So everyone wants to know what’s going on at the South Korean Mission to the UN now that North Korea has grabbed global headlines by testing its Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile, which fortunately didn’t work.
The answer is not much. Or at least there’s not much that involves me. One of the diplomats complained in passing that the North Koreans are keeping him and his colleagues busy, but so far there’s no statement for me to work on.
That makes sense: the Security Council is meeting today in closed session, which means South Korea has no participatory role, and they will announce their results this afternoon. Until that happens, there’s really no reason why the UN Mission should be speaking up — as opposed to the South Korean government, which has been plenty vocal and today suspended food aid to the North, though they have stopped short of calling for economic sanctions, which would force South Korean companies to suspend their operations in the Kaesong Industrial Region. The Ambassador might make a statement tomorrow at the Security Council, and this might be written without my participation, largely on the guidance of officials in Seoul.
In terms of my own views on the missile tests, I think that they have once again shown the impotence of all sides in the North Korean situation. China can’t reign in its troublesome pawn. The US can’t cow the North Koreans into backing down any better than we could win them over by being nice. The Russians and Japanese have little to offer, while the South Koreans have been flailing for decades. And North Korea proved that its most threatening weapon doesn’t actually work, reminding the world that the only proof we have of their nuclear weapons is their declaration that they have them.
What happens next will be a lot of bluster and very little consequence. The DPRK may or may not get hit with economic sanctions, but they’ve shown themselves to be fairly uninterested in any kind of realistic economic development anyway, and certainly they’re ready to wait out sanctions. Unless they do something way more provocative, like a nuclear test, I can’t see much more happening.
And even then, what do we do? If you have an idea, tell me and I’ll pass it on to people who might have some influence. As it is, short of a vast and devastating war, we’ve got few options other than haranguing, cajoling, bribing or sitting on our hands.
Also published on Medium.