North Korea is known for its vocal threats of its ability to wage nuclear war on numerous states, not least of which is the USA and South Korea. Although we have seen that it has conducted nuclear tests, most recently in February 2013, so far it has done little to fully initiate a nuclear war against its perceived enemies. Is this down to UN influence, a lack of confidence on North Korea’s part, or simply because it does not wish to genuinely start a nuclear war it knows it cannot win? More importantly, to what extent can the UN use its influence to allow for a peaceful disarmament process to take place in North Korea? A problem exists in the extent to which the UN is viewed by certain states as representing only the US, where-as it is really available as a platform for views expressed by all member states. It is important to recognise that the UN, of which North Korea remains a member, is representative of the membership of which it is composed, and therefore wishes to see peaceful relations among its members. Although it was created following an agreement between the allied states following WWII, the UN does not represent only the USA, and it is important that its sanctions, as seen in UNSC resolution 1718 (see http://www.nti.org/media/pdfs/unsc_res_1718_2006.pdf?_=1316546802&_=1316546802) are intended to contribute to a peaceful resolution for all parties concerned to create a climate of cooperation and absence of fear at the international level. Furthermore, the UN is considering broader levels of regional security when implementing such sanctions.
The question is whether these sanctions are indeed effective, or do they simply contribute to North Korea’s continued mistrust of Western institutions it sees as acting against its vested interests? The sad truth is that the UN’s recent severe sanctions, no matter how well intended the result, only seem to act as a further motivator for North Korea to continue on its chosen path, convincing the country that both the UN and the US are against it. The hope within the UN and international circles is to see North Korea rejoin the Six Party Talks forum for dialogue between the USA, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia and China, in a bid to help the country move forward and facilitate improvements in the country’s international standing with other states.
This will only happen when the current North Korean leadership acknowledges that its actions are not in agreement with the UN charter, which it became a party to when it became a member of the UN family in 1991. By accepting its responsibilities as a member of an international institution, North Korea would be in a much better position to realise its potential as an ally in a common international system, and would be much better placed for its continued development, both in terms of increasing food provision for its people and improving its human right standards, in addition to much better prospects for its own economic development on the world stage. In a more realistic world, UN sanctions would help North Korea to realise that it cannot make progress by continuing to act of its own accord without considering other parties, and that it will only continue to make enemies in the future. The signs are not clear whether North Korea wants to make economic progress whilst holding on to its ideological traditions, as China has, or whether it wishes to remain firmly anchored to its traditions, which for now leaves it firmly out of line with established norms and rules of international behaviour. The short term solution is to monitor the country’s progress in this area and, should it appear to be slowing down on the nuclear development front (something that is admittedly hard to determine, given the slim chance of allowing either members of a UN party or an inspection by the IAEA), to slowly remove the sanctions and hopefully make a platform for dialogue.