Getting North Korea’s Attention

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What’s most striking about North Korea’s latest act of war—and ongoing low-grade war against South Korea—is what it says about the United Nations in specific and multilateralism in general.

It pays to recall that North Korea is lashing out at its democratic neighbor not in response to a go-it-alone, cowboy foreign policy in Washington, but in the context of a wholly multilateral approach on the part of two consecutive administrations—an approach that has utterly failed.

Before getting into the myth of multilateralism—and how to respond to Pyongyang—it’s instructive to recap the litany of North Korean misconduct.

Since January 2009, North Korea has detonated a nuclear weapon; test-fired long-range missiles; declared that it no longer is bound by the armistice that brought a cessation to hostilities in 1953; torpedoed and sunk a South Korean ship, the Chenoan, in international waters, killing 46 sailors; fired artillery shells into South Korean waters; and coyly revealed the existence of yet another nuclear facility.

The latest act of war, the 90-minute artillery and rocket attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killed two South Korean marines, injured 14 and destroyed 60 buildings. Calling the North’s assault “a premeditated, intentional illegal attack,” South Korea responded with an artillery barrage of its own.

In the face of these continual affronts, the UN has done virtually nothing. The most embarrassing example of UN fecklessness and worthlessness vis-à-vis North Korea came this past summer, after the unprovoked attack on the Chenoan. The best UN diplomats could muster was a pathetic report condemning the attack on the ROK ship without condemning the attacker.

Of course, the problems at the UN began long before this latest spasm of North Korean mischief.

The UN Security Council’s responsibility, according to the UN Charter, is “the maintenance of international peace and security.” After more than a half-century of failure, it’s safe to say that it’s not working. Of the dozens of wars and threats that emerged since its founding, the UNSC was able to mobilize for concerted action on arguably just two occasions: Korea in 1950 and Kuwait in 1990. Of course, the first was a fluke, thanks to Moscow’s shortsighted decision to boycott a UNSC session; and the second proved to be a post-Cold War aberration. The UN failed in Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq—and that was just in the 1990s. It took eight weeks in 2002 for the Security Council just to agree on a resolution requiring Iraq to comply with existing resolutions. Once it passed, half the Security Council refused to enforce it.

“It gets even better,” as French president Nicolas Sarkozy sarcastically observed last year, during a blistering critique of the UN’s record in North Korea and Iran. The North Koreans “have violated all Security Council deliberations since 1993, and they disregard everything that the international community says, everything. What’s more, they are continuing their ballistic tests,” he intoned.

“Since 2005, Iran has violated five Security Council resolutions,” he explained. “An offer of dialogue was made in 2005, an offer of dialogue was made in 2006, an offer of dialogue was made in 2007, an offer of dialogue was made in 2008, and another one was made in 2009…What did the international community gain from these offers of dialogue? Nothing. More enriched uranium, more centrifuges.”

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  • jacob

    The UN is good only for condemning ISRAEL 24/7/30/365, being as it is in the back pockets of the ARABS…

    But knowing that North Korea's leash is in the hand of Commnist China, if the ANOITED ONE would have any COJONES, should gather his sidekicks in Congress and
    tell CHINA in an unmistakeably way, that it either stops their monkey or not a single MADE IN CHINA nail will enter good old USA without an import tariff of ONE THOUSAND
    per cent… and mean it…

    I dare guarantee results in one (1) hour…..


  • Daniel

    North Korea's actions are simply an extension of Chinese foreign policy. Unfortunately, this makes dealing with this all but impossible since the Chinese own our debt, and could devastate our already weakened economy at any time should it come to conflict. Our leaders do not want the public to know just how precarious our national security situation is. Our only option is to get out of debt, and given our leadership in America, I don't see this happening. Those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it.

  • Wesley69

    The UN is a public forum for discussion and that's about it. It must NEVER be given the power to tax, to create a UN army. (Tax on the use of the seas)

  • Fred Dawes

    The UN Would be on the side of the north , and only one way to deal with evil kill it. and let us not forget the Chinese do in all ways own the North, and if the Rat's in china want the North to attack the south and start the third world war it will happen.

  • Laurence Knoll

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  • Mach1Duck

    I think this solution is too shallow. We are supporting the N. Korean regime by supplying money, oil, food and medical; which the north turns over to their military and the civilains starve. Stop the handout. Secondly the West should stop all N. Korean shipping and impound the ships and crews. This would put the issue on China's doorstep, they would ether have to supply N. Korea with their limited supplies or rein in N. Korea.

  • John

    Israel has an American president, Netanyahu, who understands national security, even though the Wimps of the West don't…we should have such a president! How did we let Netanyahu get away from us? He can even run an airline security system that works and that everyone, except terrorists, likes…no intrusive body searches for them…just an interview that spots terrorists before they detonate anything or anybody…we should be so lucky! I nominate Netanyahu for president in 2012.

  • okrahead

    Leaked letter reveals Obama's special envoy cutting deal with China on Korean peninsula, read it here…