Editorial: Unite the international community to address North Korea’s reckless actions

The four recent ballistic missile launches by North Korea are thought to be an aggressive response to Japan and the new Trump administration, which have taken a hardline approach toward this country. North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that the March 6 missile launches were carried out as a training exercise for a North Korean artillery unit charged with attacking U.S. military bases in Japan in the event of an emergency. Based on the fact that leader Kim Jong-un, the chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, supervised the missile launches himself, it would seem that North Korea was placing a considerable amount of importance on these actions.

After speaking with U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Japan and the United States have confirmed that the threat posed by North Korea has entered a new phase and they agreed that the two allies will work closely together in addressing the situation. He also said that Mr. Trump is looking at all possible options in dealing with North Korea. However, the notion of containing this threat through the use of force is a questionable idea.

In response to requests from Japan, the United States, and South Korea, the U.N. Security Council is arranging an emergency meeting for today. Needless to say, it is plain that North Korea’s missile launches violate the U.N. resolution that bans any missile launch making use of ballistic missile technology.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rebuked North Korea’s actions in a statement, saying that such behavior severely undermines regional peace and stability. The international community naturally stands united against North Korea.

Despite the economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council, North Korea has repeatedly carried out missile launches and nuclear tests. Does this indicate that North Korea believes the Security Council resolution is ineffective?

According to the annual report released by an expert panel of the U.N. Security Council, 30,000 North Korean-made rocket-propelled grenades were confiscated from a cargo ship which the Egyptian government seized in August 2016. Prior to this incident, the U.N. Security Council resolution had placed an arms embargo on North Korea.

There is the possibility that North Korea has managed to skillfully evade sanctions and been able to continue trading weapons, using the money it obtains from these transactions to advance its nuclear and missile program. Furthermore, it appears that North Korean organizations and banks, on which the sanctions were imposed, are continuing their activities through the use of foreign proxies. The policy of economic containment, to curtail funding for North Korea’s nuclear development, does not seem to be functioning properly.

China, the lone supporter of North Korea’s economy, has lost face. North Korea’s missiles were fired while the Chinese National People’s Congress, akin to Japan’s Diet, was in session. Last month China’s Ministry of Commerce announced that China will stop importing coal from North Korea until the end of the year. It seems that North Korea is now also reacting against the Chinese government’s stance. But this should not become a reason for China to ease sanctions.

North Korean now finds itself in deeper hot water over the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of Kim Jon-un. This incident resulted in Malaysia expelling the North Korean ambassador to that country. With its relationships with friendly nations deteriorating, North Korea has grown even more isolated. Now is the time for the international community to tighten the net around North Korea. In doing so, the strategy of economic containment can finally be more effective.

There is also concern over reactions to North Korea’s reckless behavior, including the use of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system by the United States. Both the U.S. and South Korean military announced yesterday that they have begun to deploy the advanced anti-missile system to South Korea as a defensive measure against North Korea’s new threat. Japan is examining its deployment, but China is strongly opposed to the idea, saying that its territory could become a target of the system’s high-performance radar. It is very important for the international community to work closely together in its response to North Korea.

There is concern, too, that Japan, the only country in the world to have experienced nuclear attack, will move toward military force without carefully considering the full range of options. Japan should be cautious about stirring up fear or rekindling a debate over attacking North Korea’s ballistic missile sites. It is vital that Japan pursue a calm-minded approach to North Korea.

In order to make progress toward the denuclearization of Northeast Asia, the international community must persuade North Korea to stop its aggressive behavior through continuous diplomatic pressure and dialogue.

(Originally published on March 8, 2017)