expatiating those agreements.

According to Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at International Christian University, the March launches were intended to refocus the Trump administration's focus on North Korea in an effort to get some sanctions relief and possible aid as the COVID-19 epidemic spreads.

"With the failure of Kim's diplomacy in mind, the world distracted with the COVID-19 epidemic and the Trump administration not even discussing North Korea, Pyongyang's missile test is signaling to the United States that North Korea is still a disruptive force that needs to be dealt with," Kyodo News quoted Nagy.

In fact, other foreign affairs experts also expect the DPRK to continue test-firing missiles as Kim may think Trump, who is seeking a second term in office, does not want to be humiliated by Pyongyang in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election in November.

A diplomatic source, however, has expressed skepticism that Kim would escalate his provocations against the United States, since the new virus spread has apparently dealt a heavy blow to North Korea's economy. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 March 2020]

Useful Link > Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy

Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump at the Singapore Summit on June 12, 2018. Source: @Scavino45 of Dan Scavino Jr., the White House Director of Social Media and Assistant to the President.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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