Academic journal article Harvard International Review

A Solution Is Sanctions: Curbing Nuclear Proliferation in North Korea

Academic journal article Harvard International Review

A Solution Is Sanctions: Curbing Nuclear Proliferation in North Korea

Article excerpt

There is no doubt that UN sanctions are among the most powerful tools that the international community can resort to in its quest to maintain international peace and security. Under Article 39 of the UN Charter, the Security Council is empowered to adopt enforcement measures in response to a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression. Whether the Council would, in fact, take such action is contingent on whether it sees a particular situation as applicable to these criteria. When the Security Council met in a summit on January 31, 1992, a Presidential Statement was issued declaring that "[t]he proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction constitutes a threat to international peace and security." The members of the Council also committed themselves to working to prevent the spread of such weapons and to take appropriate action to that end.


This Presidential Statement was a mere abstract statement and did not entail the adoption or application of any concrete measures. However, the Council did take concrete actions more in line with this statement following the ballistic missile launch and nuclear weapons test conducted by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) in 2006. The Security Council adopted resolutions 1695 (2006) in July and 1718 (2006) in October, respectively. Another Council resolution, resolution 1874 (2009), was adopted in June 2009 to strengthen sanctions against the DPRK in response to the DPRK's second nuclear test.

How these resolutions are implemented will be a litmus test to see if the United Nations can effectively cope with today's most acute security issue: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This article analyzes the main provisions of resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009), which impose specific sanctions on the DPRK, as well as their implementation by UN member states. Both of these resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and by consensus.

Normative Enforcement Measures

The operative paragraphs of resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009) include two kinds of enforcement measures: normative and practical. Normative aspects of the measures mainly concern the DPRK's ballistic missile and nuclear activities. With regard to ballistic missile activities, the resolutions demanded that the DPRK not conduct further launches of any ballistic missiles. They also decided that the DPRK suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and re-establish its pre-existing commitment to a moratorium on missile launching. As resolutions adopted under Chapter VII, such demands and decisions are legally binding and the DPRK is legally obligated to do what is prescribed by the resolutions.

There is no dispute that Security Council decisions are legally binding, as Article 25 of the UN Charter provides that "[t]he Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter." However, the term "demands" is also considered to be legally binding on all UN member states in accordance with recent UN practice.

Given that the demands in resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009) are legally binding on the DPRK, they have more far-reaching repercussions in relation to the DPRK's nuclear activities. The Council demanded that the DPRK immediately retract its announcement of withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and that it return to the NPT and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. In January 2003, the DPRK gave notice to the Security Council of its immediate withdrawal from the NPT "in exercising its national sovereignty" as provided for in Article X of the Treaty. Despite different views held by some of the parties to the NPT regarding North Korea's status under the treaty, the resolutions implicitly recognized that the DPRK is now out of the NPT by demanding that it return to the NPT generally rather than simply return to compliance with the NPT. …

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