World / Asia-Pacific

US, DPRK should stop raising tension

By Jiang He (China Daily) Updated: 2012-12-17 03:07

After a failed attempt in April, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea announced the successful launch of its Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite on Dec 12, which was widely believed to mark the first anniversary of Kim Jong-un's administration since Kim Jong-il died on Dec 17 last year. However, the launch invited strong reactions from the international community, especially Western countries. Some countries have even accused the DPRK of using its right to launch satellites to cover its missile development program.

Since the DPRK's withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United Nations Security Council has viewed the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue as one endangering international peace and security. The DPRK's nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 were followed by Security Council resolutions, which demanded that Pyongyang immediately halt its nuclear-related activities and missile program. The DPRK, however, has insisted that, as a sovereign nation, it has the right to peaceful use of space and launch satellites.

According to the UN Charter, the Security Council is responsible for maintaining international peace and security, and its resolutions are binding on all countries. The Charter also empowers the body to decide whether a dispute or event poses a threat to world peace.

The Security Council's resolutions 1718 and 1874 bind the DPRK to international obligations under the UN Charter. According to Article 103 of the charter, UN member countries should accord priority to their obligations under the charter over those in other international covenants. That means Pyongyang's claim that it enjoys the right to peaceful use of space, which it says is accorded by the Outer Space Treaty, stops short of having a legal basis.

From a legal perspective, Security Council resolutions constitute the core of international law. Different from UN general Assembly resolutions, which lack binding force, Security Council resolutions are legally binding on even non-UN member countries. Thus, Pyongyang has to unconditionally abide by Security Council resolutions that impose a ban on its use of missile technology for launching satellites.

As a widely recognized international treaty on arms reduction, the NPT is aimed at preventing nuclear proliferation, pushing forward nuclear disarmament and promoting international cooperation for peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The Security Council has played an important role in the implementation and monitoring of the treaty. It is also empowered to investigate the activities of the countries that have withdrawn from the NPT and even stop countries from withdrawing in the first place, using military forces if necessary, if it considers the move to be in contravention of the treaty or a threat to international peace.

So Pyongyang's unilateral withdrawal from the NPT does not justify its self-proclaimed exemption from the treaty's terms and conditions. Besides, the Security Council still has the responsibility of defining its international obligations.

The supreme role of the Security Council in maintaining international peace and security and preventing nuclear proliferation, however, has pushed the United States into an advantageous position in its game with the DPRK. The international community has labeled the DPRK a "rogue state", to a large extent, because Western countries have demonized it. The label, however, is also related to the DPRK's contempt for and violation of Security Council resolutions.

Pyongyang's repeated violations of its international obligations are, to a certain extent, its response to the decisions of Washington-manipulated Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency. In this sense, US unilateralism has added to the Security Council's difficulties of making the DPRK follow its resolutions.

Despite the Security Council's irreplaceable role in maintaining international peace, its resolutions often create a legal dilemma when they are implemented with the help of or to benefit Washington.

Security Council resolutions are inseparable from the US diplomatic inclinations and sometimes reflect its double standard. Though the US opposes and even threatens to take military action against the DPRK's satellite launch, it tends to ignore similar actions taken by its allies such as the Republic of Korea's Naro rocket launch.

Owing to the hostility between the US and the DPRK, there is little or no possibility of the two sides realizing their mutual diplomatic goals through bilateral dialogue. Pyongyang considers nuclear weapons to be the most potent deterrent against Washington and for maintaining its national security in the absence of any security guarantee from the US.

The problem is that by extending a security guarantee to the DPRK, the US will forfeit its self-proclaimed right of maintaining military alliances with the ROK and Japan and nullify its pursuit of hegemonism in Asia, which is unacceptable to Washington. On the other hand, without a security guarantee from the US, the DPRK is unlikely to abandon its nuclear program that in turn will threaten the non-proliferation mechanism, which the US sees as its core interest and diplomatic strategy.

In the diplomatic game over the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, the absence of mutual trust is unlikely to lead to a win-win result. To enhance mutual trust, the US should forego its hegemonic policy, while the DPRK should abide by its international obligations and Security Council resolutions.

China, as a shareholder and Security Council member, should mediate to enhance mutual trust between the US and the DPRK under the Six-Party Talks and try to play a bigger role in the Security Council from passing resolutions that weaken its legitimacy.

The author is an associate professor and doctor of law with the Law School, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.

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