April 4, 2009 | WebMemo on Asia
North Korea's launch of a long-range Taepo Dong-2 missile is a direct challenge not just to the United States but to the international community's resolve to confront threats to regional stability. U.N. Resolutions 1695 and 1718 unambiguously prohibited Pyongyang from launching a missile or "satellite." Indeed, even the continued existence of North Korea's missile programs is itself a violation that international timidity has allowed to proceed unaddressed.
North Korea's defiance represents the first foreign policy test of whether the Obama Administration's actions will match its strong rhetoric. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have described the beginnings of a firm and principled approach to North Korea, including the need to impose additional sanctions if Pyongyang does not fully comply with its commitments. The U.S. response to North Korea's missile provocation must send a strong signal that Pyongyang cannot continue to benefit from brinksmanship and military threats.
If the United Nations Security Council wants to salvage any credibility for its resolutions and to uphold the tenet of nonproliferation, it has no choice but to fully enforce the existing resolutions. It must also pass a follow-on agreement that contains stronger punitive measures and allow the use of all tools--including sanctions and military force--to target North Korean and other nations' companies and government organizations that have violated the U.N. resolutions.
Pyongyang's launch is a tangible manifestation of the continuing threat that ballistic missiles pose to the United States and its allies. North Korea's overflight of Japan with a Taepo Dong-1 missile in 1998 galvanized Japanese support for missile defenses--support affirmed by Pyongyang's attempted 2006 launch of a Taepo Dong-2. Today's missile flight should similarly serve as a catalyst for the Obama Administration to maintain efforts to deploy U.S. missile defense systems.
Pyongyang Claims 'Satellite' Is Not Violation
The launch is a clear violation of the two resolutions passed by the U.N. Security Council, which "demands that the DPRK not ... launch a ballistic missile [and] decides that the DPRK shall suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program [and] abandon [its] ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner." Although North Korea claimed its 1998 Taepo Dong-1 missile launch was a civilian satellite, U.N. Resolution 1695 instead assessed the event as having "launched an object propelled by a missile."
By characterizing the launch as a civilian satellite, North Korea is attempting to minimize negative repercussions from this provocative act. Indeed, China and Russia may use this obfuscation to justify resistance to a strong U.N. Security Council response. But mastering the difficult multi-stage capabilities of a satellite launch and ballistic missile are technologically identical: The same missile that can be used to launch a satellite can also deliver a nuclear warhead.
How the U.S. Should Respond
The Obama Administration and Congress should enact a threefold response to North Korea's blatant violation of U.N. resolutions:
1. Implement punitive sanctions.
2. Continue U.S. and allied missile defense development and deployment.
3. Augment non-proliferation efforts.
Rhetoric or Resolve?
During the presidential campaign, then-Senator Joseph Biden prophetically warned, "Mark my words: It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. ... We're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy." North Korean leader Kim Jong-il took up the challenge by launching a Taepo Dong missile.
In 2008, presidential candidate Obama stated that "sanctions are a critical part of our leverage to pressure North Korea to act. They should only be lifted based on performance. If the North Koreans do not meet their obligations, we should move quickly to re-impose sanctions that have been waived, and consider new restrictions going forward.
The U.S. and indeed the world now wait to see whether President Obama's strong rhetoric will be backed up by firm resolve to confront North Korea's defiance of the international community. The ramifications of Obama's response go far beyond the Korean Peninsula. After all, it was President Kennedy's disastrously weak performance during a 1961 meeting with Nikita Khrushchev that inspired the Soviet leader to engage in the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Bruce Klingner is Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation. The author would like to thank Baker Spring, F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation, for his advice and suggestions.
United Nations Security Council Resolution
1695, July 15, 2006, at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/sc8778.doc.htm
(March 23, 2009); U.N Resolution 1718, October 14, 2006, at http://daccessdds.un.org/doc
/UNDOC/GEN/N06/572/07/PDF/N0657207.pdf?OpenElement (March 23, 2009).
Article 41 stipulates: "The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations."
Article 42 stipulates: "Should the Security Council consider
that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or
have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea,
or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore
international peace and security. Such action may include
demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land
forces of Members of the United Nations." See United Nations,
"Charter of the United Nations," at http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter
/chapter7.shtml (March 27, 2009).
"Biden to Supporters: 'Gird Your Loins', For the Next President 'It's Like Cleaning Augean Stables,'" ABC News The Radar, October 20, 2008, at http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2008/10/biden-to-suppor.html (March 16, 2009).
Jonathan Ellis, "McCain and Obama on North
Korea," The New York Times, June 26, 2008, at http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/26/
mccain-and-obama-on-north-korea (March 16, 2009).