UNIVERSITY OF YANGON
DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
“UN Role in North Korean Nuclear Issue”
Do UN sanctions and IAEA efforts effective to halt the North Korean nuclear built-ups?
WIN SANDY THAW
“UN Role in North Korean Nuclear Issue”
Do UN sanctions and IAEA efforts effective to halt the North Korean nuclear built-ups?
In this research paper, I will discuss the role of the United Nations in North Korean Nuclear Issue and whether UN Security Council sanctions and IAEA efforts effective to stop North Korea nuclear proliferation or not. Today, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea declares itself as a nuclear power and it wants international recognition. Persuading North Korea to re-enter into the NPT and to come back to the Six-Party Talk are major important steps to be done to solve this issue in my opinion. If the countries let North Korea to do whatever it wants without taking this problem seriously, the future of the international society is unimaginable. The United Nations and IAEA have put sanctions on North Korea and tightening sanctions against it but I find that these sanctions just remain as they are and these sanctions can only maintain North Korea not to further accelerate its nuclear proliferation but these sanctions are not forcing North Korea to denuclearize. I will explain why with strong evidences and examples from the beginning of North Korea nuclear program until now.
Keywords: denuclearization, missile tests, sanctions, resolutions, UN, NPT, IAEA, Six-Party Talk
North Korea’s nuclear program dates back to the 1950s when it experienced the atomic threat from the United States during the Korean War. Although the nuclear threat has been faded since then, the nuclear fear and the power of obtaining nuclear has been kept alive which is influenced by the US overwhelming power and its presentation of nuclear capabilities and other powerful weapons. North Korea got initial help from Russia and China in basic nuclear technology and it succeeded in laying the foundations for its further nuclear programs. North Korea had attempted to conduct nuclear weapons since 2003 and the negotiations between the governments of the US, China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia which is known as the Six-Party Talk (SPT) has initiated since then over North Korean nuclear weapons programs. The Six-Party talk aims to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula which is still an ongoing issue. North Korean nuclear issue is an important issue which is still unsettled and which has an international impact. Talks have been made between the six governments and diplomatic relations have carried out both bilaterally and multilaterally and yet the issue is a long way to go.
North Korea had conducted six nuclear missile tests so far. Currently, although the exact number is not clear, North Korea has a nuclear weapon arsenal of some 20-50 warheads and ballistic missiles which can deliver those weapons to targets in Northeast Asia. It successfully tested the long-range missile capable of reaching the U.S last year. North Korea now claims itself as a nuclear power and the issue has become worse. Therefore, any disagreement or conflict with North Korea can involve nuclear weapons and cause severe loss, and it will impact globally especially the US, Japan, South Korea and North Korea itself. Regarding the consequences of this nuclear issue, sanctions against North Korea have been made by many countries through organizations both indirectly and directly. Some scholars stated North Korea nuclear weapons as defensive and others as offensive. Some said that North Korea is a weak state in regard of economy and politics. Therefore, they concluded that North Korea should have nuclear weapons to protect its security and to protect from South Korea threat which has security alliance with the US and to stand at some point in international politics. It is true that we cannot deny the fact that North Korea is well-known and notoriously popular for its childish and stubborn behavior on its nuclear issue.
On the other hand, some said that North Korea should be watched and taken strong measures against it because this issue is dangerous and North Korea’s childish behavior could cause many innocent citizens’ lives and a dreadful nuclear war. They are also worried that North Korea might recklessly market and export these nuclear and ballistic technology to certain other countries and terrorist groups which can lead to dangerous situations and serious international issues. Most importantly is the North Korea’s nuclear cooperation with Iran and exporting nuclear missiles and technology to Iran in which several of these deliveries passed through China. This issue is threatening the international society at large concerning North Korea nuclear proliferation and that China should take actions and halt the shipment. Due to these problematic consequences, North Korean nuclear proliferation should be forced by international organizations to halt its programs by any means.
North Korea and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
When we mention about North Korean nuclear issue, we cannot leave out one of the most important treaties which is the Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons which organize under the support of the United Nations. The treaty was signed in 1968 and came into force in 1970. The purpose of this treaty is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament CITATION Kel1 l 1033 (Davenport, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), n.d.). North Korea became a state party to the NPT in 1985 under pressure from the Soviet Union. Although it officially signed the NPT in 30 January 1992, it never came into compliance. After some disagreements between North Korea and IAEA in which North Korea refused some inspections and IAEA not satisfying with North Korea’s disclosure of its plutonium production, North Korea notified IAEA on 12 March 1993 about its intention to leave NPT. Afterwards, IAEA notified the UN Security Council about the situation and the UN Security Council adopted the Resolution 825 calling upon North Korea to consider its intention to withdraw from the NPT and to allow IAEA inspections. After some negotiations with the United States, North Korea renounced its intention to leave NPT and allow the inspections by the IAEA. However, it didn’t last long and in 2003, when it started to violate the treaty’s core obligations, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the treaty. Since then, international society has been trying to persuade North Korea to re-enter the treaty but has not achieved yet.
Six-Party Talk and its effect on the North Korean Nuclear Issue
Three-Party Talk between North Korea, South Korea and the United States had initiated long ago which aims to achieve a peaceful and nuclear free Korean Peninsula but the Talks were unsuccessful and the US had to invite all other members because of North Korea’s breaches of bilateral Agreed Framework of 1994. The Framework was pursued by President Bill Clinton that halted North Korea’s plutonium program for about eight years in exchange for energy aid, including two proliferation-resistant light-water reactors CITATION Kel l 1033 (Davenport, The U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework at a Glance , n.d.). However, the framework overall fell apart in 2002 as both sides accused each other for failing to follow their respective commitments. The Six-Party talk between the U.S, China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia over this issue is also an important approach towards achieving North Korea’s denuclearization. The Talk began shortly after North Korea announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003 and when North Korea showed its willingness to join the Six-Party Talk held in Beijing, China. The main issue that the Six-Party talk discuss is the North Korean nuclear program. At the beginning, the Talks were quite successful to some point and some agreements were reached. They made a joint statement towards the dismantling of the North Korean nuclear programs. During the fifth round of Six-Party talk, while trying to implement the joint statement, no new achievements were scheduled and substantial negotiations were neither attempted nor envisioned CITATION Kel2 l 1033 (Davenport, The Six-Party Talks at a Glance, n.d.). Thus, the negotiating climate deteriorated significantly and the US put sanctions on North Korean trading entities. North Korea rejected the Six-Party talk and conducted its first nuclear missile test on October 9, 2006. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1718 in response on October 14. The Resolution requires North Korea to refrain from further nuclear or missile testing, abandon its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile programs, and immediately rejoin the six-party talks and the Six-Party Talks continue CITATION Kel2 l 1033 (Davenport, The Six-Party Talks at a Glance, n.d.). In the next round of talk, North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism by the US. However, North Korea rejected the inspection of its nuclear sites while denying that it had committed in the verbal agreement which allows for inspections outside of Yongbyon when China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States agreed by consensus. Later then, North Korea announced that it would restart its reprocessing plant and in 2009, after UN expanded sanctions on North Korean firm for its violation of the Resolution 1718, North Korea responded by announcing that it would no longer participate in the Six-Party Talk. Since then, the other members, especially China have been attempting to bring North Korea back to the table.
In my opinion, the main reason for the failure of the Six-Party Talk is the mistrust between the countries, especially between North Korea and the US and between the US and China. Moreover, different underlying intensions of the member countries make it more difficult for the Six-Party Talk to achieve success. For example, China wants this issue to remain as a status-quo so that it can advance its economy while the US is focusing on the North Korean nuclear issue. Anyway, China plays the pivotal role for the continuation and the success of the Six-Party Talk as it has good relations with both the US and North Korea. Therefore, China is the only actor which can urge North Korea to come back to the negotiation table.
UN Sanctions on North Korean Nuclear Issue and its Effects
Dealing with North Korea concerning its nuclear programs is not very easy. North Korea has been repeatedly violating the rules and obligations of nuclear non-proliferation regime although many sanctions have been put against it by the international society and through international organizations. UN has been adding sanctions against North Korea since North Korea is not acting in accordance with the UN resolutions and even bluntly rejecting and violating them. UN sanctions on North Korea are mainly economic sanctions especially those which halts North Korea’s trade with China because North Korea is said to be a weak state despite its nuclear activities and it can continue this nuclear program only when North Korean can gain access to trade with the international society. UN Security Council has adopted the Resolution 1695 to warn North Korea to stop its continuous multiple launches of ballistic missiles by adding sanctions towards North Korea. After North Korea had conducted its first nuclear missile test on 9 October 2006 while neglecting this Resolution 1695, the UN Security Council stated the Resolution 1718 on 14 October 2006 which put additional sanctions against North Korea both militarily and economically. The five permanent members of the UN stated that these sanctions would be lifted if North Korea was willing to coordinate and comply with all the measures stated in the resolution. Nevertheless, North Korea was not tempted and it rejected the Resolution and continued its nuclear program.
The UN Security Council responded to North Korea’s second missile test which was conducted on 25 May 2009 by releasing the Resolution 1874 on 12 June 2009 which imposes further additional economic and commercial sanctions on North Korea and empowering the UN member states to inspect North Korea freights and destroy any item which could let them continue their nuclear program. North Korea stated that any further sanctions imposed would be considered as an act of war and they were ready to respond with a military act. And despite all the sanctions imposed, North Korea said that it would weaponize all plutonium and started its uranium enrichment and continued its nuclear program.
On 12 February 2013, North Korea set out its third nuclear test. UN Security Council called an emergency meeting to enforce the existing sanctions on North Korea and impose additional sanctions to stop North Korea nuclear program and to raised military alert status since they were not sure about the strength of this nuclear test. The UN has been tightening sanctions and restrictions against North Korea hoping that North Korea will give in and act in compliance with the UN Security Council Resolutions. However, North Korea has been continuing its nuclear activities despite all the sanctions imposed by the United Nations. The last nuclear test was on 28 November 2017 and the UN Security Council responded by adopting the Resolution 2397 on 22 December 2017 recalling the prior resolutions concerning North Korean nuclear program including resolutions 825, 1695, 1718, etc. and imposing additional sanctions on North Korea. North Korea stated that these hostile policies and sanctions are an act of war which complete economic blockade of North Korea and according to this statement, North Korea sees these sanctions as violating North Korea’s sovereignty and contravening the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and its region. Due to their statements, nuclear weapons are for their self-defense and to protect from US nuclear threats and not to threaten the international society. However, international society is a very tricky environment filled with mistrusts and competitions and therefore, although North Korea said that its nuclear weapons are for self-defense and not to harm the international society, the international society continues to ask North Korea to become a nuclear free state and to destroy its nuclear built-up zones. We cannot also be so sure about the country’s intentions especially North Korea since its leader, Kim Jong-un is known to be acting childish on this issue.
Therefore, UN Security Council Resolutions and sanctions on North Korea remain as it is and they do not affect North Korean nuclear issue visibly. International society and great powers especially the United States and China are also putting pressures on North Korea to stop its nuclear proliferation and yet the issue is a long way to go.
However, recently, a historic summit between the U.S. president, Donald Trump and North Korea President, Kim Jong-un in Singapore on 12 June 2018 made a significant impact on the progress of this nuclear issue. During this summit, North Korea promised to destroy its nuclear built-ups and in return, the US agreed to security guarantees to North Korea and to build new peaceful relations. Moreover, they also discussed about the reaffirmation of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The US President Donald Trump also announced immediately after the summit that the US would discontinue its offensive joint military exercises with South Korea and bring some US soldiers back to their country. The summit can be said as successful as North Korea destroyed some of the nuclear build-ups after the summit with President Trump. The international society hopes that this summit would make a proper step to end North Korean nuclear issue but the future is unclear and we cannot know when the two countries will again dissatisfy with each other’s actions and get into a dispute which threatens the international society with the possible chance of a nuclear war which had threatened the international society just before the summit between the two presidents. Thus, we cannot know what the future holds and can only hope for the best.
IAEA Role in North Korean Nuclear Issue
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an independent organization of the United Nations which was established on 29 July 1957. IAEA was established to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to hinder its use for any military purpose. IAEA is an independent organization but it always reports to the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. Thus, in North Korean nuclear issue, IAEA plays an important part in inspecting North Korea’s nuclear proliferation and managing not to use its nuclear weapons carelessly and not to use for any military purpose. North Korea joined IAEA in 1974 and signed its safeguard agreement with the IAEA in 1977. After joining the NPT, North Korea signed its NPT safeguard agreement with the IAEA in 1992. These safeguard agreements allow IAEA to inspect in North Korea declared nuclear sites.
Nevertheless, these agreements between North Korea and IAEA are always going ups and downs. IAEA special inspection was one of the reasons why North Korea decided to leave NPT. Likewise, North Korea also withdrew from IAEA on 13 June 1994 but IAEA stated that its withdrawal didn’t affect their safeguard agreement so the agreement continues. IAEA takes part in inspecting and watching North Korea and reports them to the UN General Assembly and Security Council. Moreover, the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council are also the results of the IAEA reports.
North Korean nuclear issue has been a very difficult issue to handle since the beginning due to these reasons. Firstly, North Korea is a communist state so that the leader is aggressive and autonomous in nature in administering the country and the negotiations between North Korea and other democratic countries, especially the US which is also the great power are always difficult due to their ideological difference and since no one is willing to accommodate for the other. Secondly, North Korea stated that it conducts these nuclear programs for its national security as a defense and to protect its country from the US nuclear threat and US military force in South Korea so North Korea has no intention to abolish its nuclear capabilities. Thirdly, mistrust within the international society make it harder to achieve success in this issue. Although the countries negotiate and agree to gives and takes, the aftermath of the negotiations do not turn out really well and those agreements do not last long. Fourthly, China and Russia do not act aggressively towards North Korea and they are accused to be providing help to North Korea. Thus, the underlying intentions of the countries are also important and halting the success of this issue in my opinion.
To solve these and to achieve success in North Korean nuclear issue, I suggest persuading North Korea to come back to the negotiation table and to rejoin the NPT. In such case, China and Russia play and important part since they are also communist states and they are in good relation from the start. Some even accused that Russia and China are helping North Korea with its nuclear program until now. Although UN Security Council imposed tight sanctions on North Korea hoping that it will denuclearize and come into compliance with the UNSC resolutions, these sanctions and resolutions remain as it is but they achieve in maintaining North Korea not to use these weapons recklessly and audaciously. Therefore, international society need to play carrot and stick on North Korea since this will affect the whole society and bring up a lot of questions. Can any state leave NPT anytime? Can every state violate the international agreements and norms since a weak state like North Korea can do so? Does possessing nuclear capability let a country to do what it wants? All in all, since we can see that international society is trying to solve this issue, we need to wait and see what these efforts will pay back and settle the issue in the future.
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