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
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
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.
1. Implement punitive sanctions.
- Demand that all U.N. member nations fully implement existing
U.N. resolution requirements to prevent North Korea's procurement
and export of missile- and WMD-related items and technology and
freeze the financial assets of any involved North Korean or foreign
person, company, or government entity. Any nation that does not
implement the resolution would also be subject to its
- Coordinate a multilateral effort of financial, military, law
enforcement, and intelligence organizations to sanction North
Korean and other foreign companies and government entities that are
involved in North Korean missile and WMD development and
- Submit a new U.N. Security Council resolution invoking Chapter
VII, Article 42 of the U.N. charter, which allows for enforcement
by military means. In 2006, China insisted that U.N. Resolutions
1695 and 1718 adopt the weaker Article 41 provisions. Other
measures that should be considered are those initially proposed by
the U.S. and Japan in 2006, including a ban on transit of North
Korean ships and planes, an embargo on North Korean exports, and a
30-day deadline for North Korean compliance.
- Enforce U.S. law, including Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act,
against North Korean illicit activities such as currency
counterfeiting, money laundering, production and distribution of
illegal drugs, and counterfeit pharmaceuticals. It was a grave
mistake of the Bush Administration to allow Pyongyang to dictate an
abrogation of enforcing U.S. and international laws in return for
North Korea's return to the six-party talks.
2. Continue U.S. and allied missile
defense development and deployment.
- Give U.S. Standard Missile-3 sea-based missile defense
interceptors the ability to intercept long-range missiles in the
ascent phase of flight before it releases decoys that may confuse
or overwhelm the defense.
- Recognize that, because long-range missiles spend a majority of
their flight times in space, space-based interceptors constitute
the most effective and reliable way to counter future generation
missiles that North Korea or other nations may develop. Congress
should call on the Obama Administration to prepare space-based
missile defense interceptors by constructing a space test bed for
- Call on South Korea to deploy a multi-layered missile defense
system that is interoperable with a U.S. regional missile network.
In the past, South Korea's progressive administrations have been
hesitant to do so for fear of aggravating Pyongyang and endangering
Seoul's engagement policy.
3. Augment non-proliferation
- Urge South Korea and China to join the Proliferation Security
Initiative (PSI) to better defend against North Korean
proliferation of missile- and WMD-related technology and
components. Pyongyang's assistance to Syrian construction of an
undeclared nuclear reactor showed the potential danger of nuclear
proliferation. Similarly, the U.S. invoking PSI in late 2008 to
request that India prevent a North Korean flight from Burma to Iran
shows Washington believes Pyongyang remains an active
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
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.
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
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
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).