Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What is China (and Russia) Doing?

I wrote a few days ago about how the UN's response to the North Korean launch of a missile/satellite would be vital in determining how the US deals with the UN and multilateralism more generally in the future. Specifically, I wrote that:

If China, Russia, and the other members of the UN truly wish to see the US restrain itself, follow international law, and respect the UN, the Security Council, and other international institutions, those institutions must demonstrate the ability to deal with security issues such as North Korea, a relatively easy case given the coincidence of interests between the major players (no one, especially not China, wants to see a nuclear DPRK).

Well, China and Russia don't seem to be listening to me. The UN Security Council met yesterday, but came to no agreement about what to do regarding North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. China and Russia both expressed skepticism about the need for increasing sanctions on North Korea and opposed a US-Japanese resolution to punish the DPRK. UN insiders are reporting that Russian and Chinese opposition is so strong that "the United States and Japan might have to accept a non-binding warning statement from the council instead of a legally binding resolution." Meanwhile, China has advanced weak resolution that prompted one US official to comment that "The Chinese have come up with a completely watered down text which is unacceptable to us. It's not even worth discussing."

While I am not in any way surprised at the UN's complete inability to deal with issues of international security, I must admit I do not understand the strategic thinking of Russia and China here. President Obama has expressed his interest in more multilateral solutions as compared to President Bush, and sought to use the UN to deal with North Korea. Furthermore, neither Russia nor China has an interest in seeing North Korea proliferate. China in particular needs to worry about this, especially as North Korean proliferation may in turn drive Japan to develop a nuclear capability, or at the very least increase its ability for power projection.

Given that neither Russia nor China cares all that much about North Korea, given that they could have taken this opportunity as a chance to demonstrate that their preferred multilateral forum -- the UN Security Council -- is the proper place to deal with such issues and does have the capability to do so, given that the potential responses to North Korean proliferation are not in their interest, why would China and Russia be so unwilling to impose increased sanctions on North Korea for its flagrant violation of international law? I must admit I do not understand the strategic thinking here. The outcome of this intransigence is likely to demonstrate to Obama what President Bush knew: the multilateralism is not an end unto itself and that the UN cannot be relied upon to deal with issues that threaten American national security. Combine that with the regional destabilizing that will accompany North Korean proliferation and the potential for Japanese proliferation in turn, and it seems that China and Russia have made a colossal blunder here.


Sven Ortmann said...

"While I am not in any way surprised at the UN's complete inability to deal with issues of international security..."

The last time the USA wanted to have a strong resolution for another UN member's activities in regard to unconventional capabilities it got that resolution and grossly misinterpreted it as a permission for a war of aggression.

Is it amnesia or how can Americans even hope to be taken seriously in such matters anymore?

Your nation blew it.
Bear the consequences. Yes, there are consequences. Even for big nations.
No, WE don't have amnesia.

North Korea merely launched a rocket. That's a perfectly legal, legitimate and peaceful act in accordance with the UN charter.
They have as much a right to launch rockets as any other country. Don't expect the UN to sanction an activity that your country had for decades.

95% of the world isn't crazed enough to hype up North Korea as threat.

Kevin Billings said...

Sven is right about North Korea, but but I disagree with him about Iraq.

If North Korea gets out of hand, or even close to it, China will control the situation. It's more likely that China will roll in and crush North Korea at some point than it will invade Taiwan. Stability in the region strengthens Beijing.

Seth Weinberger said...

Sven: It's hardly accurate to say that the UN passed strong resolutions to deal with Iraq prior to the US invasion. It's true that the UN did not give permission for the US to invade; it also true that the UN failed to back up its resolutions and sanctions against Iraq with any kind of serious threat of the use of force. I believe that if France, Russia, and China had acquiesced and permitted a resolution clearly threatening force if Iraq continued to violate the extant UN resolutions, the US would have had no chance to but to accept it and, perhaps, wait long enough to accept the on-the-ground intel reporting no WMD.

Also, North Korea's "test" was not legal, legitimate, or peaceful. UN Resolution 1718 clearly prohibits North Korea from conducting any kind of test of its ballistic missile program. Given that there is essentially no difference between an ICMB and a rocket putting a satellite into orbit, the launch was clearly illegal.

It may be true that North Korea does not pose any credible threat, given its inability to successfully launch a missile or test a nuclear device. But that doesn't change the fact that North Korea's actions are clear violations of international law. Furthermore, your question clearly ignores the general thrust of my post, which is that China and Russia had an opportunity to use the UN in a constructive way and failed to do so. That holds true regardless of whether North Korea is a serious threat.