The United Nations Security Council resolution condemning North Korea’s July 5 multiple missile test-firings may lack strong teeth, but it serves as a stern warning from the international community to the reclusive country. While the contents of the resolution fell short of what Japan originally wanted — an agreement to punish North Korea with sanctions — the fact that all 15 UNSC member countries adopted it is significant. China and Russia at first had opposed any resolution against North Korea.

Last week’s resolution affirms the international community’s concern that North Korea’s missile tests, following its claim to have developed nuclear weapons, “jeopardize peace, stability and security in the region and beyond.”

North Korea should heed the resolution plus a similarly worded statement from the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg and return to the six-nation talks on the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Last week marked the first time the UNSC has adopted a resolution against North Korea’s firing of missiles. In 1998, when North Korea launched a Taepodong-1 missile that flew over Japan and fell into the Pacific Ocean, the UNSC merely issued a press statement because China opposed stronger steps. So, compared with that, the resolution is remarkable.

China and Russia countered a move by Japan to have the UNSC adopt a resolution incorporating sanctions against North Korea. The two countries took the position that a press or chairman’s statement, neither of which has binding power, would be enough. Although China and Russia eventually voted for the resolution, the final version was diluted from a draft that Japan had introduced with the backing of the United States, Britain and France.

Still, China’s and Russia’s vote for adoption must have come as a shock, or at least as a surprise, to North Korea, since the two have traditionally acted as guardians of sorts for the country, especially China, North Korea’s biggest provider of aid.

The resolution was the culmination of 10 days of hard negotiations. The contentious point was whether adoption should invoke Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes economic sanctions and military action “with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.”

With China and Russia opposed to the Chapter 7 reference, Britain and France dropped it and instead proposed a sentence stating that the UNSC acts “under its special responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.”

Since this compromise proposal was able to avoid a veto on its own merits, especially by China, and led to a unanimous adoption of the resolution, Japan should not think of its diplomatic efforts as having been defeated.

The resolution eventually adopted by the UNSC is not necessarily a weak one. It condemns North Korea’s recent test-firing of missiles, and demands that the country suspend all ballistic missile-related activity and reinstate its moratorium on missile launches. It requires all U.N. member states to prevent the transfer of missiles and missile-related items, materials, goods and technology to North Korean programs to develop missiles or weapons of mass destruction, and prohibits procurement of the same from the country.

The resolution also urges North Korea to return immediately to the six-nation talks without preconditions, and return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as well as International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

Regrettably, North Korea rejected the resolution soon after its adoption. Its U.N. ambassador, Mr. Pak Gil Yon, said his country “resolutely condemns the attempt by some countries to misuse the Security Council for the despicable political aim of isolating and putting pressure” on it. He even said North Korea would “take other forms of stronger physical action should any other country dare take issue with the (missile launch) exercises and put pressure on it.”

In view of North Korea’s stubborn attitude, China, the chair of the six-nation talks, which is in a position to directly influence the country, is all the more obliged to try to persuade the country to comply with the resolution.

The nations concerned need to deal with North Korea resolutely, while allowing room for flexible approaches, including direct dialogue with the country. But North Korea should not assume that it can have its own way. The unity that the UNSC member countries have shown in adopting the resolution underscores the possibility that they will take other measures if North Korea does not behave.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.