For different countries, the concept of international peace and security implies different meanings. Every country assesses security challenges from its own unique geostrategic and political viewpoints. The United Nations introduced Chapter VII of its Charter to help it to address issues associated with international peace and security. As such, these threats, real and imagined, have been largely debated on the meetings of the Security Council and the General Assembly. In the modern world, civil wars, terrorism, organized crimes, biological and nuclear weapons, small arms and light weapons, cyber-attacks, bio-threats, and climate change are now considered as serious threats to international peace and security.
Since these security threats are not limited to a specific nation, today more than ever, the UN faces numerous challenges in sustaining international peace and security, as nations become more aggressive and not willing to cooperate. This situation undermines its role and potential regional and international multilateral cooperation. From the academic perspective, combating such threats is not simple, and a multidisciplinary strategy is necessary to comprehend factors responsible for and effects of such threats to national, regional, and international peace, security, and stability. Thus, there exists a real concern as these threats continue to escalate, for instance, the case of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. From a critical viewpoint, the UN has, however, largely failed in its mandate to ensure global peace and security when the case of North Korea is evaluated. Concerning the operation of Chapter 7 and instances of threats to international peace and security, this paper analyzes the UN’s role in international peace and security.
The UN Security Council
The UN created the Security Council to ensure international peace and stability, and the Security Council must determine what constitutes a danger to security and peace. The Security Council is made up of 15 member states in which five are permanent and the rest ten members are subjected to change after two years. The US, the UK, Russia, France, and China are the permanent members. These nations and other rotating members ensure global peace and security. They ensure that member states handle any disputes peacefully and provide technical advice on security issues. However, when threats to peace and security escalate, the Security Council resorts to sanctions where member states are expected to punish the culpable state using nonmilitary actions. For instance, the Security Council has imposed several economic and diplomatic sanctions on North Korea because of its nuclear weapons program. However, if these sanctions fail to yield any desired results, then the Security Council adopts the use of military force to guarantee international peace and security. All member states are expected to adhere to the resolutions of the Security Council. Permanent member states are entitled to a veto and, thus, all permanent member states must adopt a common stand to pass a resolution. The rest of the member states have one vote. To date, the Security Council has adopted many resolutions to ensure international peace through peacekeeping and peace-building missions.
The Charter of the United Nations: Chapter VII
Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the UN Security Council has well-defined powers to ensure global peace. In this respect, the UN Security Council has the mandate to ascertain the existence of any forms of threats to security, security breach, or acts of aggression to use military or nonmilitary interventions to ensure international peace and security. The Security Council has also the power to coordinate the UN security forces. Additionally, the Charter does not allow a member state to attack another member state with the ultimate goal of preventing wars. Thus, the UN does not support any crime against peace by ensuring that no country can start or wage war against political autonomy, territorial integrity of other countries, or violate international treaties.
As it is today, it is observed that many broad resolutions under the Charter of the UN aim to give the Security Council wide-ranging powers to ensure international peace and security relative to the previous League of Nations that failed to deal with the World Wars. As such, the powers and responsibilities contained under Chapter VII of the UN Charter are critical for sustaining international peace and stability by preventing or ending ongoing wars and threats. Once the Security Council determines “the existence of any threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, or acts of aggression”,1 it finds opportunities in Chapter VII to deter threats. The Security Council can adopt interventions that do not necessarily involve military actions, such as economic and diplomatic sanctions, but it may still apply military actions to ensure peace and stability. However, it is now observed that despite these wide-ranging powers, the UN Security Council has largely failed to act in some instances, giving rogue states, such as North Korea and Iran, opportunities to advance their agenda and pose serious threats to international peace and security.
The North Korea Nuclear Weapons Program
Today, many national and global leaders agree that North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK) is “the most pressing threat to international peace and security” and “the most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security”2 because of its increased nuclear weapons development endeavors. North Korea presents the possibility of a nuclear war compared with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
In the past century, all the leaders of the Hermit Kingdom have focused on developing nuclear weapons. They all comprehended the need for nuclear weapons. It is believed that the idea of possessing nuclear weapons emanated from the experiences of the Korean War.3 The Korean War saw North Korea and its ally China face heavily nuclear-armed US. As such, it was extremely obvious for the first Kim and other later Kims that nuclear weapons were powerful deterrent.4 Kim II Sung (1948-1994) was responsible for establishing North Korea and putting the country’s nuclear program on the path of development. However, he died before North Korea could carry out its first test of a nuclear weapon. Kim Jong II (1994 to 2011) took over, and he was much more focused on advancing the country’s nuclear weapons program. This supreme ruler denied that its country had any nuclear weapons program.
In the era of Kim Jong Un (2011 to present), the nuclear weapons program of North Korea is now considered a threat to international peace and security. The current dictator is largely responsible for accelerating his country’s agenda to develop nuclear weapons since the period of the Obama administration. Consequently, many world leaders have openly criticized the Hermit Kingdom than in the past.
Further, Kim Jong Un is determined to proceed with the program irrespective of the consequences. For instance, in 2017, the dictator was openly threatening the US and its allies with an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a nuclear war at any moment. While Kim Jong Un was celebrating its successful launch of a missile on the Japanese territory, world leaders were not amused. The US Defense Secretary, for instance, condemned the test and warned that the US and Japan would be ready for any future missile threats. For Kim Jong Un, the launch provided an opportunity to move toward an ‘equilibrium’ with the US concerning military force.
In the recent past, Kim Jong Un’s frequent and aggressive missile launches have been noted, and these have reinforced the idea that North Korea is dangerous, capable, and closer than ever before to building ICBM arsenal that could hit the mainland of the US or any of its allies in the Asian continent.
These tests have confirmed that the country possesses nuclear weapons. North Korea previously warned the US allies of retaliation if they take part in military interventions with the US, promising a nuclear war at any moment.
Experts have not agreed if indeed North Korea can deliver ICBM to the US mainland and no consensus on the precise stage where the country is in with regards to miniaturizing nuclear weapons for possible attacks using nuclear missile heads. Based on some vague sources, the US intelligence team now perhaps believes that North Korea has acquired technologies for miniaturizing nuclear devices and can use nuclear warheads.5 Japanese also sees this scenario as a possibility. North Korea recently tested ICBM it claimed could hit the US mainland. Although some analysts do not believe the secretive country, most experts see this claim as a possibility.
Consequently, the US and its allies are more alerts, and they have dropped their blasé attitude. Since North Korea tested the ICBM into the Pacific close to Japan and Guam, and further went ahead to threaten Guam, the US and its allies are no longer taking any threats lightly. They have installed anti-missile defense systems to intercept missiles launched from North Korea. Kim Jong Un’s end goal, as previously noted, is to attain the equilibrium of actual military strength with the US and deter the US from possible military interventions.
Efforts of the Global Community
Currently, other states have recognized that North Korea is the immediate threat to international peace and security, and the country has increased its speed and scope of its nuclear weapons program.6
Previously, the US, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan involved North Korea in what was referred to as the Six-party Talks to get it to abandon its nuclear weapons program. These talks aimed toward disarmament failed to work, and Pyongyang seemed to have increased its scale and speed.
In 2005, Pyongyang agreed to adopt a deal that would ensure it abandoned its nuclear ambitions and in return would get political concessions and economic sanctions lifted and further get aid from the US. The country destroyed its Yongbyon plant as a part of the deal in 2008. However, the deal implementation failed in 2009 and talks collapsed. The US believed that North Korea never fully disclosed its nuclear facilities and program. In 2010, this situation was compounded when the country disclosed its uranium enrichment plant located at Yongbyon, which it claimed was meant for electricity generation. In 2012, Pyongyang surprised the world when it declared that it would stop its nuclear weapons program and stopped all missile tests to get food aid from the US. However, this was a ploy since North Korea attempted to launch a missile in April of the same year. Following a war of words with the US and subsequent UN sanctions because of another third test conducted in March 2013, North Korea declared that it would restart all its nuclear activities at Yongbyon plant. By 2015, it appeared that the plant was running its normal activities. The tests conducted in 2016 drew international condemnation, even from China – the country’s main ally and a major trading partner.
Today, experts tend to agree that North Korea could have acquired some of the former Soviet missile systems through underground means in the Ukrainian black market. Thus, Pyongyang scientists now demonstrate capabilities never witnessed before in their missile tests. A clear test to demonstrate that the country has developed warhead vehicles that could withstand excessive heat and atmospheric velocity of re-entry remains one of the obstacles.
In 2017, North Korea tests have become bigger, and many experts believe that the country could miniaturize its nuclear bombs to produce deadly weapons. The latest tests suggested stronger bombs based on the records of the triggered earthquakes with as high as 6.3 magnitudes. Pyongyang claimed it was a hydrogen bomb, but no one could certainly verify and confirm this claim. Nonetheless, the magnitude of the explosion made this claim extremely likely because it was noted that it was huge than the atomic bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.7 Following these new developments, the UN adopted new sanctions against the Hermit Kingdom. Moreover, the US President, Donald Trump warned Pyongyang of ‘fire and fury’ should it continue with its never-ending threats against the US and its allies. This stern warning failed, though and North Korea vowed to develop new weapons with capabilities to strike the US mainland and Guam, the US territory in the Western Pacific.
The UN Security Council Sanctions Have Largely Failed against North Korea
All have agreed that international sanctions have not yielded the desired results on North Korea’s missile program.8 In fact, these sanctions have led to more elaborate and sophisticated methods of procuring materials.
As previously noted, in 2017, North Korea demonstrated its nuclear weapons capabilities to the world. For the past two decades, the international community has concentrated on stopping the Hermit Kingdom from attaining such a level of capabilities. It is believed that the country tested a hydrogen bomb and two ICBMs in September 2017. The US intelligence agencies also determined that Pyongyang had about 60 weapons and there was some manufactured warhead, which could be mounted on a missile.9 Despite the UN sanctions, North Korea has been able to acquire technologies and materials for this new nuclear weapons program.
Sanctions Targeting Technologies
In 2006, the UN Security Council adopted sanctions that outlawed the sale, supply, or transfer of any items, materials, equipment, goods, and technology that could help North Korea to advance its nuclear weapons program. The UN imposed these sanctions following the first nuclear test. Since 1990s, the US and other nations have strived to stop North Korea from obtaining technologies that could support its nuclear weapons program. The UN Security Council sanctions further supported these efforts by introducing legal conditions on all states to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
The UN Security Council sanctions are general and apply to all countries globally. Thus, every member state is responsible for the execution of the sanctions within its borders. Countries have national export control systems to regulate and monitor movements of the missile, military, and nuclear technologies. Hence, governments must provide export licenses for such products and technologies as a means of risk assessments through tracking all involved entities and final usages. As such, they intend to avoid any illegal or unintended usages, particularly to develop weapons of mass destruction or to abuse a population.
In short, all nations have export control measures and, thus they should be able to implement the UN sanctions that target technologies delivered to North Korea. The UN Security Council passed a resolution 1540 in 2004 for a compulsory export control systems for all member states. However, several years after this resolution was adopted, many countries are still facing challenges associated with the implementation and execution. This situation has resulted in uneven implementation and execution of sanctions on North Korea. To this end, it can be asserted that the UN sanctions are shaky because it is difficult to ascertain that any single component of the sanctions list has robust global implementation and execution.
North Korea somehow still manages to obtain missile technologies. In fact, the country now launches more advanced weapons, which reflect its sophisticated missile technologies. Thus, the nuclear weapons program has evolved with technologies. Initially, Pyongyang started by purchasing full missile systems and focusing on reverse engineering or redoing them. In 1970s, for instance, the country acquired some short-range Scud missiles from Egypt and concentrated on reverse engineering in the 1980s. Consequently, by 1990s, the country started developing an improved version of Scud missiles. Further, it was able to experiment with other forms of long-range missiles in the 1990s and 2000s. Its Taepodong missiles were mainly short-range while the subsequent Taepodong-2 was alleged to be long-range, but it was never demonstrated successfully.
As previously mentioned, significant achievements in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have been noted since 2011 when Kim Jong Un assumed power. It continues to test new missiles and develops nuclear warheads. The current leader has shown accelerated efforts to develop highly sophisticated nuclear weapons.
Additionally, North Korea has also focused on the production of components at home rather than relying on sourced parts. While the program remains opaque and highly guarded, some critical insights could provide a clue on exactly how North Korea has acquired technologies to support its ambition.
Some recovered debris from the sea after it launched a satellite in December 2012 showed that the parts were sourced from international markets. In fact, the 2013 UN report stated that the components were modern and originated from the US, the UK, China, and Switzerland, as well as other improved Scud parts obtained from antique Soviet technologies of 1980s. Reviews of file photos captured during Kim’s visits to the factories suggested manufacturing equipment and technologies for a nuclear weapons program that were more advanced. In fact, North Korea now seems to possess wound filament, which is lighter and stronger relative to aluminum, demonstrating a major step in the program. To this end, experts view Russia and Ukraine as possible sources, but some refute such claims. This now captures the wider discourse concerning the sources behind the most recent success of North Korea. One must ask whether such achievements are linked to imported technologies or North Korea’s homegrown technologies by its scientists.10
The UN Security Council and Veto
In most instances, critics have often cited the veto power as a major hindrance to the UN resolutions. The specific claim is that the five permanent members are no longer the most objective, stable, and responsible states in the UN. As such, they have used veto power to hinder critical decisions that could help to advance international peace and security.11 The most recent case shows the power of veto.
The UN managed to pass the harshest sanctions package against North Korea following the country’s sixth test of the largest nuclear bombs. However, the US only succeeded in pushing through the sanctions after eliminating some major proposals, including a complete ban on shipments of oil into the country with the end goal of getting Russia and China to support the sanctions. “China and Russia are North Korea’s chief sanctions enablers and used their veto power to water down the UN sanctions”.12 Chinese and Russian representatives made certain that the sanctions were watered down prior to the vote13 because they are more focused on their national interests when it comes to reining in North Korea’s nuclear power ambitions.14 China appears to be worried about the potential collapse of North Korea and millions of refugees moving across into China.
Besides, China also fears that the US would significantly boost its military presence in the region to handle the aftermath of the collapse and to secure nuclear weapons and facilities. China is not ready for the US military near its border. Thus, it strives for a stable North Korea to act as a buffer. Russia, on the one hand, is a minor player in North Korea’s affairs. Nonetheless, Russia has real concerns regarding regional stability and restricting the US presence in the region. Further, analysts believe that Russia is also using this opportunity to become a major power player in any negotiations involving the Hermit Kingdom in the future, specifically outside the UN Security Council. Obviously, the Security Council has adopted a lukewarm approach to North Korea, as national interests become the priority for the five permanent member states.15 Political mismanagement associated with poorly defined policies or failure to act by the US administrations is also cited as a source of problem in managing North Korea.16
The cases of Syria and Crimea show instances in which the UN Security Council has largely failed to deal with situations that undermine international peace and security.17 In such cases, some critics have blamed the Security Council for focusing on “national interests and short-term geopolitical considerations over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of international peace and security”.18 As such, it is observed that the UN Security Council is no longer effective in its role and needs reforms.19
North Korea is Evading Sanctions
As the US focuses on efforts to destroy North Korea’s economy through hard-hitting sanctions, Pyongyang has proved that it is an expert in evading the most elaborate sanctions regime and finding adequate funds to pay for its nuclear weapons program. In fact, the UN experts observe that “as the sanctions regime expands, so does the scope of evasion”.20 This is an observation by a UN panel of experts monitoring enforcement of UN sanctions against North Korea, and the panel further notes that “lax enforcement of the sanctions regime coupled with the DPRK’s evolving evasion techniques is undermining the goals of the resolutions that the DPRK abandon all WMD (weapons of mass destruction)”.21
North Korea has been able to advance its nuclear weapons program simply by evading sanctions and wider scrutiny of the global community. The country employs some illicit procurement methods, including the use of front firms, disguising the end-user, using fake documentation, and mislabeling of cargo. The 2017 UN report has concluded that the country’s evasion approaches are expanding in scale, scope, and complication. It appears that North Korea has established a global network to procure technologies, equipment, and materials for its nuclear weapons program.
The geographical closeness, wider trading networks, and historic relationship of North Korea and China all make China an important, unequaled player in the country’s networks of activities. Majorities of middlemen, wheeler-dealers, and procurement experts have established their bases in China. Consequently, many private sector players in China, to some extent, have benefited North Korea’s manufacturing technologies. In fact, a series of events in the past years have shown that Chinese-North Korean businesses and Chinese industrialists have been extremely important in aiding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.22 The country sources components, machine tools, and other materials from China.
As critics and observers ponder whether sanctions have largely failed, new complicated developments are noted, specifically on the impacts of the sanctions regime. The main objectives of these sanctions have been to slow down and eventually stop North Korea from attaining its nuclear weapons ambition. Recent tests conducted show that sanctions have failed in their primary objectives, and now experts believe that sanctions will not likely alter the behavior of North Korea.
Additionally, these sanctions have also proved that North Korea has developed more intricate procurement techniques as Chinese wheeler-dealers seek to monetize the perceived risks. The US considers North Korea as an inward-looking, economically isolated country with no global networks. However, the Hermit Kingdom has created multiple illicit networks, which are international, adaptive, and resilient to support its trade and missile program. Today, the world has acknowledged that it is difficult to disrupt these illicit networks.
Given the national interests of the permanent member states, the UN Security Council can no longer deal with the case of North Korea since sanctions are no longer effective.23 As such, world leaders must find other necessary means to end the impasse through a peaceful resolution or military action because failure to act could be catastrophic. Member states must uphold international peace and security by ratifying any treaty abolishing nuclear weapons. They have recognized that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is an obvious present danger to all nations, and the constant provocative behaviors of Pyongyang have not slowed down despite the sanctions. Hence, a war could be inevitable, but it would be a war like no other witnessed before, which could claim millions of lives.24 That is, the Security Council would have failed in its mandate to uphold international peace and security.25 It will be a nuclear World War III.
Aleem, Z 2017, Why Russia and China watered down the UN’s new North Korea sanctions, Web.
Ali, I & Stone, M 2017, ‘North Korea ‘most urgent’ threat to security: Mattis’, Reuters, Web.
Anwar, MA 2014, ‘UN Security Council’s failure stretches from Syria to Crimea’, The Conversation, Web.
Beuge, A, Gutiérrez, P, Levett, C, Sheehy, F & Torpey P 2017, ‘A guide to North Korea’s advance toward nuclear weapons – in maps and charts’, The Guardian, Web.
Carswell, AJ 2013, ‘Unblocking the UN Security Council: the uniting for peace resolution’, Journal of Conflict and Security Law, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 453–480. Web.
Fisher, M 2017, ‘Remote textile plant may secretly fuel North Korea’s weapons’, The New York Times, Web.
Kasperowicz, P 2017, ‘US splits with China, Russia on North Korea solution at UN’, The Washington Examiner, Web.
Klein, JA 2017, UN’s failure on North Korea, Web.
Kristof, N 2017, ‘Trump’s Scary Strategy on North Korea’, The New York Times, Web.
Lopez, CM 2017, North Korean crisis a decades-long failure of political will, Web..
Lynch, C 2017, U.N. report: sanctions aren’t stopping North Korea’s nuclear program, Web.
Murphy, R 2015, ‘Is the UN Security Council fit for purpose?’ Politics Review, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 1-4.
Park, J-M & Kim, S 2017, ‘These are the scientists behind North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme bringing country to brink of war’, Mirror, Web.
Remshardt, K 2010, Under what Conditions has the UN been able to use its Chapter VII Powers?, Web.
Salisbury, D 2017, Why U.N. sanctions against North Korea’s missile program failed, Web.
Sang-Hun, C 2017, ‘North Korean leader hails nuclear arsenal as ‘powerful deterrent’, The New York Times, Web.
Scarborough, R 2017, ‘North Korea has 30 warheads and is quickly expanding its nuclear arsenal’, The Washington Times, Web.
Schallhorn, K 2017, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has grown with each Kim regime, Web.
Sehgal, E 2017, ‘Failures of UN bring us further toward third world war’, Asia Times, Web.
Sevastopulo, D & Manson, K 2017, ‘UN agrees stronger sanctions against North Korea’, Financial Times 12 September, Web.
Simic, I 2012, Failure of international law and tyranny at the Security Council, Web.
Warrick, J, Nakashima, E & Fifield, A 2017, ‘North Korea now making missile-ready nuclear weapons, U.S. analysts say’, The Washington Post, Web.
- Remshardt, K 2010, Under what Conditions has the UN been able to use its Chapter VII Powers?, Web.
- Ali, I & Stone, M 2017, ‘North Korea ‘most urgent’ threat to security: Mattis’, Reuters, Web.
- Schallhorn, K 2017, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has grown with each Kim regime, Web.
- Sang-Hun, C 2017, ‘North Korean leader hails nuclear arsenal as ‘powerful deterrent’, The New York Times, Web.
- Warrick, J, Nakashima, E & Fifield, A 2017, ‘North Korea now making missile-ready nuclear weapons, U.S. analysts say’, The Washington Post, Web.
- Scarborough, R 2017, ‘North Korea has 30 warheads and is quickly expanding its nuclear arsenal’, The Washington Times, Web.
- Beuge, A, Gutiérrez, P, Levett, C, Sheehy, F & Torpey P 2017, ‘A guide to North Korea’s advance toward nuclear weapons – in maps and charts’, The Guardian, Web.
- Salisbury, D 2017, Why U.N. sanctions against North Korea’s missile program failed, Web.
- Scarborough, R 2017, ‘North Korea has 30 warheads and is quickly expanding its nuclear arsenal’, The Washington Times, Web.
- Park, J-M & Kim, S 2017, ‘These are the scientists behind North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme bringing the country to the brink of war’, Mirror, Web.
- Simic, I 2012, Failure of international law and tyranny at the Security Council, Web.
- Sevastopulo, D & Manson, K 2017, ‘UN agrees stronger sanctions against North Korea’, Financial Times 12 September, Web.
- Kasperowicz, P 2017, ‘US splits with China, Russia on North Korea solution at UN’, The Washington Examiner, Web.
- Aleem, Z 2017, Why Russia and China watered down the UN’s new North Korea sanctions, Web.
- Remshardt, K 2010, Under what Conditions has the UN been able to use its Chapter VII Powers?, Web.
- Lopez, CM 2017, North Korean crisis a decades-long failure of political will, Web.
- Anwar, MA 2014, ‘UN Security Council’s failure stretches from Syria to Crimea’, The Conversation, Web.
- Murphy, R 2015, ‘Is the UN Security Council fit for purpose?’ Politics Review, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 1-4.
- Carswell, AJ 2013, ‘Unblocking the UN Security Council: the uniting for peace resolution’, Journal of Conflict and Security Law, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 453–480. Web.
- Lynch, C 2017, U.N. report: sanctions aren’t stopping North Korea’s nuclear program, Web.
- Fisher, M 2017, ‘Remote textile plant may secretly fuel North Korea’s weapons’, The New York Times, Web.
- Klein, JA 2017, UN’s failure on North Korea, Web.
- Kristof, N 2017, ‘Trump’s Scary Strategy on North Korea’, The New York Times, Web.
- Sehgal, E 2017, ‘Failures of UN bring us further toward third world war’, Asia Times, Web.