On Sunday, North Korea went ahead with its threatened launch of a long-range missile. In so doing, Kim Jong Il’s regime defied United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, which has banned nuclear programs or ballistic missile activity by North Korea since 2006, and laid bare the UN’s fundamental weakness in dealing with rogue states that menace the international order.
Resolution 1718 was passed after North Korea had carried out a nuclear test and other missile tests. Though U.S. authorities claim the previous test failed, there is every indication that the rogue state used its latest rocket launch to disguise a test of the technology for a long-range missile designed to carry a nuclear warhead capable of reaching U.S. territory. The missile has a range of over 4,000 miles, which would put Hawaii and Alaska at risk. And North Korea is developing a longer range missile that would put the West Coast within striking distance.
President Obama’s response to the Sunday launch was essentially to repeat his reproach from two days before that it was a “provocative” act. "We will immediately consult with our allies in the region, including Japan and (South Korea), and members of the U.N. Security Council to bring this matter before the Council," Obama went on to say. Obama is right to talk of tightening international sanctions against Pyongyang: although current sanctions are not being enforced, the introduction of real international muscle may change that. Yet, the president showed no leadership in trying to take concrete steps beforehand to stop the launch. Nor did the United Nations.
This weekend’s test clearly violates UN Resolution 1718, which was passed unanimously pursuant to the Security Council’s enforcement powers under Section VII of the UN Charter. That resolution states that “proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security” (emphasis added). The resolution went on to demand that North Korea “not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile;” “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner;” and “abandon all other existing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”
The resolution contained some mild sanctions against North Korea, which have not been effectively enforced. It also provided that the Security Council would keep North Korea’s “actions under continuous review” and would “remain actively seized of the matter.” That has not happened.
Despite weeks of advanced knowledge that North Korea was preparing to launch the rocket, the UN did nothing. There was no demand for an on-site inspection of the facilities. There was no independent investigation of North Korea’s space program rationale. There was not even an official warning statement from the Security Council.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean who knows all too well the intentions of his Communist neighbor to the north, was able to muster only the mildest of rebukes. At his March 12 press conference, attended by this reporter, Ban Ki-moon said that he was “concerned” about North Korea’s “recent moves to launch a satellite or long-range missiles” and acknowledged that it “will not be desirable to the maintenance of regional peace and security.” However, the Secretary General refused to say whether he thought the launch would constitute a violation of Resolution 1718. “That's what Security Council members will discuss when, and after, anything happens,” he said.
For its part, the Security Council’s schedule for March and April 2009 did not include a single agenda item referring to North Korea’s threat to violate Security Council Resolution 1718 – this even as the council set aside time, as it often does, to discuss “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question.” UN Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, the Security Council president for April, explained at his own press conference on April 2nd that the Security Council was not in a position to “prejudge” developments in North Korea. “If there is a need for international action by the international community, they will ask for a meeting of the Security Council,” he said. At last, after weeks of inaction in the face of North Korea’s announced intention to launch the rocket, the UN Security Council finally approved an emergency session in response to a request from Japan. It came shortly after the launch.
North Korea insists that it simply sent a communications satellite into orbit, a claim reminiscent of Iran’s assurance about the supposedly “peaceful purposes” of its nuclear enrichment program. Kim Jong Il is reputed to be a madman, but there is a method to his madness. He uses brinksmanship to wrest concessions from his neighbors and the West, always upping the ante rather than drawing back as he has promised after obtaining prior concessions.
This launch is his latest challenge and potentially the most dangerous. Not only can it put North Korea into a position to deliver a nuclear payload to our shores, but after a successful test, North Korea will also be able to produce and sell the missiles or missile parts to Iran and Syria for their own use and for their shipment to Hamas and Hezbollah. North Korea may once again get away with thumbing its nose at the international community.
In dealing with North Korea’s invasion of South Korea in June 1950, President Truman said that “[I]f a collective system under the UN can work, it must be made to work, and now is the time to call their bluff." The collective system worked then, but it is sadly failing today. This weekend’s missile launch is only the latest proof that a foreign policy that places the United Nations in charge of maintaining American security, whether with North Korea or any other nation, is madness.