North Korea, The UN and The Lack of Resolution

Why one expert believes the outrage of the international community will make little difference to North Korea’s plans.


Another week, another round of debating North Korea. It’s the situation dominating the headlines – with the exception of Brexit – and the latest push for sanctions on North Korea seems to be the only option the international community can come up with.

While some have argued for an increase of dialogue with North Korea, the international community’s only consideration seems to be sanctions. Doctor Taku Tamaki, lecturer in International Relations for Loughborough University, expresses ambivalence about whether sanctions can even be delivered, or if they will have any impact.

“I take a dim view on this,” Doctor Tamaki says. “It is one thing for the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] to agree to a resolution; it is quite another for the member states–particularly China and Russia–to enforce it. Having said that, though, if the UNSC resolution passes, that is because the Chinese and the Russians abstained from it–e.g., they have not vetoed it. That is a significant ‘message’–though, again, whether they will implement the resolution is quite a different matter.”

“Both Japan and South Korea would like to see a UNSC resolution passed, as it sends a particular ‘message’ that the international community is criticising North Korean actions. But the chances that North Korea will abide the resolutions is extremely slim, so in reality, I don’t think it makes too much difference.”

“The chances that North Korea will abide the resolutions is extremely slim”

Japan had been somewhat of a wild card where the tensions were concerned. While Japan often bears the brunt of the threat due to North Korea’s missile tests, President Trump had initially spoken harshly against the amount money the US spends on its military ties with Japan. While Trump and Kim Jong-un are the ones ramping up the rhetoric and actions, Trump presents an inconsistent ally which could leave Japan pondering its next move.

“For a while, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe contemplated visiting Pyongyang,” Doctor Tamaki says. “But with him dissolving the Diet (the parliament) that will not happen. In any case, Abe has taken a hawkish stance on North Korea lately, so  rapprochement is unlikely. And in reality, there is so little Japan can do at this point.”

For The New York Times Abe made his position clear by calling North Korea’s missile testing reprehensive and condemning the state’s past response to sanctions.

“North Korea’s actions are an outright challenge to the international community, Abe wrote. “…the leadership in Pyongyang has consistently ignored previous resolutions. The international community must stay united and enforce the sanctions.”

“The international community must stay united and enforce the sanctions”

Calls for unity are not guaranteed to be met long term. While the international community is (almost) united in its alarm for North Korea’s rapid nuclear development and testing, international leaders face their own pressures at home – and some global figures are simply too unpredictable.
“The US and China are the main players here (along with North Korea, of course);” says Doctor Tamaki. “But with Donald Trump’s tweets; and given his relationship with China, I just cannot see the international community negotiating with Pyongyang, yet.”

Doctor Tamaki wrote on Japan’s isolation due to the situation with the global political community recently. There are nervous states around North Korea, name South Korea and Japan, but any positive short term action may do little to avail their long term fears regarding North Korea.

The situation then leaves great questions over the way international affairs are conducted. If there is little consistency, long term planning and if sanctions have little impact or are not enforceable then should we be talking about a new way to work to address problematic states? North Korea is providing little optimism, but many doubts about the way we approach foreign policy.

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