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Looking inside the UN Security Council on North Korea

On Monday, September 4, the UN Security Council held another “emergency session” on North Korea. During the hour and half meeting, members “strongly condemned” North Korea’s test of a hydrogen bomb — the sixth and most powerful test since the first in October 2006. According to the official report of the meeting, some members argued for more sanctions to be applied but members’ preference was “to resolve tensions through diplomacy”.  The head of the UN’s political affairs office advised that the diplomacy be “wise and bold” lest misunderstanding and miscalculation lead to “escalation”.

Will anything come of this tenth Council meeting on North Korea this year and second “emergency” session in two weeks? Readers should judge for themselves by noting the positions taken by the ambassadors of the various countries. Here’s the gist of what the main parties had to say.

NIKKI HALEY (United States) recalled that, since the 1990s, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had repeatedly failed to comply with testing obligations and the Council had responded with sanctions, including in 2017.  Despite efforts of the past 24 years, Pyongyang’s nuclear missile programme was now more dangerous than ever before. “Enough is enough,” she said.  “We must now adopt the strongest possible measures.”

KORO BESSHO (Japan) said it was clear how belligerent and dangerous the DPRK’s actions were, posing a problem not only for that country’s neighbours but the entire international community.  It was the only country to have conducted nuclear tests in the 21st  century. The sixth nuclear test had exhibited a magnitude far greater than any previous one and had raised the threat to an unprecedented level.  The Council had to swiftly adopt a new resolution with further robust sanctions.

CHO TAE-YUL (Republic of Korea) said that the DPRK’s “do-or-die” behaviour had invited a harsh and scathing reaction from the international community, evidence that the recent nuclear test threatened peace and security not only on the Korean Peninsula and in North-East Asia but throughout the entire world.  The Council had to adopt tougher measures corresponding to the magnitude and gravity of the test, ones which were strong enough to compel the DPRK to seriously engage in dialogue.  These should block funds that could possibly flow into the country’s illegal weapons-of-mass-destruction programme and cut off crude oil and oil-product supplies.

France and the UK agreed. FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) called for an expeditious, united response by the Council, including additional sanctions, alongside measures adopted by the European Union.  “Time is ticking,” he said.  While the DPRK had not expressed any willingness to negotiate on its nuclear and ballistic missiles, it must, without delay, surrender its nuclear facilities and return to the negotiating table.  MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the Council had to condemn the recent test and support efforts geared towards dialogue, though encouraging such negotiations without Pyongyang’s commitment would be an effort in futility.

Then China and Russia showed their colours. LIU JIEYI said China firmly supported the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and strongly urged Pyongyang to comply with international measures. But China would never allow chaos or war to erupt on the Korean peninsula. Instead, China and Russia together had proposed a peace mechanism by which Pyongyang would suspend its nuclear programme and the Republic of Korea and the United States would halt their military exercises.  Actions could then be taken to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

VASSILY NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that Pyongyang’s provocative activity had recently gained dangerous momentum and the world was witnessing one of the gravest and most serious developments ever to have taken place on the Korean Peninsula.  Peace in the region was in jeopardy and the threat of the conflict morphing into a hot stage loomed greater than before.  The disregard of Council resolutions deserved the most vehement condemnation. There must be full compliance by all stakeholders to all Council statements and resolutions. Military solutions, however, could not settle the issue. There was a need to maintain a cool head and refrain from any action that could further escalate tensions.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), serving as President of the Security Council for the month of September, noted that the latest DPRK test had followed the Council’s issuance of a presidential statement condemning such tests and asking the DPRK to surrender its nuclear facilities.  “We might be on the edge of a cliff,” he said.

When everyone had had their say, the US representative announced that the United States would be circulating a draft resolution within the next week with a view to taking a decision on what to do on September 11.

The next day, North Korea’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva said he was proud that his country had succeeded in “a hydrogen bomb test for (an) intercontinental ballistic rocket”.  North Korea’s recent “self-defense” measures were a “gift package addressed to none other than the US. The U.S. will receive more gift packages from my country as long as its relies on reckless provocations and futile attempts to put pressure on the DPRK”.

Anyone remember how the League of Nations talked itself into irrelevance?