The Biden administration responded to North Korea‘s test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile this week by lamenting that the United Nations is “not doing its job” of implementing and enforcing Security Council sanctions that were leveled years ago against Pyongyang.
While the White House continues to extend an open invitation without preconditions to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime to hold talks on its nuclear weapons programs, the administration has begun signaling that its patience with Pyongyang‘s recent provocations is wearing thin.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York on Wednesday that the wave of recent North Korean ballistic missile tests has been “unlawful” and “unacceptable.”
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield added that the tests — including one that the Kim regime claimed showed a new hypersonic glide vehicle capability — “are in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions” and amount to a provocation that “destabilizes the region and threatens international peace and security.”
The Security Council has for years imposed sanctions on North Korea aimed at limiting the Kim regime’s access to materials needed to advance its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which have been built in defiance of calls by the international community for Pyongyang to disarm. Mr. Kim unsuccessfully sought an easing of the harsh economic sanctions in his summits with former President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019.
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield’s comments Wednesday came ahead of an emergency Security Council meeting to discuss North Korea‘s test a day earlier of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
The test occurred amid growing rocket technology competition between North Korea and U.S. ally South Korea. The South on Thursday carried out its first test launch of a domestically produced space rocket. Pyongyang has regularly portrayed its own military build-up as a response to what it says is a hostile alliance between Seoul and Washington on the divided Korean Peninsula.
A North Korean spokesman called the sub-launched missile test a defensive measure and accused Washington of overreacting.
“When doing the recent test-firing, we did not have the U.S. in mind nor aimed at it, but it is the work which had already been planned purely for the defense of the country,” the spokesperson said, according to The Associated Press.
The spokesman also condemned what he called an “abnormal” reaction from Washington and said the U.S. push for a Security Council meeting on the test-firing was a “provocative move.”
The North’s SLBM test on Tuesday prompted questions about whether the Biden administration may move toward more U.S. unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang. Ms. Thomas-Greenfield sidestepped the question Wednesday, focusing instead on the United Nations‘ role, and specifically that of the “1718 Committee” — the body created back in 2006 to oversee implementation of U.N. sanctions on North Korea.
“Look, we already have a sanctions regime in place. We just need to be more serious about the implementation of that regime,” she said. “Frankly, the 1718 Committee is not doing its job. …We need to ramp up the implementation of the sanctions. And we’ve not done that. And particularly, we need to focus on those who are violating the sanctions and others who are engaging in activities that break the sanctions.”
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield did not name any specific violating nations.
But prior to the Biden administration‘s arrival in office earlier this year, U.S. officials had accused China — itself a U.N. Security Council permanent member — of failing to enforce the sanctions. Beijing is considered the North’s only real ally and an economic lifeline for the impoverished, isolated country.
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for North Korea Alex Wong said in December 2020 that China was in “flagrant violation” of its obligation to enforce the U.N. sanctions.
According to a report at the time by Reuters, Mr. Wong accused China of seeking to undo U.N. sanctions aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Mr. Wong specifically accused China of hosting more than 20,000 North Korean laborers in violation of U.N. bans, and of ignoring hundreds of shipments of prohibited coal or other sanctioned goods from North Korea to China.
China’s foreign ministry sharply denied the accusations at the time, saying Beijing has always implemented the U.N. sanctions in place against Pyongyang.