As U.N. Mulls Response to Nuclear Defiance, Expelling N. Korea Not on the Agenda

By Patrick Goodenough | February 14, 2013 | 4:49 AM EST

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with North Korean vice foreign ministers Pak Kil-yon, in New York on September 28, 2011. Ban said this week he is unable to speak to North Korean leaders on the phone. (UN Photo by Evan Schneider)

( – The U.N. Security Council is considering how to deal with North Korea’s new nuclear test, but a response not being discussed is one clearly provided for under the U.N. Charter – the expulsion of Pyongyang from the world body.

That it will not happen is not because U.N. protocols do not allow it, but because North Korea’s closest ally, China, enjoys the power of veto in the Security Council.

“North Korea has given the strongest justification in recent memory for suspension or expulsion from the U.N.,” Heritage Foundation scholar Brett Schaefer said Wednesday, when asked whether there was a case to be made for its expulsion.

“It has repeatedly defied its obligations under the U.N. Charter by denying and violating basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. It has repeatedly flouted Security Council demands that it ‘abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs’ and not conduct any further nuclear tests,” he added.

“Unfortunately, as long as China – a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council – continues to shield North Korea, the chances of this happening are nil.”

The U.N. Charter states, in article four, that membership “is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.”

Its next two articles lay out the process for dealing with violators.

A member “against which preventive or enforcement action has been taken by the Security Council may be suspended from the exercise of the rights and privileges of membership,” says article five.

Article six states that a member “which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization.”

In either case, the charter stipulates that the decision be taken by the General Assembly, “on the recommendation of the Security Council.”

“The founders of the U.N. did not establish membership as a permanent right, but as a privilege awarded to those states that observed the principles laid out in the charter,” Schaefer said.

“The fact that the charter contains provisions for suspension and expulsion, initiated by a recommendation from the Security Council, is evidence of this.”

North Korean ambassador So Se Pyong addresses a meeting of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in January 2012. Despite the two-decade nuclear standoff between Pyongyang and the international community, North Korea’s membership of the U.N. remains unchallenged. (UN Photo by Jean-Marc Ferre)

North Korea has been a member of the U.N. only since September 1991, and through almost the entire time of its membership it has flouted the international community with its pursuit of nuclear programs.

(North Korea joined the U.N. the same day as South Korea did, a move that came only after China and the Soviet Union dropped their longstanding opposition to Seoul’s membership.)

Just four months after it became a member, Pyongyang signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) – and a little over a year later it threatened to withdraw from the treaty, triggering the first of half a dozen Security Council resolutions over the ensuing decades relating to its nuclear activities.

In 1994, the Kim Jong-il regime signed a deal with the United States pledging to freeze all nuclear activity in return for aid – an agreement which it later was discovered to have violated almost from the outset. In 2003 North Korea made good on its earlier threat and became the first country ever to withdraw from the NPT.

It pushed ahead with its nuclear weapons programs, and carried out nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and again this week, despite a growing list of Security Council resolutions.

‘Persistent violator’

After the second nuclear test, in 2009, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton told Fox News the U.S. should respond by restoring Pyongyang’s designation as a terror-sponsor –lifted in 2008 – and push for blanket Security Council sanctions like those imposed against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

But, he added, North Korea should also be expelled.

“The charter provides that persistent violators should be expelled,” Bolton said. “North Korea’s the very model, the very definition of a persistent violator. I think we should throw them out of the U.N. as well.”

No U.N. member state has been suspended or expelled under articles four or five of the charter specifically, although in 1971 the General Assembly voted to expel Taiwan, handing its seat to the communist People’s Republic of China.

A bid in 1974 to expel South Africa’s white minority government over its apartheid policies was vetoed in the Security Council by the U.S., Britain and France. In response the General Assembly suspended South Africa from participating in its work, a suspension that lasted until Pretoria’s first democratic election in 1994.

North Korea not only enjoys the privileges of membership of U.N. agencies, but it has also been elevated to leadership posts on occasion.

As a member of the Geneva-based U.N. Conference on Disarmament, it was appointed in August 2011 to that body’s rotating presidency.

The notion of North Korea chairing a body dedicated to nuclear disarmament was too much for Canada, which boycotted the session. The Obama administration chose “not  to make a big deal” about it.

North Korea’s U.N. membership does not translate into cooperation; hours before the nuclear test, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted that he isn’t even able to speak directly to the regime’s leaders.

At a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York, he was asked who he had spoken to in his efforts to discourage the regime from going ahead with the test.

“I have not been able to talk directly to the leadership in Pyongyang,” Ban replied. “They don’t work in that way. I don’t think whether anybody has ever spoken on the telephone to North Korean leaders. Sometimes it’s very, very difficult.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow