North Korea U.N. Resolution: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

07/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that would appreciably tighten weapons and financial sanctions against North Korea. Some analysts dismiss anything that passes through the United Nations as useless while others say sanctions won't work and only intense diplomacy has a chance.

Yet the U.S.-drafted measure is tougher than most against any one country, and has the approval of China and Russia. Without China, the main ally and trading partner of North Korea, no pressure on Pyongyang is possible, regardless of what the West does. But enforcement is key and diplomats are not certain how much punitive action Beijing will undertake.

"There is no guarantee, obviously, but it is important for the international community to speak with one voice. It is important for there to be consequences, and this sanctions regime...will bite and bite in a meaningful way," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said earlier.

Zhang Yesui. China's U.N. Ambassador told the 15-member Security Council that the council's action demonstrated the world's "firm opposition" to North Korea's nuclear ambitions. "We strongly urge the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea), stop any moves that may further worsen the situation and return to the six-party talks." Those stalled negotiations include the United States, China, Russia, Japan and North and South Korea.

But Zhang cautioned that "under no circumstances should there be use or threat of the use of force." and then told reporters: "We are firmly opposed to the nuclear test."

North Korea is expected to respond, first verbally and possibly by detonating its third underground nuclear test in defiance of the resolution, according to some Russian media reports. It did not exercise its right to speak in the Security Council.

Russia, itself, considers North Korea a threat. "Having sanctions and things like that is not our choice but a certain political message must be sent and some measures must be taken because we are facing a very real situation of proliferation risks." Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters earlier in the week.

China, too, is none too eager to see his neighbor armed with nuclear weapons. (Beijing delivers fuel and food to North Korea and an estimated 80 percent of its consumer goods are made in China.) At the same time it does not want to see the regime collapse, American troops on its border and a flood of refugees, now forcibly repatriated.

Agreement on the text (see below) was first reached by the five veto-bearing Security Council members of the 15 nation body -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Japan and South Korea were part of the negotiations. While the text is not as tough as the United States and Japan wanted, it was an American feat to get Beijing and Moscow to sign on in the first place.

The preamble of the resolution makes clear that key international players want North Korea to end weeks of nuclear and ballistic missile tests, resume political talks with six nations It deplores Pyongyang's withdrawal from the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (the main world agreement to regulate atomic arms). And it expresses its "gravest" concern that nuclear and missile activities, particularly the May 25 underground atomic test, were constituted "a clear threat to international peace and security."

The heart of the resolution includes expanded sanctions on all weapons, except for the import of small arms (at the insistence of China which sells them to North Korea) along with a series of financial bans. But some of the provisions use the words "calls upon" which designates a political commitment compared to "decides" or "demands" which requires mandatory compliance by all 192 member states.

The resolution "calls" on states to inspect suspicious sea, air and land cargo that may contain any weapons of mass destruction materials. If North Korea or another flagship nation refuses, the measure then "decides" that countries should deny them fuel and other supplies and direct them to a port and inspect the cargo there. If the country in question still refuses, the Security Council would meet on the issue.

Cargo inspections were authorized by the council after North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006. But the new resolution spells out the stop and search methods in detail.

On financial sanctions, the resolution urges and "calls upon" all states and financial institutions to "not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, or concessional loans" except for humanitarian purposes. On this issue the United States and its allies can pressure nations and institutions into compliance. And it again bans all trade in materials related to weapons of mass destruction. The document also promises to add to the list of three blacklisted North Korean companies that deal with unconventional weapons.

Enforcement a problem

Enforcement was a problem of resolution 1718, adopted in October 2006 in response to the first underground nuclear test by North Korea. Many of the provisions were dropped after Pyongyang temporarily rejoined the six-party talks. After the Security Council moved towards enforcement, North Korea responded with its second nuclear test.

When the North first took provocative actions by firing a missile, most analysts believed it was trying to get the attention of the Obama administration, with an underground nuclear test timed for the May 25 Memorial Day holiday. The harsh sentencing of two American journalists who were doing research on refugees on the Korean-Chinese border fits into that theory.

But now no one is certain. The escalation came as North Korea's ailing leader Kim Jong Il was making plans to transfer power to his youngest son, Jong Un, and apparently does not want to broadcast any weakness. Instead he appears to be making a dramatic pitch at joining the nuclear weapons club. Some believe the Obama administration should send a high-level delegation -- not to offer incentives -- but to find out what is going on while other administration officials say nothing would be gained and real negotiations are dead.

Following is the final text of Friday's resolution, no. 1874.. Voting in favor were Austria, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Japan, Libya, Mexico, Turkey, Uganda, Vietnam and the five permanent members: United States, China, Russia, Britain and France.