A tense emergency UN Security Council meeting puts the spotlight on China.
President Trump vowed that North Korea’s possession of an ICBM capable of reaching the United States "won't happen." It just happened.
The United States confirmed that North Korea successfully test launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time, said to be capable of reaching as far as Alaska. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un said the missile was "a gift" to "American bastards" for the July 4th Independence Day celebration.
The first instinct of every U.S. administration, including President Trump’s, has been to go to the United Nations for what U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called “global action” against North Korea. Although increasingly stringent UN sanctions against the North Korean regime and its leaders have not worked in the past to change the rogue regime’s behavior, Secretary Tillerson is looking for even “stronger measures” from the UN Security Council. However, the Trump administration’s patience with the UN is running out.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and her counterparts from Japan and South Korea requested an “emergency” UN Security Council meeting, which was held Wednesday afternoon. She warned in her remarks to the Security Council that North Korea’s “ICBM escalation requires an escalated diplomatic and economic response. Time is short. Action is required. The world is on notice. If we act together, we can still prevent a catastrophe, and we can rid the world of a grave threat. If we fail to act in a serious way, there will be a different response.”
Ambassador Haley told the Security Council that the U.S. planned to submit a new draft resolution in the coming days that “raises the international response in a way that is proportionate to North Korea’s new escalation.” While not prepared to talk about the details at this time, Ambassador Haley outlined a few possible elements of such a resolution. They include cutting off the major sources of hard currency to the North Korean regime, restricting the flow of oil to their military and their weapons programs, and increasing air and maritime restrictions.
All Security Council members, including even Russia, China and Bolivia, strongly condemned North Korea’s latest missile launch and its continued violations of successive Security Council resolutions. Several Security Council members joined the United States in supporting the idea of another, even stronger resolution, including France, the United Kingdom, Senegal and Ukraine. However, the majority of Security Council members preferred to wait and see.
With her usual directness, Ambassador Haley told the Security Council that the United States was prepared to go it alone if the global collective response to North Korea’s ICBM test launch was insufficient. “One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces,” Ambassador Haley said. “We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction.”
In an effort to demonstrate such military resolve in advance of the Security Council meeting, the United States and South Korea launched ballistic missiles of their own in a drill.
Short of using military force, Ambassador Haley said there were other actions that the United States could take. One option in particular involves trade. “We have great capabilities in the area of trade,” Ambassador Haley declared. “President Trump has spoken repeatedly about this. I spoke with him at length about it this morning. There are countries that are allowing – even encouraging – trade with North Korea in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Such countries would also like to continue their trade arrangements with the United States. That’s not going to happen. We will look at any country that chooses to do business with this outlaw regime. We will not have patience for stalling or talking our way down to a watered-down resolution.”
China was very much on Nikki Haley’s mind when she uttered those words. She pointed out that ninety percent of trade with North Korea is from China. Therefore, she reasoned, much of the burden of enforcing UN sanctions against North Korea rests with China. President Trump is clearly frustrated with what he perceives as China’s failure to rein in its trading partner. He had tweeted just hours prior to the Security Council meeting: “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!”
Russia joined China in proposing what they called a “dual” freeze as part of a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Under this plan, North Korea would suspend testing nuclear devices and ballistic missiles while the U.S. and South Korea would suspend their large-scale joint military maneuvers. Both Russia and China criticized the U.S.’s deployment of the THAAD anti-ballistic missile defense system in South Korea and called for its cancellation. Russia at one point referred to the missile that North Korea just tested as “mid-range,” which drew a sharp rebuke from Ambassador Haley.
The Russian ambassador refused to answer reporters’ questions as to whether Russia planned to veto the kind of tough new resolution that Nikki Haley is seeking. Ambassador Haley laid down a marker when, during her rebuttal remarks, she all but dared Russia or China to veto such a resolution and thereby show where they truly stand. “If you are happy with North Korea’s actions, veto it,” she said. “If you want to be a friend to North Korea, veto it. But if you see this as a threat, if you see this for what it is…then you need to stand strong and vote with the international community to strengthen sanctions on North Korea.”
Nothing that happens at the UN Security Council is likely to make any difference as far as North Korea is concerned. Watered down resolutions are all that can pass without at least one veto. And even those resolutions are routinely evaded. Only the exertion of strong American leadership stands any chance of success in thwarting the rogue regime's escalating ambitions. Such leadership must be backed up by credible threats of economic pressure on countries doing business with North Korea and the use of military force against North Korea if necessary.