The Blog

Just Words

The UN Security Council's latest failure to check the North Korean threat.

12:00 AM, Apr 14, 2009 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Mr. Wood: Well--

Question: I mean, this is a country that is completely isolated and shut off from the rest of the world. How can anything that they do make them more isolated?

Mr Wood: Let me finish

Question: In fact, it hasn't further isolated them because the international community hasn't been able to come up with an effective, coordinated response.

Mr. Wood: It's early in the process, and it's going to take time. And when you're trying to get a strong response, it's going to take time.

It was this claim--that the Obama administration expected a "strong and effective response" from the Security Council--which left some members of the press incredulous. Wood insisted, repeatedly, that the Obama White House was determined to "send a very strong and unified message" both to North Korea and would-be proliferators.

Mr. Wood: And so we have to give this a little time. It's very early. It's too early for me to get more specific than that.

Question: I understand that, but, you know, you had a strong and unified and effective response from the Council in 2006 that failed to deter North Korea from conducting a launch like this, even though the prohibition carried the force of international law. So it stands to reason that what you're trying to accomplish now should be stronger than that to provide a more effective deterrent.

The reporter's perfectly reasonable use of reason--that it may be time for sharper sticks instead of boiled carrots--seems to be lost on the liberal political establishment. Also lost amid Obama-style diplomacy thus far has been a reminder of the depraved nature of the North Korean state. Under the rule of Kim Jong Il, North Korea has strengthened its claim as one of the most tightly ruled dictatorships in the world. According to human rights organizations such as Freedom House, the state controls nearly every aspect of social, political, and economic life. There is no freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Tens of thousands of political prisoners are held under brutal and dehumanizing conditions. Starvation, torture, and the execution of dissidents are common. All North Koreans are subject to "intense political and ideological indoctrination." That's worth bearing in mind as the Obama White House seeks to create for North Korea "a pathway to acceptance to the international community."

Devotees of U.N. "engagement" are pinning their hopes on a future diplomatic breakthrough. Stephen Bosworth, Obama's special envoy on North Korea, emphasized the importance of further six-nation talks with the regime over its illicit nuclear program. "We must deal with North Korea as we find it," he said, "not as we would like it to be." What we find in North Korea, though, is one of the world's leading exporters of missile technology, a rogue state that hawks its weapons to Iran, Syria, and Pakistan. What we find, thanks to last week's unchallenged launch, is a government with greater cache in the international black market for long-range missiles. What we find, in fact, is a paranoid communist dictatorship prepared to starve its own people in order to feed its nuclear ambitions.

These facts, coupled with the flaccid response of the Security Council, give North Korea the upper hand. As one reporter put it during last week's State Department briefing, the missile launch appears to be "an unambiguous win" for North Korea. That suggestion got Robert Wood bristling. "It was not a win for North Korea," he said. "This kind of action only further isolates the North. And the fact that the Security Council is taking this issue up demonstrates how important it is that we deal with this matter and the need for it to be dealt with."

A curious and unpersuasive logic: We are asked to believe that the U.N. Security Council, by the mere act of calling a meeting, has boldly demonstrated the need to take "effective, coordinated" action. Proving in the abstract that action is required, however, is not the political and moral equivalent of taking action. A strongly worded U.N. memo, which triggers no political or diplomatic consequences, is not a bold stroke of diplomacy. On the contrary, it suggests a devotion to diplomatic gestures over real political progress. It signals weakness, a collective lack of resolve, and may do more harm than good.

Joseph Loconte is a senior research fellow at The King's College in New York City and a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.