North Korea's defiant response: Déjà vu all over again

Marcus Noland (PIIE) and Stephan Haggard (PIIE)
January 24, 2013 5:15 PM

North Korea has responded to UNSC Resolution 2087 with an extraordinarily inflammatory statement, issued by the National Defense Commission, directly threatening the United States.  The statement is reproduced in its entirety below.

It is worthwhile to read what the North Koreans actually say without assuming that it is the opening bid in a game with a happy ending. It’s been over four years now since the Six Party Talks mechanism actually functioned. The new regime in Pyongyang is clearly doubling down on the satellite/missile program and wider military actions—including a possible nuclear test--as key elements of the “new phase” of the country’s development.

Despite the vaunted strategic acumen of the North Koreans, they appear to be in the process of making an extraordinary political blunder. Recall that in his first inaugural in January 2009, President Obama offered his outstretched hand and the North Koreans responded with missile and nuclear tests. These actions effectively insured that the President would not expend any political capital on the Korean question during his first term; instead the administration adopted a benign neglect policy of “strategic patience,” hiring a part-time North Korea policy coordinator.

Now, the change in government from Lee Myung-bak to Park Geun-hye in South Korea, and the start of a second Obama Administration and the likely confirmation of Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State, offers the possibility of more engagement-friendly stances in both Seoul and Washington.

The North Koreans appear to be bent on stopping this possibility dead in its tracks.

A standard assumption of those who hope for more meaningful engagement is that the signal-to-noise ratio in official pronouncements is low, domestic objectives dominate, and therefore they should be dismissed. Let’s hope they are right. Consider the following:

  • The statement is not a KCNA or even Foreign Ministry product, but issued in the name of the NDC. Our rule of thumb: the more high-powered the author of a statement, the harder to back away.
  • The statement effectively says that North Korea is never going to denuclearize. The only condition under which it will do so is global denuclearization, in short, the full implementation of “zero.”
  • In the interim, not only are the Six Party Talks permanently dead (“…there will no longer exist the six-party talks…”) but the statement disavows North Korean commitment to the September 19 joint statement as well. We have quarreled with our colleagues over North Korean willingness to maintain commitment to the principles of the joint statement. Some have argued that the North Koreans never really disavowed it, even after the talks broke down in 2008; we found it increasingly hard to decipher Pyongyang’s attitude toward the grand bargain contained in it. In any case, abandoning it altogether would be highly unfortunate; we still believe it represents the most coherent formulation of a deal.
  • The North Koreans also say they will undertake a nuclear test. To be fair, following the failed test in April we considered the sequence events in 2006 and 2009—missile test, UN condemnation, nuclear test—and speculated that it could happen again. But the 2012 cycle is not over, and the UNSC Resolution—even with the disappointments—is clearly tougher than the Presidential Statement of April 2012. If the NDC says that North Korea will test, take them seriously.

Some additional highlights:

  •  The US is portrayed as the mastermind, but the jabs at China are pretty blatant as well. (The Resolution was “worked out through backstage dealing with the U.S. as a main player and it was adopted at the UNSC with blind hand-raising by its member nations.”)
  • The statement reiterates the North Korean legal argument that the country is entitled to launch satellites, and will do so “one after another.” China clearly disagrees; the second line of the new resolution is worth reproducing in full:  “Recognizing the freedom of all States to explore and use outer space in accordance with international law, including restrictions imposed by relevant Security Council resolutions…
  • As the remainder of the Resolution makes clear, the “restrictions” in question are those on any satellite launch using ballistic missile technology—in effect all of them—as well as the entire missile program. Again, for the record, the resolution: “Demands that the DPRK not proceed with any further launches using ballistic missile technology, and comply with resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009) by suspending all activities related to its ballistic missile programme and in this context re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launches…”

For those interested in whether the UNSC actually has this power, there is a little bit of debate, but not much. The dominant view is that UNSC powers are broad and that view is clearly shared by Beijing (for more on the international legal issues, see the very interesting exchange we carried between Jared Genser and  Dan Joyner on the issue).

Like many (most?) countries in the world, North Korean maps depict North Korea at the center of the universe. Despite their alleged sophistication, in the echo chamber of their isolation, the North Koreans appear to be projecting their own assumed centrality on to others.  In doing so they are making a fundamental mistake. Facing major challenges at home and abroad, President Obama is unlikely to expend political capital on such inauspicious interlocutors. Ditto President Park.  Welcome back, strategic patience.

DPRK NDC Issues Statement Refuting UNSC Resolution

Pyongyang, January 24 (KCNA) -- The National Defence Commission (NDC) of the DPRK issued a statement on Thursday.

It said:

Our successful launch of satellite Kwangmyongsong 3-2 was a great jubilee in the history of the nation as it placed the nation's dignity and honor on the highest plane and a spectacular success made in the efforts to develop space for peaceful purposes recognized by the world.

The world people who love justice and value conscience unanimously rejoice as their own over the signal success made by our country, not a big one, by its own efforts.

Even space institutions of a hostile country accustomed to have repugnancy towards others could not but recognize the DPRK's successful satellite launch for peaceful purposes, from a low-profile stance.

This being a hard reality, the U.S. at the outset of the year termed our satellite launch "long-range missile launch," "wanton violation" of the UN resolutions and "blatant challenge" to world peace and security in a bid to build up public opinion on this. Finally, it prodded the UNSC into cooking up a new resolution on tightening sanctions against the DPRK.

The keynote of the resolution was worked out through backstage dealing with the U.S. as a main player and it was adopted at the UNSC with blind hand-raising by its member nations. This goes to clearly prove that the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK has entered a new dangerous phase.

This shows, at the same time, that those big countries, which are obliged to take the lead in building a fair world order, are abandoning without hesitation even elementary principle, under the influence of the U.S. arbitrary and high-handed practices, failing to come to their senses.

Moreover, this also indicates that the UNSC, which should regard it as its mission to guarantee sovereign rights and security of its member nations, has turned into a defunct marionette international body on which no hope can be pinned.

The DPRK National Defence Commission solemnly declares as follows as regards the adoption of the entirely unreasonable resolution on the DPRK:

We totally reject all the illegal resolutions on the DPRK adopted by the UNSC.

We have never recognized all forms of base resolutions tightening sanctions cooked up by the hostile forces to encroach upon the DPRK's sovereignty.

Sovereignty is what keeps a country and nation alive.

The country and the nation without sovereignty are more dead than alive.

The satellite launch was the exercise of an independent right pertaining to the DPRK as well as its legitimate sovereignty recognized by international law.

Therefore, the U.S. and those countries which launched satellites before have neither justification nor reason to find fault with the DPRK's satellite launch.

They are making a brigandish assertion that what they launched were satellites but what other country launched was a long-range missile. They are seriously mistaken if they think this assertion can work in the bright world today.

The U.S. should clearly know that the times have changed and so have the army and the people of the DPRK.

Along with the nationwide efforts to defend the sovereignty, the DPRK will continue launching peaceful satellites to outer space one after another.

As the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK has entered more dangerous phase, overall efforts should be directed to denuclearizing big powers including the U.S. rather than the denuclearization of the KoreanPeninsula.

The biggest threat to the peace and security on the KoreanPeninsula is the hostile policy toward the DPRK being pursued by all kinds of dishonest forces including the U.S. as well as the U.S. huge nuclear armed forces that back the policy.

The army and people of the DPRK drew a final conclusion that only when the denuclearization of the world is realized on a perfect and preferential basis including the denuclearization of the U.S., will it be possible to denuclearize the KoreanPeninsula and ensure peace and security of the DPRK.

The U.S. is taking the lead in encroaching upon the sovereignty of the DPRK, its allies are siding with it and the UN Security Council has been reduced into an organization bereft of impartiality and balance. Under this situation the DPRK can not but declare that there will no longer exist the six-party talks and the September 19 joint statement.

No dialogue on the denuclearization of the KoreanPeninsula will be possible in the future even though there may be dialogues and negotiations on ensuring peace and security in the region including the KoreanPeninsula.

We will launch an all-out action to foil the hostile policy toward the DPRK being pursued by the U.S. and those dishonest forces following the U.S., and safeguard the sovereignty of the country and the nation.

The UN Security Council resolution on expanding sanctions against the DPRK, which was adopted on the initiative of the U.S., represents the most dangerous phase of the hostile policy toward the DPRK.

The army and people of the DPRK will never remain an on-looker to such happenings in which the sovereignty of the nation is encroached upon and the supreme interests of the country are violated.

Under the prevailing situation, the army and people of the DPRK will turn out in an all-out action to defend its sovereignty which is more precious than their own lives and frustrate the moves of the U.S. and its allies to isolate and stifle the DPRK.

The drive for building an economic power being pushed forward by the army and people of the DPRK, the effort to conquer space that has entered a new phase and the endeavors to bolster the deterrence for safeguarding the country and defending its security will all orientate toward the purpose of winning in the all-out action for foiling the U.S. and all other hostile forces' maneuvers.

We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level which will be carried out by it in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century, will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people.

Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words as it regards jungle law as the rule of its survival.

The world will clearly see how the army and people of the DPRK punish all kinds of hostile forces and emerge as a final victor while following the just road of defending its sovereignty, convinced of the justice of its cause.

Comments

Chris Green

By saying that the North is making a "political blunder" and a "major mistake," one is implying that they should or do "want" improved relations with either party. By this token, launching a missile in December and thus casting the North Korea-Japan bilateral progress of 2012 into the dustbin of history was a blunder too, since there is $10 billion on the table there that ain't going to come from anywhere else. At some point, we have to uncategorically accept that the North Korean leadership of today is more or less indifferent to economic growth when held up against the imperative for domestic security and regime hold over the levers of power.

Andrew Logie

This is just a hunch, but it seems as if Uncle Jang and the military hardliners are firmly in control. Perhaps the small hints of limited economic reform came from sincere elements within the regime but with the success of the December launch have since been entirely snuffed out. It's almost as though they had some kind of inward looking kleptocratic policy - an ideology even - prioritizing the military at the total expense of everything else.

shaggard

For the record: although we came down marginally on the side of "miscalculation," we consider Chris Green's interpretation of recent events highly plausible.

John

China's approval of the new resolution was
clearly a surprise and a big blow to North Korea.I wonder what the deal between US and China was behind the scene. Do you any idea?

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