What can U.N. do about North Korea?

In this Sunday, April 15, 2012 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency and distributed by the Korea News Service on April 16, 2012, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, third right, salutes with the Korean People's Army senior officers, Vice Marshal and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Choe Ryong Hae, fourth right, and Vice Marshal and the military's General Staff Chief Ri Yong Ho, fifth right, during a mass military parade in Kim Il Sung Square to celebrate the centenary of the birth of his grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea. President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong Nam applauds at second right. (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service) JAPAN OUT UNTIL 14 DAYS AFTER THE DAY OF TRANSMISSION AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second right, salutes with the Korean People's Army senior officers, Vice Marshal and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Choe Ryong Hae (far right) during a mass military parade in Kim Il Sung Square, celebrating the centenary of the birth of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2012.
AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service

(CBS News) UNITED NATIONS - The language of Monday's U.N. Security Council's Presidential statement condemning North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile last Friday was particularly strong, deploring the launch as a grave security concern in the region. But the most important element of the council's condemnatory statement is that China - North Korea's strongest alley - was on board.

It gives weight to the fact that Beijing also considers North Korea's nuclear ambitions a threat to security.

After lengthy debate, and resistance from China during negotiations on Friday and Saturday, the U.N. issued its Presidential statement (which is a U.N. document that has to be adopted unanimously) condemning the rocket launch, making the point that any launch using ballistic missile technology - even if it a satellite launch or a space vehicle - is a violation of Security Council Resolutions.

That was intended to dispel any pretext by North Korea that its launch was for peaceful purposes, permissible under treaty obligations.

China joins U.N. condemnation of N. Korea rocket launch

The Security Council's condemnation of North Korea was stronger than it has been in the past. In addition to demanding an end to North Korea's missile activities, the U.N. also gave a short leash to the sanctions committee, which must report back in 15 days to increase sanctions against Pyongyang.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, the Security Council's president for April, said the adoption of the statement "shows that the international community is united," but to what end is not clear.

Following Kim Jong-Un's first public speech this weekend - in which he said that strengthening the military was his regime's highest priority - expectations are strong that there will be more provocations on the part of North Korea, and perhaps a third nuclear test.

This leaves the U.N. in a box about how to respond effectively. The international community has few options to rein in North Korea's rogue regime, and negotiations have so far failed.

Given that sanctions and food aid haven't really been able to steer North Korea away from launching rockets or testing its nuclear capability, the U.N. is left adding names and entities to its sanctions list.

But if China is convinced that North Korea needs to stop its testing before it develops the ability to mount a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile, China could (on a bilateral basis) suspend some of the arms and fuel it sends as North Korea's most important trading partner.

Sanctions currently in force against North Korea are among the toughest ever imposed, and North Korea has defied those sanctions by conducting nuclear tests and launching rockets - so it is hard to imagine that tightening U.N. sanctions even further will decrease Kim Jong-Un's defiance, particularly because Pyongyang went forward with the launch despite U.S. warnings that it would suspend previously-agreed-to (and desperately needed) food aid.

The next task for the U.N. is to bring China around to help stop the threat to regional security.

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.

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