On Wednesday, November 30, 2016, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2321, which imposes but another round of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The penholder for the resolution was the US represented by US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power. This was the same kind of punishment resolution that the US has provided for the Security Council since Resolution 1718 was passed by the Security Council on October 14, 2006.
It was only one day earlier in 2006, on October 13 that the UN General Assembly (GA) approved the Security Council recommendation that the then South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was to be the next UN Secretary General. At that GA meeting in 2006, member states made several recommendations to the Secretary General elect. Among these recommendations was the advice from Dumisani Kumalo, then the South African Ambassador to the UN, that in order for the Secretary General-elect to be able to act in the interests of the entire membership, he would need “to listen to the views of each and every member state.” At the time, Ban pledged to consult widely in his new position. “I will listen attentively to your concerns, expectations and admonitions,” he promised.
The following day, October 14, 2006, the Security Council voted to punish the DPRK for the first nuclear test which it had carried out a few days earlier. Despite the Security Council obligation under Chapter V, Article 32 of the UN Charter, to invite the DPRK to participate, “in the discussion relating to the dispute,” Resolution 1718 was approved before allowing the UN Ambassador for the DPRK to present his country’s view of the dispute.
This was one problem that the Secretary General would have an obligation to help resolve.
On the one hand, he had been advised and appeared to accept that there was a need to hear the views of all member states. On the other hand, the UN Security Council failed to implement the requirement of the UN Charter that Security Council members invite the parties to a dispute to the discussion of that dispute in the Council before acting on that dispute. Would the Secretary General-elect be able to find any means to grapple with this dilemma?
On October 30, 2006, before his term of office was to begin in January 2007, Ban Ki-moon was interviewed in the offices of the Korean newspaper Hankyoreh by Yonsei University Professor Moon Ching-in. In the interview, Ban expressed his commitment when Secretary General to work to resolve the problem with the DPRK. “I will appoint a politician or diplomat,” he promised, “with the confidence of the international community. Someone who has the trust of both North and South Korea to actively push the issue forward. This envoy,” he proposed, “must be one to impel the Six-Party Talks to action when they stagnate, and must be prepared to play a direct role when necessary. I am ever ready to intervene directly when intervention is called for,” he stated.
He also proposed that the UN had to help transform the cease fire agreement that ended only the fighting in the Korean War into a more permanent peace agreement.
This interview provides a demonstration that Ban Ki-moon, before he assumed the office of the Secretary General, did have a direction for how to contribute to resolving one of the important problems facing the UN, namely the dispute between the US and the DPRK.
The DPRK has written to the Council complaining about the hostile policy it claims it is faced with by the US, especially, for example, the massive military exercises that the US regularly conducts with the military of the Republic of Korea (ROK) on the Korean Peninsula. At times these exercises include the military of other countries like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the UK etc. The DPRK offered to suspend any further nuclear tests if the US suspends these military exercises. The DPRK has asked the Security Council for a meeting to discuss the problem with the US conducting these exercises. The Security Council has ignored these requests. No envoy has been appointed to investigate the situation, as Ban had promised in the interview he had with Hankyoreh in 2006. In the absence of any response from the UN, the DPRK has set about building what it believes will be a deterrent to protect it from the hostile acts of the US.
It is now more than 10 years after the Security Council approved Resolution 1718. For these 10 years, the Security Council has addressed this conflict not as a conflict between the US and the DPRK which it is, but as a conflict between the international community and the DPRK. One has to ask is that because the US is the penholder? The US, as a party to this dispute with the DPRK, has also been the penholder writing several additional resolutions passed by the UN Security Council to impose various additional levels of punishment on the DPRK. Ban Ki-moon has been at the helm of the UN as Secretary General nearly all those 10 years.
While there is a widespread antipathy in the international community against nuclear weapons, no intermediary has come forward to assert the responsibility of a nuclear state like the US to refrain from threatening a non-nuclear state, which the DPRK was before its nuclear tests and nuclear development. (1) The US provides a nuclear umbrella to protect the ROK and Japan. No public intervention has been made by any UN member to recognize publicly that the DPRK does have a valid security concern given the hostile nature of its experiences at the hands of the US.
Anticipating the presentation Ban Ki-moon was to make to the Security Council on November 30, 2016 when the vote on Resolution 2231 was taken, one might wonder what he would say.
With but one month left to his last five year term in office as Secretary General at the UN, would he reflect on the failure on his part to make some contribution to resolving the tension that pervades the Korean Peninsula? Or would the absence of any constructive treatment of the dispute continue, despite the fact that the DPRK maintains that the situation requires it to have a nuclear defense from the US hostility toward it (and the nuclear umbrella the US provides for the ROK and Japan)?
What was the nature of Ban Ki-moon’s statement to the Security Council? His statement was only presented after the vote on Resolution 2321. He then expressed his support for the resolution, offering his compliments to the members of the Security Council for their unity in supporting the resolution unanimously. He praised the toughness of the sanctions and then proposed international partnerships for capacity building in case there were nations not able to implement the sanctions. He admonished the DPRK to change its course and move to the path of denuclearization through sincere dialogue. He cautioned about the need to remember vulnerable groups in the DPRK through international humanitarian assistance. Before ending he added a concern about the “grave human rights situation” and called on the DPRK to improve the living conditions of the people. Nowhere in his presentation was there any mention of his early plans for an initiative or intervention as he had promised in his 2006 interview with Hankyoreh.
After his statement, several Security Council members made their statements supporting the resolution. Then the ROK Ambassador, who is not a Security Council member, was called on to make his remarks, which as expected supported the resolution. As the meeting ended, the Ambassadors from the US, ROK and Japan went to the press stakeout to congratulate themselves on the passing of the resolution. They took questions only from three journalists. The questions from two of the journalists could be answered in line with the opening statements of the Ambassadors. The third question, however, was from a journalist from KBS (the Korean Broadcasting System). She asked a question that threw into question the entire 10 year project of Security Council activity with respect to the DPRK nuclear efforts.
The journalist asked how one was to trust the self-congratulations expressed at the passage of the current resolution by these three Ambassadors, when these same Ambassadors provided similar expressions of self-congratulations with the passage of the previous resolution. Yet the previous resolutions must be called failures if this new sanctions resolution was necessary. In other words, she asked, if the previous “strongest” resolution had not been successful so far wasn’t there a need to change the approach?
Unfortunately, the response she received did not offer any sign of the self-reflection on the part of the three Ambassadors that a serious response to her question would have required. Instead she was told that these sanctions might take time to take effect, but eventually the DPRK would not be able to go on economically. The sanctions would take their toll since no man is an island. This was an acknowledgement that the increasingly harsh sanctions are meant to cause the collapse of the DPRK.
In his statement to the Security Council, the ROK Ambassador Oh Joon had indicated that this was his last day at the UN. His appointment as ROK Ambassador had ended and he was taking an evening flight back to the ROK. Ambassador Oh Joon has often referred to the coming collapse of the DPRK and has supported imposing all sanctions toward that end.
No further questions were allowed.
But had further questions been permitted, perhaps a journalist would have asked why after 10 years of US and Security Council sanctions on the DPRK, it was the ROK that was the country experiencing a political and economic crisis.
For several weeks there have been demonstrations in Seoul that have grown to over a million people, with nearly two million in Seoul and around the country demanding that the President of the ROK, Park Geun-hye, resign as President due to the corruption scandal that has been enveloping her administration, to her behavior, and to her policies.
Ban Ki-moon has stated that after his term in office at the UN ends at the end of December he has plans in mid or late January to return to the ROK. There have been numerous indications that he is considering becoming a candidate for the Presidency to replace Park Geun-hye and her scandal ridden administration. (2)
In the ROK, however, there are forces advocating negotiations to help resolve the dispute between the DPRK and the US. There is recognition that the actions of the US and UN Security Council against the DPRK will only intensify the tension on the Korean Peninsula.
There are those who, as the KBS journalist’s question indicated, recognize the need for a change of approach to the problem and there are a number of indications that there are a growing number of people in the ROK and the US who are attempting to respond to this challenge. (3)
(1) See for example, SC/RES/984, 11 April 1995.
(2) Ronda Hauben,”Debate in South Korean Media Over Ban Ki-moon’s Intentions to Run for ROK Presidency”, May 21, 2016.
(3) See for example:
“[Editorial] Now is the time to find alternatives to solving the North Korean nuclear issue’: Editorial & Opinion : News : The Hankyoreh
Kim Hyo-jin, “President must step down immediately: Seoul mayor”, Korea Times, November 14, 2016.
Ronda Hauben, “Women Peace Activists Ask Ban Ki-moon to Initiate a Process for a Peace Treaty to End Korean War”, May 10, 2016.