posted on Fri 13 Apr 2012 9:34 AM
Council Meeting on DPRK Rocket Launch

Council members are scheduled to meet this morning (13 April) in consultations to discuss the launch of a rocket by the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 12 April. There appears to be general agreement that launching the rocket, which failed after a few minutes, was a violation of Security Council resolutions 1695, 1718 and 1874. (All three resolutions make it clear that DPRK should not engage in any ballistic missile or nuclear test activity.) DPRK claims that it was putting an earth observation satellite into space using a long-range rocket to mark the 100th birthday of its late leader Kim Il-Sung.

At press time members had not received any draft text on this issue but were expecting the US to circulate a draft condemning the rocket launch which is likely to urge all parties to act with restraint and to reiterate the Council’s demands made in earlier resolutions that DPRK suspend all activities related to its ballistic weapons programme and re-establish pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launches. It was unclear if the Council’s response would take the form of a resolution or presidential statement.

DPRK was first placed on the Council’s agenda in 2006 when it tested ballistic missiles in July and conducted a nuclear test in October. In July 2006 the Council adopted resolution 1695 condemning the missile launches. Then in October 2006 it adopted resolution 1718 in October 2006 imposing sanctions on the country and set up the DPRK Sanctions Committee. (The next quarterly DPRK Sanctions Committee briefing to Council members will be held in May). Following an underground nuclear test in May 2009, the Council adopted resolution 1874 which expanded the exisitng sanctions regime on DPRK.

In the past nuclear-related incidents appear to have prompted a resolution from the Council but other incidents involving DPRK have not always resulted in such a strong reaction. In July 2010, following the March sinking of the South Korean naval ship, Cheonan, the Council adopted a presidential statement which did not specifically blame DPRK for the incident. In November 2010 the DPRK shelled Yeonpyeong, an island is South Korea near a disputed maritime border after the Republic of Korea (ROK) conducted a live fire exercise off the waters of the island. Although Council members had consultations and lengthy discussions they were unable to agree on any sort of statement.

While there appears to be unanimous agreement among Council members that the failed missile launch is a clear violation of the Security Council resolutions, there may not be such unanimity over how the Council should react. Russia has criticised the launch saying that Pyongyang had defied the Council but it has also said it opposes sanctions. China has simply called for calm and restraint on all sides. It seems unlikely that it would support new sanctions on DPRK. In the past China and Russia have been in favour of a carrot and stick approach on this issue while other members like the US were more inclined to go for direct sanctions.

The failed rocket launch has prompted reactions from the international community. The Secretary-General called the rocket test deplorable and said it threatened regional stability. The Group of Eight (G8) foreign ministers meeting in Washington condemned the launch as violating Security Council resolutions and called for an appropriate response from the Council. The US and ROK have condemned the rocket launch as a violation of Security Council resolutions and as a threat to international peace and security.

The rocket launch is likely to complicate any efforts to revive the six-party talks which have been stalled for the last three years. Just weeks ago Washington had promised to provide food aid to Pyongyang who in return promised that it would impose a moratorium on long-range missile launches and nuclear tests. The US has now suspended all plans to provide food aid.