A World Provoked
Now how about we do something about Pyongyang?


Henry Sokolski

This query is one worth asking for two reasons. First, securing China and Russia’s support for U.N. Resolution 1695’s nonbinding provisions came at a cost. It made no reference to the United Nation charter’s famous Chapter VII, which authorizes sanctions and the use of force. This was no accident: Beijing insisted that any mention of Chapter VII, which the U.S., France, the U.K., and Japan were all pushing for, be dropped. If Pyongyang follows up on its latest threats and resumes missile testing, China and Russia’s reluctance to sanction is unlikely to change. What, then, are the U.S. and its friends prepared to do without Security Council unanimity? We better have an answer, and the sooner the better.

Second, U.N. Resolution 1695 makes no reference to the only international-security treaty North Korea clearly violated and subsequently withdrew from with impunity — the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). If Iran is to be deterred from following North Korea’s example by withdrawing from the treaty (as Tehran last week again threatened to do), this omission requires more attention. It’s impossible to understand just how provocative North Korea’s missile tests on July 4 were without tying them to Pyongyang’s breach of the NPT. Nor is it possible for Resolution 1695 to have any meaningful impact on Tehran unless this connection is made manifest.

Here, a bit of history is useful. After having signed the NPT in l985 and being reported in noncompliance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in l993, Pyongyang promised eventually to come back into compliance under a political understanding known as the 1994 Agreed Framework. Few really expected North Korea to follow through on its pledge, though, and in the late fall of 2002, the U.S. caught Pyongyang trying to develop a covert nuclear-weapons fuel-making enrichment plant in violation of the NPT.

This discovery produced an outrage. Even China and Russia voted at the IAEA board of governors meeting to refer Pyongyang’s noncompliance with its inspections obligations under the NPT to the U.N. Security Council. When the IAEA made this referral in February of 2003, though, the U.S. was hardly eager to act. Anxious to build United Nations support for going to war against Iraq, the U.S. instead put North Korea’s Security Council case on ice and announced it would try to persuade Pyongyang to open up to inspections and dismantle its nuclear capabilities through a series of six-party talks with the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Russia, and China.

These talks went nowhere. Then, Pyongyang decided to repudiate them outright by announcing it would test a nuclear-weapons-capable rocket that could reach the U.S. Despite all warnings not to proceed, Pyongyang tested its long-range missile, the Tape’o Dong II, on July 4.

The test failed, but, because the rocket’s trajectory was clearly directed over Japan and toward the U.S., both Washington and Tokyo were furious. They decried the test as being “provocative.” Provocative of what, though?

The first impulse was to point to the “no missile test” pledges Pyongyang gave Washington and Tokyo in 1998 and 2002. These promises, however, were no more than non-binding political understandings. Pyongyang was pressured into making them after its earlier l998 long-range missile test over Japan threatened to derail the 1994 Agreed Framework and the aid it provided. However, that 1994 agreement, which included the construction of two large light water reactors is no longer: To its credit, the Bush administration suspended the framework agreement back in 2003 and formally terminated it just last month.

Nor is it very credible to claim, as our diplomats have tried to argue, that what made Pyongyang’s test so provocative is that North Korea gave no prior notice. It did, and repeatedly.

What, then, is the real case against Pyongyang’s tests? Simply this: North Korea signed the NPT, violated it, withdrew, said it had nuclear weapons, and then entered into talks to give them up. In firing a test missile capable of striking all of the parties it was negotiating with to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, Pyongyang has made it clear that it is far more interested in developing the one last ingredient needed to make its nuclear force real — a long-range, nuclear-weapons-capable delivery system — than it is in ever negotiating them away. That is why its test is militarily threatening and so diplomatically obnoxious.

The U.S. and its Iraqi Freedom coalition can perhaps be forgiven for not pressing Pyongyang to comply with the NPT back in 2003. But failure to do so now will only tempt Tehran to follow North Korea’s bad example by withdrawing from the treaty with impunity as well. That’s why the U.S. and others should explain Resolution 1695 as a vindication of the IAEA Board of Governors’ 2003 decision to highlight Pyongyang’s nuclear misbehavior and explain it as a confirmation of Japan’s, South Korea’s, America’s, and the European Union’s decision to suspend and then to terminate the 1994 Agreed Framework. Again, as its latest missile test demonstrates, Pyongyang is hardly interested in complying with the NPT by giving up its nuclear-weapons program.

This point ought to be made loudly and clearly (i.e., repeatedly) well before anyone acts on any offer by North Korea (which may never come) to return to more six-party talks. It also would be useful for the U.S. and its close allies to get ready to act against North Korea without China’s or Russia’s support. Here one might do even more than has been attempted to curb all types of trade with Pyongyang — not just transfers related to its weapons of mass destruction programs — through stiffer enforcement of national laws. One might also publicly remind Beijing of its duty, under international conventions that it has signed, not to forcibly repatriate North Koreans fleeing into China. More vigorous enforcement of the Proliferation Security Initiative goes without saying.

As for Iran and efforts to draw up a U.N. resolution, we need to think beyond Tehran. Here, it would be sensible to identify as an international outlaw any nation that the IAEA has found in breach of its inspection obligations under the NPT that chooses to withdraw from the NPT before correcting its transgressions. Another idea, backed by the French and other key Europeans, is to demand that any state that the IAEA finds in noncompliance with its IAEA obligations be forced to suspend any attempts at nuclear fuel for at least a decade while the IAEA conducts much more frequent and intrusive nuclear inspections to make sure they are truly out of the bomb-making business.

Would such a resolution pass? It’s unclear. China and Russia already voted to report North Korea’s and Iran’s violations of the NPT to the U.N. Security Council in 1993, 2003, and 2006. They also say they prefer country-neutral strictures. Whatever course they might take, though, the U.S. and its allies can hardly afford to pull their punch now. Certainly, if we fail to identify nuclear misbehavior under the NPT in the upcoming Iran resolution and are unwilling to take appropriate sanctions actions without the support of China and Russia, Resolution 1695 will be remembered less for what it did than for what it could have been a precedent for — enforcement of the rules against North Korea, Iran, and all other would-be bomb makers.

– Henry Sokolski is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, D.C., and editor of Taming the Next Set of Strategic Weapons Threats (Strategic Studies Institute, 2006).


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