Security Council attempts to get tough on DPRK nuclear tests

By Tim Collard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 5, 2016
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One of the greatest current dangers to peace and security in the North Asian region, and indeed the world as a whole, lies in the proliferation of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.

In particular, the DPRK has so far been deaf to all appeals to refrain from continuing to test weapons systems. On September 9, it conducted a fifth nuclear test in clear violation of the international non-proliferation régime; the next day, the UN Security Council moved to condemn the test and impose new sanctions on the DPRK. Resolution UNSCR 2321 was passed unanimously on November 30.

China, which cooperated fully in ensuring agreement, feels particularly threatened by the development of the DPRK's nuclear capacity. Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has always been the centerpiece of Chinese regional security policy; any instability would inevitably draw in both Japan and the U.S., causing both nations to increase their regional security profile, which is not what China wants at all.

Also, as a direct neighbor of the DPRK, any trouble involving the latter could not fail to have negative effects on China, so it has always been deeply involved in efforts to avert the danger. At first, this was through the Six-Party talks, limiting negotiations to the most immediately interested parties; but it soon became clear this approach was ineffective.

Thus, China has adopted the tougher policy of condemnation and sanctions through the UN Security Council. Even there, no real effect has been visible on the nuclear testing program the DPRK has pursued since 2006.

Resolution 2321, in tightening economic sanctions, will, for example, limit exports of coal from the DPRK with immediate effect, to restrict its access to hard currency. The sale of copper, nickel, silver, zinc and statues will be completely banned.

Action will also be taken against efforts by the DPRK representatives abroad to obtain hard currency through illicit channels. It will also place further limits on the export of dual-use items to that country, and - for the first time - threatens to explore the scope for the diminution of the DPRK's rights as a UN Member if it continues with these disruptive policies.

Economic sanctions are not without dangers. Both China and Russia made it clear that the sanctions are not aimed at reducing still further the already low standard of living in the DPRK. The supply, sale or transfer of coal, iron and iron ore from the DPRK should be allowed only "for livelihood purposes."

As China - and to a lesser extent Russia, which also has a short border with the DPRK - is well aware, the tottering domestic economy is also a potential cause of instability. There is already a stream of economic refugees from the DPRK crossing into northern neighbors, and it is a matter of concern to ensure a stream does not become a flood. It is also possible that economic decline may lead sooner or later to political instability, which in a nuclear-armed country must be avoided.

We must now await the response of the DPRK leadership. Ideally, the UN resolution should not lead to further confrontation, but should serve to bring the DPRK back to the negotiating table.

A great deal of patience has been shown by China and the other UNSC permanent members, but the DPRK response has not been positive. China still has closer relations with DPRK leaders than other major powers, but it is a common mistake in the West to overestimate the degree of China's leverage over her recalcitrant neighbor.

The DPRK is impervious to threats: Her vulnerability to economic sanctions is limited, as the leadership knows well that other countries will be unwilling to press sanctions too far, as no-one wants to see an economic collapse. The only hope is dialogue, as China has consistently maintained; but for dialogue one needs real two-way communication, which hasn't appeared so far.

And thus Pyongyang's reaction to UNSCR 2321 assumes the highest importance. If the North Korean leadership chooses to take the UN resolution as a chance to bash the DPRK, they are likely to dig in their heels for a further period of impasse. If, on the other hand, Pyongyang decides to accept the UN move in the spirit in which it was intended, getting back on terms with the rest of the world and working with neighbors and others for regional and global peace, then there may still be hope for the troubled North Asian region.

Tim Collard is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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