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UN Security Council Response to North Korea's Missile Test: Washington's Policy Debate

Author: Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy
April 13, 2009


North Korea's efforts to exploit divisions among members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in its response to its April 5, 2009, test of a multi-stage rocket has proven to be a slightly harder political target than some in Pyongyang may have anticipated. The DPRK utilized preemptive threats in a statement issued a week before the launch in an attempt to deter UN actions and exploit differences among UNSC permanent members over whether to characterize the launch as a missile test or a satellite launch. The North's intent to deter passage of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the North Korean action has succeeded, but the North has also threatened retaliation even in response to a presidential statement. In response to the UN action, North Korea must now make a tough call on whether to return to six party negotiations.

The presidential statement issued by the UN Security Council is not as strong a condemnation of North Korea's rocket launch as the United States, Japan, and South Korea may have hoped for, but it is stronger than many had been led to expect prior to the test. The statement renews sanctions efforts anticipated under UN Security Council Resolution 1718 that were suspended with North Korea's return to the six party talks in late 2006. However, the resumption of a new international sanctions process may prove equally as ineffective in deterring or punishing North Korea as those pursued following North Korea's 2006 nuclear test, as one might infer from Marcus Noland's recent analysis on the (non) impact of UN sanctions on North Korea.

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