Security Council Fails to Adopt Resolution Tightening Sanctions Regime in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as Two Members Wield Veto
China, Russian Federation Denounce Sanctions as ‘Inhumane’, Rejecting Text That Would Have Condemned Fresh Round of Ballistic Missile Launches
In a late-breaking meeting today, the Security Council failed to adopt a resolution that would have strengthened sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea over its recent ballistic missile launches, with the representatives of China and the Russian Federation denouncing the measure as counterproductive and inhumane.
The draft — tabled by the United States — garnered support from 13 members, but was ultimately vetoed by China and the Russian Federation. Had it passed, the Council would have condemned in the strongest terms the 24 March intercontinental ballistic missile launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as well as a series of other launches, as being in flagrant disregard of its own resolutions.
“This is a threat to the peace and security of the entire international community,” the representative of the United States said before the vote. “The Council committed to respond to exactly this type of escalation.” She cited resolution 2397 (2017), by which delegates resolved to take measures in the event of another intercontinental ballistic missile launch, and noted that Pyongyang has carried out six such tests in 2022 alone without a word from the Council. “We cannot let this become the new norm,” she said.
Objecting to the draft resolution, China’s representative said his delegation rejected the text as it aimed to impose new sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “Reliance on sanctions will not help to resolve the Peninsula issue,” he insisted, recalling that the Council has adopted 10 such resolutions against Pyongyang, establishing its harshest and most complex sanctions regime.
China has always insisted on resolving issues through dialogue and consultation, he explained. With that in mind, his country and the Russian Federation proposed a draft resolution that would alleviate the livelihood and humanitarian challenges facing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He blamed today’s tensions on “flip‑flop” policies of the United States in whether to engage with Pyongyang, based on the “action for action” principle, as well as Washington, D.C.’s, failure to uphold the outcomes of previous dialogues.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, meanwhile, said his delegation’s appeals to convert the draft into a presidential statement were not heeded. He underscored the inhumanity of tightening the sanctions, stressing that the many restrictions imposed since 2006 have yet to guarantee security in the region or resolve nuclear tensions. Pyongyang’s repeated appeals to end hostile activities have not been taken seriously and he voiced regret over the Council’s inability to seek alternate paths, including through diplomatic initiatives put forward by his country and China.
Several delegations expressed regret over the vote’s outcome, with Japan’s representative noting that he found the reasons of those who voted against the draft unconvincing. He asked what the Security Council is for if not to act in such cases. Recalling the unanimous adoption of resolution 2397 (2017), he said the inconsistent behaviour of Council members undermines the organ’s credibility. If left unchecked, added the Republic of Korea’s delegate, such actions will undermine the very foundation of the global non-proliferation regime.
Albania’s delegate rebuked the Council for missing an opportunity to deliver a robust response to repeated violations of its own resolutions, while Mexico’s representative added that today’s use of the veto prompts the General Assembly to debate that decision, as resolution 76/262 gives it a standing mandate to do so.
Also speaking today were representatives of Kenya, Ireland, Ghana, Norway, Brazil, United Kingdom, Gabon and France.
The meeting began at 4:45 p.m. and ended at 6:07 p.m.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), Council President for May, speaking in her national capacity, said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s 25 May launch of three ballistic missiles included yet another intercontinental ballistic missile, marking its sixth intercontinental ballistic missile launch since the start of 2022. “This is a threat to the peace and security of the entire international community,” she warned. It is undeniable that Pyongyang continues to demonstrate its commitment to advance its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes, in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions. “The Council committed to respond to exactly this kind of escalation,” she said. It cannot allow the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to normalize these unlawful and destabilizing actions, nor exhaust its capacity to respond decisively. The Council has been silent on the six intercontinental ballistic missile tests, despite its decision in resolution 2397 (2017) to take measures in the event of another intercontinental ballistic missile launch. These launches have tested the will and integrity of the Council to carry out its commitments. Thus far, we have not.”
“We cannot let this become the new norm,” she said. Noting that some Council members have said a presidential statement is the appropriate response, she recalled that the United States proposed press elements and a press statement following many of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile launches, including that on 24 March. It was told that any such statement could destabilize the Korean Peninsula. However, the opposite has happened: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has taken the Council’s silence as a green light to escalate tensions. It has engaged in an unprovoked series of 23 ballistic missile launches since the start of 2022 and is actively preparing to conduct a nuclear test. Council action is not the reason for Pyongyang’s escalation because the 15-member organ’s inaction is certainly enabling it.
Clarifying that it is indeed the Council’s responsibility to act in response to these intercontinental ballistic missile launches, she said that, only through the adoption of a resolution can it uphold its decision in resolution 2397 (2017). With the adoption of a resolution today, the Council can send a message to all proliferators that it will not stand for actions that seek to undermine international peace. During negotiations, the United States took a Council-wide approach to ensure that all voices were heard. That some refused to engage is their choice alone. If adopted, this action-oriented resolution will restrict Pyongyang’s ability to advance ballistic missile programmes, streamline sanctions implementation, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and take an urgently needed step to address the COVID-19 outbreak. She urged all Council members to vote for the draft’s adoption. “This should continue to be an area of Council unity,” she stressed. “Now is the time to act”.
By a vote of 13 in favour to 2 against (China, Russian Federation), with no abstentions, the Council failed to adopt the resolution, owing to the negative vote by a permanent member.
ZHANG JUN (China) said his delegation voted against the draft, as it aimed to impose additional sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This is a prudent position. Having analysed the circumstances and as a close neighbour, China is highly concerned about the situation on the Peninsula and has always insisted on resolving issues through dialogue and consultation. Lately, China has called on all to exercise calm and restraint, and to desist from actions that could lead to miscalculations, with the Council playing a constructive and de-escalatory role. Explaining that the Peninsula, “with its ups and downs”, has been protected for decades, he said dialogue and negotiations are the only viable way to resolve tensions. The United States, as the main stakeholder on the question, is directly responsible for promoting dialogue. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea took measures to de-escalate in 2018, when leaders from Pyongyang and Washington, D.C., met in Singapore to reset relations — including with the creation of a peace mechanism on the Peninsula — and to advance denuclearization issues. However, the United States did not reciprocate in accordance with the “action for action” principle. The current situation exists due to “flip-flop United States policies” and failure to uphold outcomes from previous dialogues. Reliance on sanctions will not work. The Council has adopted 10 sanctions resolutions, establishing the harshest regime on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Rather, he said the point of departure for a draft proposed by China and the Russian Federation is to alleviate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s livelihood and humanitarian difficulties and to inject momentum to a political settlement. China does not support a self-contradictory push for sanctions, while claiming to be willing to provide humanitarian assistance. It has always called on all parties to adopt a cooperative attitude. The goal should be to promote dialogue and negotiation. He expressed hope that the United States would consider replacing the draft with a presidential statement that best garners consensus and avoids creating confrontation, an approach that is recognized by most Council measures. Potential actions should be decided through consultations, rather than dictated by a Council member. China’s reasonable proposal was rejected, and thus, it had no choice but to vote against the draft. Noting that the United States has promoted the Indo-Pacific Strategy and nuclear submarine cooperation, a practice that poses serious nuclear proliferation risks, he said such moves send the wrong signals. He urged the United States to abandon its cold war mentality. The situation on the Peninsula is at a dangerous juncture. The United States should seriously reflect on its policy towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, respond to the country’s legitimate and reasonable concerns and take action to de-escalate tensions.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), noting that his delegation voted against the draft, said his delegation’s appeals to convert it into a presidential statement were not heeded. Stressing the inhumanity of strengthening the sanctions regime against Pyongyang, he recalled that many restrictive measures have been imposed against that country since 2006, but have not guaranteed security in the region or resolved the issue of nuclear non-proliferation. While his Western colleagues are used to shifting all the blame onto the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, repeated appeals by Pyongyang for an end to hostile activities have not been taken seriously. Regretting the Council’s inability to seek alternate paths, including diplomatic initiatives put forward by his country and China, he pointed to the humanitarian impact of sanctions and added that it remains a non-starter to expect disarmament from Pyongyang on the basis of promises without any guarantees.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), noting that his delegation voted in favour of the resolution, said that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s missile launches in the last five months have undermined the stability of the Korean Peninsula. Actions that undermine peace and security concern not only countries in the immediate vicinity but also distant ones, he stressed, adding that insecurity on the peninsula will have far-reaching effects in his own continent. Calling on Pyongyang to end its posturing and seek dialogue towards a lasting solution, he voiced regret over the extended suffering caused by sanctions. He also expressed appreciation for the willingness of some delegations to seek consensus, describing it as crucial to send a robust message. Diplomatic channels should be used with more determination to find compromise, he said, while calling for trust-building initiatives.
JUAN MANUEL GÓMEZ-ROBLEDO (Mexico) said his delegation voted in favour of the draft resolution as continuous launches of ballistic missiles, including those with intercontinental range, constitute a clear threat to international peace and security. Such tests and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s intent to increase its nuclear capability are a clear affront to Council decisions and to the global disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation regime more broadly, he said, expressing regret that the text was not adopted due to the use of veto by two permanent Council members. He noted that, based on General Assembly resolution 76/262, that organ will convene a session to debate use of veto, and the Council is requested to submit a special report on the matter.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said his delegation voted in favour, expressing regret over the outcome. The Council missed an opportunity to come together and give a robust response to the continued violations of its own resolutions by the regime of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. There is nothing more harmful when international law and resolutions are disrespected. This will give those who lost trust in the Council another reason to be critical. Tolerance to these violations gives a rogue State a licence to do more in the future.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) said the Council must be clear, determined and united in answering the destabilizing actions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Today’s text is a necessary and balanced response. She expressed deep regret that it was blocked in the face of such clear violation of Council resolutions, and the decision outlined in resolution 2397 (2017) that the Council would act should the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conduct further intercontinental ballistic missile launches. This sends a troubling message on the Council’s resolve to uphold its own resolutions, and undermines the aim of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Use of the veto is deeply regrettable. Ireland’s frustration is shared by the wider United Nations membership, as seen in the consensus adoption of a veto resolution by the General Assembly in April, she said, noting that Ireland has long called for an end to veto use and reform of the Security Council. “We reiterate that call today,” she added.
CAROLYN OPPONG-NTIRI (Ghana) said that, while the draft did not pass, the expressed position of 13 Council members shows an overwhelming convergence of the international community’s position on the matter and sends a clear message to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that the 23 missiles it has launched in 2022 alone are in blatant violation of its international obligations as outlined in numerous resolutions. The Council should be clear on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s reported intention to accelerate its nuclear capabilities, and threat to use nuclear weapons. She expressed regret over the lack of unanimity. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is obliged take up the offer of unconditional dialogue by the United States and de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Noting that COVID-19 has exacerbated an already dire situation in the country, she said it is important to help Pyongyang overcome its mistrust in order to avoid the needless loss of innocent lives. The Government should streamline its internal process to enable the distribution of much-needed supplies.
MONA JUUL (Norway) condemned the recent ballistic missile launches by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as being in clear violation of Council resolutions, while spotlighting the threat posed by that country’s actions to regional and international peace. The text taken up by the Council today contained timely updates given the critical humanitarian needs in the country, she said, regretting that the use of a veto prevented the Council from fulfilling its mandate on this escalating situation. Recognizing that the General Assembly will now take up this issue for discussion in line with its own responsibility to international peace and security, she said the current path being taken by Pyongyang not only undermines regional security, but also aggravates the dire economic and humanitarian condition facing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s people.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil), noting that his delegation voted in favour of the draft resolution, condemned the launches of ballistic missiles by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in violation of multiple Council resolutions. Unity among the organ’s members would have been critical to send a clear message to that country, he said, adding that the text would have been a powerful tool of deterrence to other countries, as well. Noting that the vetoed draft took into consideration the views of various Council members, he pointed to its many innovative elements, including a list of well-defined items for humanitarian needs in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) expressed deep regret that the draft resolution was blocked by the Russian Federation and China. It has been almost five years since the Council last responded to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s repeated tests of banned weapons. The fact that two members kept the Council silent only serves to embolden the authorities in Pyongyang, he said, expressing concern that the country may resume testing nuclear weapons and urging the Council to address that serious threat to international peace and security.
EDWIGE KOUMBY MISSAMBO (Gabon) condemned the launch of missiles by Pyongyang and urged the resumption of negotiations. Noting that the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are “prisoners” of the crisis that has lasted for years, she said the people of neighbouring countries also live in fear of a potential threat. For that reason, her delegation supported the draft resolution.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said that the pace and series of provocations by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since the start of 2022 are unprecedented. In the face of such escalation, France has spared no effort to ensure the Council can speak in a united fashion because it cannot allow Pyongyang to continue to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, in violation of all resolutions adopted on the matter. The Council must strengthen its sanctions regime and update it in new areas. That was the goal of the draft presented today, one that France supported without reserve. He expressed deep regret over the results of the vote, which he called an expression of deep division. Stressing that using a veto gives the regime carte blanche to launch more weapons, he urged the Council to return to the united stance demonstrated on this dossier since the adoption of resolution 1718 (2006). There must a genuine political process in parallel under way, he said, as doing nothing poses a risk to regional stability, and to the international non-proliferation architecture.
Ms. THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), noting that the Council refused to take action in response to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile launches, said: “I wish I could say I am surprised.” The United States had circulated a draft for nine weeks. Those vetoing refused to engage on the text despite the flexibility and inclusivity demonstrated by her delegation. Before today, the Council had a “remarkable” record of consensus, notably in 2016 and 2017, with unanimous resolutions that brought collective condemnation to a very real threat. Today, two members chose to veto rather than act.
She said the gravity of the threat had not changed. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is still expressing its intent to advance its intercontinental ballistic missile programme and flagrantly violating Council resolutions, notably with 23 missile launches and six intercontinental ballistic missile launches in 2022. Thirteen Council members supported the draft, because it was “the right thing to do”. In 2017, the Council unambiguously decided to impose further restrictions in the event of another intercontinental ballistic missile launch. Its silence has not eliminated or reduced the threat. If anything, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been emboldened by the Council’s inaction. While the United States has offered urgent COVID-19 relief — independent of the lack of progress on de-nuclearization — those offers have gone unanswered. The United States has made serious, sustained efforts, publicly and privately, to pursue diplomacy without preconditions, and it has urged both the Russian Federation and China to engage on the text, offering sincere flexibility.
She said the only thing that has changed is the refusal of permanent members to do their job, leading to the Council’s failure to uphold its obligation to maintain international peace and security, and to preserve the 15-member organ’s unity. Some members decided to shield a proliferator and have shown the worthlessness of their word by giving an explicit nod of approval to Pyongyang. They will have to explain themselves to the General Assembly, and why they have enabled further provocations. Today’s reckless outcome means the threat will continue to grow more dangerous, sending message to other proliferators that they can act with impunity. The Council must stand up against proliferation, whether by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or others. Sanctions are not responsible for the dire humanitarian situation, but rather, Pyongyang’s spending of resources on a weapons of mass destruction programme to the neglect of its own people.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan), expressing deep regret over the outcome of the vote, said he found the reasons of those who voted against the draft unconvincing. Recalling the unanimous adoption of Council resolution 2397 (2017), he said the inconsistent behaviour of Council members undermines the body’s credibility. Meanwhile, the destabilizing activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea gravely threaten the peace and security of the region and beyond. Asking what the Security Council is for if not to act in such cases, he condemned Pyongyang’s repeated provocations, adding that the text put forward by the United States was a well-considered one which incorporated humanitarian perspectives. Existing Council resolutions need to be implemented strictly in light of today’s outcome, he said, urging the Council to continue exploring options to adopt a resolution on this matter.
CHO HYUN (Republic of Korea), recalling how the Council gathered together in response to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s ballistic launch missile in March, said at that time almost every member urged Pyongyang to cease its provocations. The continued call for dialogue unfortunately fell on deaf ears, he said, noting that there were additional launches in flagrant violation of multiple Council resolutions. If left unchecked, such actions will undermine the very foundation of the global non-proliferation regime, he cautioned, adding that, despite the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in that country, the authorities continue to be preoccupied with nuclear capabilities. The Republic of Korea offered its assistance to Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but their response was a clenched fist in the form of a ballistic missile launch. Expressing concern about recent statements by Pyongyang threatening the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons, he urged the country to respond positively to calls for dialogue and denuclearization.
Mr. ZHANG (China), taking the floor a second time, categorically rejected claims made against his country. China has been engaged in the Council’s work responsibly, facilitating greater cooperation to fulfil its mandate as enshrined in the United Nations Charter. As each decision made in the Chamber has profound implications, China has been extremely prudent and responsible when casting its vote. It warrants stating that voting is China’s prerogative as a member of the Council, he noted, adding that his country’s position is self-determined. Indeed, it does not have to be aligned with that of the United States, he said, adding that such alignment is not required by the Council’s rules of procedure. China’s voting position is based on its assessment of whether a proposed text helps to maintain international and regional peace and security, and whether it can head off greater tensions and avert a bigger disaster.
He said this fact constitutes an important yard stick by which to measure the Council’s work. The Council’s function is not to “adopt resolution after resolution” ad infinitum, or to assert its position through sanctions. Adopting resolutions with no regard for principles, and thereby landing sanctioned countries in catastrophe, would be a dereliction of the Council’s duty. The draft’s failure to pass is not China’s fault “at all”, he stressed, noting that, if the United States had taken China’s proposals onboard, this situation could have been avoided. Perhaps some members wanted nothing but this very situation to occur, based on their cynical intentions. Peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula is a matter of China’s own security, he said, and to defend that stability, China must discharge its own responsibility. It will continue working to that end.
Ms. THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said her delegation is not asking China to align with the views of the United States, but rather, to support resolutions that it has already agreed to support. The United States agrees that the missile launches constitute a threat to the security of partners in the region. For that reason, the United States thought it necessary to advance the draft resolution. During the discussions, the United States was asked about a presidential statement proposed by China; however, her delegation never saw such a draft. When pressed, China stated that the only provision therein was to update the weapons control list, which the Council already has authority to do. The veto cast today protects the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which has launched six intercontinental ballistic missiles since the start of the year, in explicit violation of multiple Council resolutions. China and the Russian Federation can explain their decisions to the General Assembly, she added.
Mr. ZHANG (China), taking the floor again, noted that the Council’s time is a precious resource and said he already delivered a comprehensive statement on his country’s position. Recent activities by senior officials of the United States, including during their visit to North-East Asia, point to a change in the way that country approaches the Korean Peninsula. Those changes are the very factors that have led to the complex situation today. The key to the resolution of the issues in the Korean Peninsula do not lie with the Council’s adoption of a text, he said. Instead, the crux of the matter is whether or not someone wants to use this issue as a piece on a chessboard. Reaffirming China’s commitment to political solutions and to denuclearization, he said this position has not changed, but “some people are making other plans deep down”.