December 19

Russia’s Relationship With North Korea Evidences Need to Restructure UNSC

Today, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced that Vladimir Putin has extended an invitation to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to come to Moscow next year to attend the 70th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany. This invitation highlights the fact that Russia continues to conduct business with rogue states in defiance of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions; sanctions which would be much more effective if Russia was not a veto-wielding member of the UNSC. Unless the UNSC is reconfigured to eliminate spoilers, it will continue to remain toothless in the face of threats to international security.

Most likely, this upcoming meeting will focus on energy cooperation, as Russia, in an attempt to boost natural gas exports to South Korea, wishes to build a pipeline through the north. However, in return, North Korea will most likely seek Russia’s assistance in bypassing UNSC sanctions. As Russia is a permanent member of the UNSC, its ability to veto any recommended sanctions could prove extremely helpful to North Korea.

Both North Korea and Russia’s relations with the United States are at an all-time low. For Moscow, this meltdown occurred when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014. Pyongyang’s recent cyber-attack on Sony has further exacerbated tensions with Washington, which has continuously criticized North Korea over its human rights abuses and its nuclear program.

Putin has shown through past behavior that he is willing to deal with rogue states in order to bypass international sanctions. His previous dealings with both Iran and North Korea, despite UNSC sanctions on the two countries, serves as evidence of this fact.

While talks between Russia and North Korea are nothing new, they demonstrate that there may be a need to revamp the UNSC in order to prevent spoilers from rendering such organizations impotent. It is no mystery that both Russia and China have continuously used their veto power (mostly in unison) in order to block meaningful sanctions against rogue states. They do this because they use existing sanctions against these states to their benefit; trading in arms in oil with these nations when no one else will. This trade monopoly of sorts has allowed both Russia and China to gain an enormous amount of revenue in these transactions.

The fact is, both China and Russia are rogue states. Both nations completely disregard international norms, they show no respect for human rights, and they violate international law on a regular basis. Allowing Russia and China to have veto power within the UNSC is akin to allowing a criminal to be put in charge of a task force organized for his arrest; it defies logic. The reality is, the UNSC could be an effective organization, yet it isn’t because Russia and China prevent it from taking any meaningful action.

To improve this situation, the UNSC could change its rules under 1982 (S/96/Rev.7) Chapter VII, to allow for sanctions to be passed on a majority vote; taking away veto power from the five permanent members. This would allow for Russia and China to remain on the UNSC and at the same time, would allow the UNSC to effectively address threats to international security. While such a move would likely lead to a boycott of the UNSC by Russia and China, it appears to be the most viable solution to the organizations woes, as eliminating Russia and China from the UNSC altogether would require the restructuring of UNSC in its entirety.