Punishing North Korea – Eh?

When George W. Bush became president, North Korea, Iraq, and Iran were signatories to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and had made all their NPT proscribed materials, facilities, and activities subject to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

However, soon after identifying them as constituting an “axis of evil,” Bush claimed to have “intelligence” that all three were secretly pursuing Uranium-235 nuclear weapons development programs.

Worse, Bush charged that the IAEA-NPT nuke proliferation prevention regime was incompetent to prevent or even uncover those illicit nuke development programs.

Worst of all, the IAEA-NPT regime was incapable of preventing terrorists from acquiring “weapons of mass destruction” – such as ballistic missiles of the type developed by North Korea, which could threaten Israel if launched by the Iranians.

How did Iran-to-Israel ballistic missiles come to be classified as “weapons of mass destruction”?

And why would a terrorist want a 40 foot-long, liquid-fueled, 40,000 pound missile?

Maybe Bush – who announced his own National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction [.pdf] in late 2002 – has the answers.

Several months after launching his preemptive war of aggression to “disarm” Saddam Hussein, Bush announced the establishment of the Proliferation Security Initiative; a web of international “counter-proliferation partnerships” to prevent “proliferators” from “carrying out their trade in WMD and missile-related technology.”

Henceforth, whenever Bush suspects anyone of buying, selling, or facilitating the transfer of “deadly capabilities” to or from countries like Iran or North Korea, he just asks one or more of the sixty PSI states to interdict – on land, sea, or in the air – the suspect purchase, sale, or transfer.

In particular, in 2003, at Bush’s request, Taiwanese government officials detained the North Korean cargo vessel Be Gaehung, which had made port at Kaoshung, boarded it, and confiscated 158 barrels of phosphorus pentasulfide, which U.S. intelligence “suspected” could be used to make “rocket fuel.”

Now, PSI interdiction, search and seizure may sound a lot like piracy to you, a flagrant violation of all kinds of international law. It sounds that way to a lot of international legal experts, too.

But, a couple of weeks ago our (unconfirmed) Ambassador to the United States, Bonkers Bolton, somehow got the Russians and Chinese to allow passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1718, in which the Council clearly exceeds its authority under the UN Charter.

In particular, UNSCR 1718 “demands that “the DPRK return to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.”

Now, if North Korea was a NPT signatory, the Security Council could demand that North Korea comply with it.

But, as a direct result of Bush’s unilateral abrogation of the Agreed Framework in October, 2002, and his threats to effect “regime change” all along the “axis of evil,” North Korea is not a NPT signatory, having withdrawn in the manner proscribed.

So, the Security Council can “‘determine” – under Article 39 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter – that the DPRK’s nuke and ballistic missile programs constitute a “threat to peace in the region,” require certain actions by the DPRK to reduce that threat, even authorize countries in the region to use armed force to reduce that threat. But the Security Council has no authority to require – much less demand – that a sovereign state become a party to any treaty.

Then, why did Bush strong-arm Russia and China into agreeing to such a resolution?

Well, maybe it’s because Bush intends to use UNSCR 1718 as a template for a resolution to be imposed on Iran.

You see, most of UNSCR 1718 is about preventing further ballistic missile development by North Korea and preventing transfers of North Korean missiles and missile-related technology to other countries.

After specifying a laundry list of sanctions to be imposed on North Korea, UNSCR 1718 “Calls upon all Member States to report to the Security Council within thirty days of the adoption of this resolution on the steps they have taken” to implement the laundry list.

UNSCR 1718 then establishes a “Committee of the Security Council” which will assess those reports to the Security Council from Member States and will “examine and take appropriate action” regarding alleged violations.

The Committee will also “determine additional items, materials, equipment, goods, technology” and “to designate additional individuals and entities” to be made subject to sanctions.

Notice that the Committee is not synonymous with the Security Council, itself.

In fact, the Committee is more nearly synonymous with Bush’s Proliferation Security Initiative.

Now, Bush has made it very clear that he now wants a Security Council resolution similar to UNSCR 1718 for Iran, which he continues to claim – despite all evidence to the contrary – has a secret Uranium-235 nuke development program and already possesses North Korean missiles capable of reaching Israel.

In fact, it appears that Bush expects to get his UNSCR 1718 equivalent very soon.

“The exercise [in the Persian Gulf] is taking place as the United States and other major powers are considering sanctions including possible interdiction of ships on North Korea, following a reported nuclear test, and on Iran, which has defied a U.N. Security Council mandate to stop enriching uranium.

“The exercise, set for Oct. 31, is the 25th to be organized under the U.S.-led 66-member Proliferation Security Initiative and the first to be based in the Gulf near Bahrain, across from Iran, the officials said.

“A senior U.S. official insisted the exercise is not aimed specifically at Iran, although it reinforces a U.S. strategy aimed at strengthening America’s ties with states in the Gulf, where Tehran and Washington are competing for influence”

Should Iran be worrying? Well, maybe not. Of late hardly anyone seems to be taking Security Council resolutions seriously.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.