Unity on North Korea a breakthrough for UN

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 July, 2006, 12:00am

The world has finally sent North Korea and other nations intent on ignoring international rules on weapons proliferation the clear message that their actions will not be tolerated. By backing China's demand for a watered-down resolution warning Pyongyang over its recent missile tests, the United Nations Security Council's other permanent members have found the unity that has for so long blunted their ability to get tough with offenders.

That the original wording as formulated by the US, Britain and France was altered to win over China and Russia does not detract from its effectiveness; in the week that the council votes on Iran's nuclear programme, North Korea has nonetheless been told to end its provocations or face a tougher approach.

Resolution 1695 condemns the July 5 tests, calls for the immediate suspension of the North's ballistic missile programme, bans UN members from dealings with Pyongyang in materials or technology for missiles and so-called weapons of mass destruction and urges a resumption of six-country talks on the nation's nuclear ambitions. North Korea's ambassador to the UN quickly rejected the moves, telling the council it had no authority to address such issues.

He is wrong: the UN is the most appropriate organisation to rule on matters that affect the security and well-being of the world's nations. With more member countries than any other group, the UN is dedicated to facilitating co-operation to ensure global security. Missiles and nuclear weapons may be viewed by the North as self-defence but they are also threats to international stability.

North Korea has long tested East Asia's nerves. Without a pact formally ending the 1950-53 Korean war, South Korea has always been threatened. But with the beginning of the North's missile programme in the 1970s, Japan also became a target. Nuclear ambitions increased the fears, and the testing in 1998 of a medium-range missile that arced over Japan before exploding solidified concern. The testing this month of a batch of missiles, one believed capable of striking the west coast of North America, led to Saturday's action by the UN - the first time the security council has unanimously voiced alarm about North Korea since 1993.

The US, locked in a war of words with the North, sought a strong resolution that referred to Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which can authorise tough economic sanctions or military action. China, North Korea's closest ally, refused to back such a move, threatening to use its power of veto as a permanent council member to block it. The compromise resolution may not be as weighty as the US and its western allies had wanted but it still sends a strong signal to Pyongyang.

The message is plain: that even the North's closest partner, Beijing, no longer finds Pyongyang's behaviour acceptable. China, the host of the deadlocked talks to end North Korea's nuclear drive, dropped its reticence about criticising North Korea and said the resolution showed 'the common wish of the international community'. South Korea, which has been trying to reconcile with its neighbour, urged the North to take heed of the warning.

Such words are long overdue. North Korea has shown itself an untrustworthy negotiator on proliferation issues, with a string of broken pledges dating back to the 1993 security council resolution, which urged Pyongyang to open military sites to foreign nuclear inspectors and reverse a decision to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The North did as it was told but went back on its promises in 2003 to reignite the crisis.

The North may have rejected the latest resolution but there is now the international resolve to force it to change its ways. That resolve will be tested if Pyongyang maintains its hostile stance and refuses to return to negotiations. With Iran also dodging pressure to comply with global rules on its nuclear programme, this is a time for the UN to hold firm and continue to present a united front.