In his new year address this year, Kim Jong-un boasted that the rocket launch “clearly showed that [North] Korea does what it is determined to do.” Implied by this statement, was Pyongyang’s rejection of the Security Council resolutions which ban “all missile activity” by North Korea, including “any launch using ballistic missile technology.”
Pyongyang does not fear Security Council resolutions because there have been few consequences when it violates them. Had previous resolutions been strictly enforced, North Korea would have been incapable of firing one long-range ballistic missile last year.
China’s refusal to allow harsh sanctions has rendered the Security Council impotent in dealing with Pyongyang, forcing Washington, Seoul and others to act unilaterally.
All eyes will now be on New York to see if the current Security Council debate will result in meaningful, enforceable sanctions in response to this latest violation, or if the new Chinese leadership will continue the current farce.
A new, more creative approach is needed in dealing with North Korea and its missile and nuclear weapons challenge.
The Pacific Forum’s founder, 96-year-old retired Rear Admiral Lloyd “Joe” Vasey, has suggested one option: A mini Marshall Plan for North Korea that offers real incentives for cooperation, economic reform and denuclearization with credible consequences if Pyongyang rejects or reneges on this bargain.
The problem is not with the incentives: Pyongyang has willingly accepted them before. However, if the consequences for failing to live up to its end of the bargain are not credible — and thus far they have not been — the end result of any new approach will be watching the North Koreans take the money and run again.
The new leadership in China under Xi has an opportunity to restore the Security Council’s credibility by demonstrating to Pyongyang that its rejection of international norms and obligations has real consequences.
This will not only send a strong message to Pyongyang that future violations (such as a nuclear test) will not be tolerated. It will also set the stage for more creative approaches to dealing with the overall challenge once leadership transitions in China, Japan and South Korea are complete and the new foreign policy team is in place in Washington.
Ralph Cossa is president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a Honolulu-based non-profit research institute affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and senior editor of “Comparative Connections,” a quarterly electronic journal.