By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — The United Nations, faced with a defiant nuclear-armed Russia in a destructive war with Ukraine now running towards the third month, is fighting an equally unsuccessful confrontation with North Korea which is openly violating multiple Security Council resolutions as it continues launching ballistic missiles threatening neighbouring countries. [2022-05-12-03] ARABIC | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | KOREAN
Addressing the UN Security Council on May 11, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States strongly condemns the DPRK’s (North Korea’s) April 16, May 4, and May 7 ballistic missile launches.
These launches were just the latest in a series of ballistic missile launches conducted by the DPRK in recent months, each one a blatant violation of multiple Security Council resolutions, she said.
“The DPRK has conducted 17—and I do repeat 17 because I’ve heard different numbers in the room today—they have conducted 17 ballistic missile launches this year alone.”
At least three were intercontinental ballistic missiles; one was an intermediate-range ballistic missile; two were so-called hypersonic weapons, and two were described as a new type of missile for tactical nuclear weapons. The DPRK is also reconstructing its nuclear testing site in preparation for a seventh nuclear test, she pointed out.
“All of these ballistic missile launches, as would a nuclear test, violate Security Council resolutions. They pose threats to regional and international security. And they seek to undermine the global non-proliferation regime.”
This Council should not stand for it. But the Security Council has stayed silent because two Council members have argued that Council restraint will somehow encourage the DPRK to stop escalating and instead come to the negotiating table.
The two veto-wielding permanent members of the Council she refused to name are China and Russia.
In Resolution 2397, the Security Council committed to taking action to further restrict the export to the DPRK of petroleum if the DPRK conducts a launch of a ballistic missile system capable of reaching intercontinental ranges. In full knowledge of this provision, the DPRK moved forward with launching at least three ICBMs this year, she added.
Unfortunately, over the last four years, two members have blocked every attempt to enforce and to update the DPRK sanctions list, enabling the DPRK’s unlawful actions, declared the US envoy.
Ambassador Barbara Woodward of the UK told the Security Council that once again, “this Council is meeting to condemn ballistic missile launches by North Korea. This year alone, as we’ve heard, North Korea has launched 17 ballistic missiles—each in violation of UN Security Council resolutions”.
In the whole of 2021, she said, North Korea conducted eight missile tests. “So, let’s make no mistake about the escalation in tempo and missile capability that these 17 launches represent.”
Responding to reports that North Korea plans a nuclear test, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters on May 9: “I don't want to prejudge what happens. I'm not going to speculate on whether there is a nuclear test or not”.
“Of course, we have expressed our previous concerns about all missile tests, and we continue to reiterate those. Ultimately, we want to call, once again, for a return to dialogue amongst all the parties on the Korean Peninsula so that we can proceed with the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he added.
Dr Alon Ben-Meir, a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU) and who taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years, told IDN there is no doubt that North Korea’s launching of missiles during the past 4 months is by far more frequent than in previous years during the same period of time.
“I do not see how North Korea will stop perfecting its ballistic missile program and further expanding its nuclear arsenal, unless there is a new agreement, specifically with the United States. Such an agreement, however, will not come to pass if the United States continues to insist that North Korea agrees to completely relinquish its nuclear arsenal.”
At best, he said, “I feel that an agreement can be achieved only if North Korea merely freezes its program, both ballistic and nuclear, on the condition of course that the negotiations resume and bring about the removal of the economic sanctions in particular that have been imposed on North Korea for the past decade”.
But at the same time, he argued, both North and South Korea will have to engage directly and constructively certainly on economic and political levels that could lead to some form of normalization of relations between the two countries as a prerequisite to reaching a wider and more sustainable agreement.
Asked about a comment from a North Korean diplomat who stated that no country with nuclear weapons has been attacked, “it is certainly valid”.
Short of reaching an agreement, North Korea continues to feel threatened by the United States and hence, it will not halt the development of both programs until an agreement is reached, said Dr Ben-Meir.
He also pointed out that it is important that the United States reiterates its commitment to the security of its allies in the region, specifically South Korea and Japan, as this would certainly deter North Korea from threatening either country.
That said, though, the present status quo cannot be sustained indefinitely as North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons with a delivery system has certainly a destabilizing effect as it raises the level of anxiety and concerns in the region.
“Although China definitely has some concern over North Korea’s program, it does not openly criticize North Korea, but they do have regular private conversations about the subject. North Korea relies heavily on China’s political and economic support and would not want to raise the ire of the Chinese. On the whole, China agrees that North Korea’s nuclear program is a source of instability, but it does not see as representing an imminent threat,” declared Dr Ben-Meir.
Dr Rebecca Johnson, Disarmament Diplomacy campaigner and author of the 2022 report “Nuclear weapons are banned,” told IDN, “North Korean leaders will continue to make and deploy nuclear weapons as long as they fear American nuclear forces and military coercion”.
"Change on three interconnected levels would enable North Korea’s leaders to end reliance on military threats and nuclear weaponry that could never be used without destroying the whole country, if not our planet.”
"One, there needs to be a peace agreement supported by the United Nations and directly involving North and South Korea and the United States, as advocated by WomenCrossDMZ and others.”
She said this must go further than the 1953 armistice, and deal with outstanding humanitarian, peace and confidence-building issues that have blighted so many lives since the terrible war that divided the Korean Peninsula.
Two, Six-Party talks must be urgently reconvened between North and South Korea, China, Russia, the United States and Japan. These negotiations need to put the denuclearizing of North Korea into a broader framework of building regional security through establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone covering North-East Asia.
Three, it would greatly increase the safety and security of the Korean Peninsula if denuclearization steps are undertaken alongside accession to the 2021 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), said Dr Johnson.
“As the TPNW begins to be internationally implemented, with its first meeting of States Parties scheduled for Vienna in June, early steps by Japan and South Korea towards adhering to this UN-backed Treaty would help to engage North Korea by providing non-discriminatory mechanisms to assist and monitor the removal of nuclear weapon threats and technologies from the Korean Peninsula.”
These steps, she argued, would be most effective if backed by commitments from China, Russia and the United States that they will not deploy or use nuclear weapons in the region.
Pending their adherence to the TPNW and in line with NPT obligations and the UN Charter, all states need to help North Koreans to end the military-nuclear programs that threaten their survival and global security, said Dr Johnson, an Ecofeminist peace activist.
Asked about the missile launches, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters said it demonstrates the fact that North Korea’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear weapons program, pose a threat to the DPRK’s neighbours.
“They pose a threat to the region. They pose a threat to peace and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific.
When it comes to the United States—and we have said this before; we’ve said this in the aftermath of other recent provocations—our commitment to the defence of our treaty allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, that commitment is ironclad”, he added.
Asked about China’s non-criticism of North Korea, Price said: “The PRC, of course, is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The fact that there are multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and multiple statements that have emanated from the UN Security Council chamber itself is a testament to the fact that countries around the world—including the PRC—recognize that the DPRK’s ballistic missile, its nuclear program is a source of instability, it is a source of insecurity, and that it is a threat to the broader region.” [IDN-InDepthNews — 12 May 2022]
Image: South Korean commuters watch TV coverage of the North Korean missile launch from a Seoul railway station. (AFP: Jung Yeon-je)