North Koreans bowing in front of the statues of Kim Il-sung (left) and Kim Jong-il at the Mansudae Grand Monument

What’s Next for North Korea at the United Nations

The United Nations Security Council meets this afternoon for an emergency session on North Korea’s latest provocation–the successful test of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

The meeting was called at the request of the United States, Japan and South Korea–three countries under threat from this latest move. The meeting will not likely result in an outcome beyond what is known as a “presidential statement,” which is a formal statement around which all 15 members of the Security Council agree. The statement will likely condemn this latest provocation, and sharply remind North Korea of its obligations under previous Security Council resolutions.

After that, the real negotiations begin. And here, a key question is whether or not the United States is able to rally countries around a pressure campaign articulated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he addressed the Security Council in April.

In that meeting, Tillerson laid out an American strategy for North Korea that called for a new “pressure campaign” to even more tightly squeeze North Korea and force them to the negotiating table. First, countries more robustly implement the sanctions that already exist; second, countries downgrade or suspend diplomatic relations with North Korea; third countries impose new sanctions to further financially squeeze Pyongyang.

North Korea is already under heavy sanction–more than any other country. Tillerson’s plan would squeeze them even further.  But for it to work, it could need robust international support, including from China.  (China, at that meeting, presented an alternate plan. It wanted something called “suspension for suspension.” That is, the US would de-escalate and North Korea would halt its missile tests in order to provide more breathing room for both sides.)

The United States and other countries on the Security Council–including Japan– are likely busy drafting a new sanctions resolution that they will present to China and the rest of the council in the coming days. They key question from a UN and diplomatic perspective is whether or not China will be moved to support a tougher set of sanctions.   We will likely learn the answer to that in the coming days.

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about North Korea sanctions and missile tests–that is, why North Korea is testing the specific kinds of missiles and what it means for international security —  listen to this conversation with North Korea expert James Walsh. At around minute 10 he does a good job explaining the problem of North Korea sanctions