North Korean Rocket Launch Challenges Obama and UN Leadership

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North Korea made good on its announced intentions to launch a rocket believed capable of carrying long-range missiles this weekend, defying  a 2006 UN Security Council resolution banning its use of nuclear or ballistic missile weaponry. Despite a call for a "strong response" from Pres. Obama and the US ambassador to the United Nations, the Security Council concluded an emergency meeting today without issuing a statement.The Jerusalem Post reported that talks between individual Council members are continuing. According to the Post article, some Security Council members worry that a strong response will further alienate the so-called Hermit Kingdom.

While North Korea issued a statement claiming that the test resulted in the successful launch of a communications satellite, US and Japanese security experts say the launch actualy failed, with debris falling into the Sea of Japan. Japan demanded the emergency Security Council meeting just after the launch. Japan had deployed warships to the Sea of Japan and there had been fears that Japan was going to intercept the rocket launch -- an action that officials in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang said it would have regarded as provocative.

The worry isn't just about the possibility that North Korea might develop weapons capable of attacking distant targets, such as Alaska. There's also the concern that North Korea will sell the technology to nation's such as Iran, or possibly terrorist groups. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, arms sales are the country's most successful export.

The US has an additional concern: since March 19, North Korea has been holding two Current.tv journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee in detention, claiming they entered the country illegally. The Committee to Protect Journalists demanded an explanation for the detention. Kimchi at Kimchi Mamas reports that North Korea now says that Ling and Lee will stand trial for "hostile acts against the North Korean state."

Back in January, East Asian historian Jonathan Dresner wrote that while the outside world's understanding of the logic behind North Korea's moves is limited, he likes Mitchell Lerner's argument that these provocations seem to be a way of bolstering the regime's claim's juche -- "self-reliance" -- in the midst of hard times. 

North Korea's actions, and the tepid international response underscore the challenges to reaching the vision of a less-nuclear world that Pres. Obama outlined before cheering crowds in Prague, Czech Republic just hours after the missile launch, After pledging that he would reduce US nuclear stockpiles, negotiate a new arms reduction treaty with Russia, push for a global nuclear test ban treaty, and support another treaty to reduce the spread of materials critical for nuclear bombs. In light of this vision, Obama called for strong condemnation of North Korea's actions:

"Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something... North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons."

 

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice echoed the President's call for action in a This Week interview with George Stephanopoulos Sunday morning:

 

Cheryl Cofer, a chemist who writes about nuclear and strategic issues has an approving analysis of Obama's Prague speech, as well as a round-up of media reaction. Of the speach, Cofer calls parts of the speech "masterful," says a new START treaty will be "hard work," and notes the ways in which Obama's policies depart sharply from those former Pres. George W. Bush.

 

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