Four Times A Charm? Moving Beyond “Strong Sanctions” To Deal with North Korea


2016-02-10 By Richard Weitz

U.S., Japanese, and South Korean diplomats are pushing Russia and China to adopt a hardline in response to the recent DPRK nuclear and missile tests.

This pursuit is likely to be in vain, though fortunately Seoul and Washington have more direct options that they can pursue.

North Korea has carried out four nuclear tests in the past.

Experts believe that Pyongyang could increase its stockpile to anywhere between 20 and roughly 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.

The U.S. government has repeatedly called on North Korea to commit to denuclearization as a condition of any future negotiations, but Pyongyang has steadily dismissed such an idea, demanding to be recognized as a nuclear weapons state.

People watch TV reporting North Korea's short-range missile test at Seoul Railway Station earlier this month Photo: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
People watch TV reporting North Korea’s short-range missile test at Seoul Railway Station earlier this month Photo: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

The growing nuclear arsenal poses a serious strategic challenge for the United States, which will find itself under threat of a DPRK nuclear attack through a long-range missile launch unless the DPRK program is halted in its tracks.

Among other challenges, East Asian allies will come to doubt U.S. commitments to come to their defense if exercising these extended deterrence threats could expose CONUS to a DPRK nuclear strike.

Following the latest Security Council consultations, Japanese Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa called the test an “outrage” and a clear violation of the past Security Council resolutions. Yoshikawa claimed that, “There was… unity on the members of the Security Council that, in response to the DPRK, business as usual will no longer apply.”

South Korean Ambassador Oh Joon observed that, “North Korea’s recent provocations have clearly demonstrated two points: first, the efforts to achieve denuclearization through dialogue so far have only resulted in allowing North Korea to buy time to advance these nuclear capabilities.

Second, given that North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons under previous UN sanctions, it has become clear by now that the current level of sanctions cannot put a break on North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.”

He reached the persuasive conclusion that: “Therefore, the lesson is clear: the only way to stop North Korea from going further down the nuclear path is to make it crystal clear to the regime that it has no option but to change.

It is therefore an urgent task before the Security Council to adopt a significant and robust Security Council resolution that exceeds all North Korea’s expectations and sends a firm message that the international community will never tolerate its nuclear weapons development.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power confirmed that the nuclear and missile tests “undermines regional stability and violates the DPRK’s obligations under four separate Security Council resolutions, demonstrating yet again that the DPRK will continue to escalate tensions in the absence of a strong and forceful response from the international community.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praised the test as a "miraculous achievement," according to KCNA.5/9/15
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praised the test as a “miraculous achievement,” according to KCNA.5/9/15

She added that, “The accelerated development of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program poses a serious threat to international peace and security – to the peace and security not just of North Korea’s neighbors, but the peace and security of the entire world.”

She explained that, “With each one of these actions, the DPRK moves one step closer to its declared goal of developing nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, and we cannot and will not allow this to happen. the Security Council must take decisive action, and to do so with urgency.”

In particular, Ambassador Power saw “robust sanctions [as] a tool to alter a government’s dangerous nuclear ambitions [since they] can affect a cost-benefit calculus that a government acting in defiance of international norms may be making.

However, while China and Russia have both opposed North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, they have resisted international initiatives that they believe could create chaos on the Korean peninsula.

They remain more concerned about the potential immediate collapse of the DPRK than about its government’s intransigence regarding its nuclear or missile development programs.

Chinese and Russian representatives profess to believe that the DPRK’s disintegration could induce widespread economic disruptions in East Asia, generate large refugee flows across their borders, weaken their influence in the Koreas by reducing their bargaining leverage, and potentially remove a buffer zone separating their territories from U.S. ground forces based in South Korea.

At worst, they claim to fear that North Korea’s demise could precipitate a military conflict on the peninsula, which could spill across into Chinese and Russian territory.

China and Russia may call for denuclearization, but they are adamant about regime preservation.

If Kim Jong-un were to be more flexible about negotiations with the ostensible goal of denuclearization, he could count on Chinese and Russian support for other goals. But if he stubbornly rejects diplomacy, neither Moscow nor Beijing is willing to confront him in any comprehensive manner.

South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)
South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)

Following North Korea’s January 6, 2016, in which the DPRK claimed that it had tested a miniaturized hydrogen bomb, Russia, China and the U.S. government representatives called on Pyongyang to cease such tests and fulfill its nuclear disarmament obligations.

The three countries joined others in unanimously agreeing in the UN Security Council to denounce North Korea’s violations of earlier UN resolutions.

However, Russia and China are again resisting adopting significantly more effective sanctions on North Korea.

Fortunately, the U.S. and ROK governments have launched formal negotiations to enhance U.S. missile defenses in northeast Asia.

The ROK’s acquisition of F-35s will also enhance the allies’ ability to detect and destroy DPRK missiles, whether in retaliation or preemptively.

Their new “4D Operational Concept” envisages how the allies would “detect, defend, disrupt and destroy” the DPRK’s nuclear systems.

The intended capacity is to be able to detect a DPRK missile launch within a minute, identify a target and appropriate counter-weapon within 1-3 minutes, and then strike and destroy the target.

Also see, the following:

North Korea Re-Enters the World Stage: Japan Prepares a Response