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UN Debates Disciplining North Korea

Prepared by: Carin Zissis
October 12, 2006

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Days after North Korea’s underground nuclear test announcement, disagreement continues over how to contain the regime’s weapons ambitions. The test has met worldwide condemnation, but has mired the UN Security Council in debate over how far to go in punishing Pyongyang (FT). President Bush threatened “serious repercussions” and Japan already imposed harsh sanctions (Japan Times), including bans on Pyongyang’s imports and travel. North Korea’s other neighbors are treading more carefully. South Korea is grappling with internal political divisions (IHT) over whether to back a UN draft resolution proposed by the United States. The resolution, which recommends stiff sanctions, could lead to military action by invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. It is meeting resistance (Reuters) from North Korea’s strongest ally, China, although Beijing earlier called for punitive actions against its neighbor. The BBC provides a roundup of where world powers stand on the North Korea crisis.

Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s second in command, told Kyodo news agency that future negotiations will depend on the response of the United States. His statement came after his government warned it will carry out more tests if the United States steps up pressure and increased sanctions would be considered "a declaration of war." In its bid to be considered a major world power, the communist nation continues to seek bilateral talks (Sydney Morning Herald) with the United States. President Bush rejected the option (AP) of face-to-face negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged bilateral talks Wednesday. The Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ Daniel A. Pinkston writes that Washington’s refusal to meet one-on-one with Pyongyang has left North Koreans feeling "frustrated and aggrieved, "(Strategic Insights) (PDF). North Korea may agree to return to multilateral talks now that it's shown its "nuclear hand," Alan D. Romberg, an Asia expert at the Henry L. Stimson Center, told CFR.org's Bernard Gwertzman.

Perhaps the gravest fear caused by the test is that North Korea will sell its weapons technology (NYT). The efficacy of U.S. sanctions to control Pyongyang's nuclear sales depends on China and Russia monitoring their air and land space for arms shipments, reports the Los Angeles Times. The position of China, one of Pyongyang’s main donors, is of pivotal importance, says CFR Vice President Gary S. Samore. Peter Hayes and Tim Savage of the Nautilus Institute say Beijing—along with Seoul and Moscow—knows that bringing down the Kim Jong-Il regime with financial punishment could result in nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. “Right now, the best response is to do little and say nothing, in order to devalue Kim's bomb,” they write.

Although the nuclear test sparked worries (Economist) of a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, regarded as a hard-liner on North Korea, promised that Japan will not attempt to develop nuclear weapons (Australian).  But the American Enterprise Institute’s David Frum says Japan should do just that. “It's time to put an end to the silly pretense that today's democratic Japan owes a burden of guilt to today's rising China,” he writes in the New York Times. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s George Perkovich called for cool heads to avoid nuclear proliferation in the region and “knee-jerk” reactions from the U.S. Congress.

This CATO brief looks at the “inevitable” march of nuclear arms across Asia. Writing in Asia Policy, Marcus Noland, a fellow at the Institute for International Economics, examines the possible economic impact of a Pyongyang nuclear test (PDF) on East Asia. Analysts David Albright and Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and International Security estimate North Korea could likely “build a crude nuclear warhead” and has enough plutonium for between four and thirteen nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Threat Initiative provides a chronology of North Korea’s missile development program and maps of suspected nuclear enrichment sites.

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