As night follows day, German condemnation follows North Korea’s missile tests

Published: 26 November 2020 Author: Julian Hettihewa

As far back as 1993, the UN Security Council called upon the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – North Korea – to “honour its non-proliferation obligations” under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Since 2006, the Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, has adopted numerous resolutions condemning the DPRK for launching ballistic missiles and conducting nuclear tests, and prohibited the country from doing so. The prohibition covers ballistic missile technology for both military and civilian purposes. The DPRK was thus, for example, prohibited from launching satellites into space regardless of any specific objective. The prohibition was understood as encompassing all activities involving ballistic missile technology.

For many years, the DPRK had conducted tests in violation of its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Such tests were intensified throughout 2019. In March 2019, only days after the breakdown of the second summit meeting between the DPRK’s leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, it was reported that the DPRK was rebuilding key test facilities for its missile programme, which had been partly dismantled after the first summit meeting of the two leaders in June 2018.

On 2 April 2019, during a meeting of the UN Security Council on the issue of non-proliferation, the German Federal Foreign Minister made his view on the DPRK’s activities clear, stating:

“It is simply unacceptable for North Korea to become the first country to establish itself as a nuclear Power by openly violating the NPT. The proliferation risk would be immense, it would add fuel to the fire of rearmament and, finally, it would reward the bad behaviour of a country that has repeatedly ignored Security Council resolutions. North Korea needs to embark on a credible process of denuclearization; that is what we expect […].”

A fortnight later, the Federal Government restated its position in response to a parliamentary question, stating:

“It is central to any form of extension of contacts between Germany and North Korea that North Korea remains committed to the current process of dialogue, that it ceases its continuing violations of international law and that substantial progress is made towards complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation.”

On 17 April 2019, the DPRK conducted its first weapon test since November 2018, calling it “an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army”. The DPRK, however, did not specify what type of weapon it had used, disclosing only that a “tactical guided weapon” was fired.

On 4 May 2019, the DPRK launched several missiles advancing between 70 to 200 km towards the Sea of Japan. This was the first time since November 2017 that the country had fired a missile. Germany’s reaction followed only hours later. A Federal Foreign Office spokesperson issued the following statement:

“At a time when the international community expects North Korea to make concrete moves towards dismantling its missile and nuclear programme, these latest missile launches are a provocation. […] North Korea must comply with the UN Security Council’s decisions and abandon its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes. We call upon North Korea to refrain from causing any further provocation, and instead to take rapid, concrete and substantial steps towards complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation and thus to prove that it is interested in a diplomatic solution.”

The statement, however, had no effect. Just five days later, the DPRK fired two short-range ballistic missiles which reportedly flew about 420 km and 270 km, respectively. Germany’s Federal Foreign Office again responded immediately by issuing the following statement:

“We condemn the ballistic missile test carried out by North Korea today [9 May] just a short time after the missile launches on 4 May 2019.

Each ballistic missile test by North Korea – and current information indicates that is what has taken place – represents a major breach of North Korea’s international obligations contained in relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. Each test increases doubts as to Pyongyang’s readiness to take concrete steps to renounce its ballistic missile and nuclear weapon programme.

We call upon North Korea again to refrain from any provocative action, to implement decisions made by the UN Security Council in their entirety and to give diplomatic processes a chance. We expect concrete and substantial steps from North Korea to move closer to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.”

Notwithstanding German statements, missile tests continued unabated throughout the summer. On 25 July 2019, two short-range missiles were fired which flew some 700 km before plunging into the Sea of Japan. The German reaction again came hot on the heels of the test. A Federal Foreign Office spokesperson declared:

“The German Government condemns the fact that North Korea has once again launched two ballistic missiles.

Any ballistic missile test – and current information indicates this was indeed such a test – is both a serious violation of North Korea’s obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and feeds doubts about Pyongyang’s willingness to give up its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme.

We once again call on North Korea to end all provocative actions and fully implement the resolutions of the UN Security Council. We expect North Korea to take concrete and credible steps towards complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.”

Only six days later, on 31 July 2019, the DPRK again launched two short-range ballistic missiles which travelled some 250 km and reached an altitude of 30 km before falling into the Sea of Japan. This time, Germany addressed the issue in Security Council consultations on North Korea under any other business. After the meeting on 1 August 2019, Germany, France and the United Kingdom issued the following joint statement:

“We reiterate our condemnation of such launches, which are violations of UN Security Council Resolutions. […] International sanctions must remain in place and be fully enforced until North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes are dismantled. It is vital that the Security Council shows unity in upholding its resolutions.”

The third missile test within a spell of ten days was carried out on 2 August 2019, when two short-range missiles were launched which reached 220 km in distance and 25 km in height. German condemnation was once again swift. On the same day, a Federal Foreign Office spokesperson issued the following statement:

“The German Government condemns today’s launch of two short range ballistic missiles by North Korea – the third test of this kind in just a few days. In launching these missiles, North Korea is violating obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.

We call on North Korea to completely, verifiably and irreversibly end its nuclear weapons programme, other programmes for the development of weapons of mass destruction and its ballistic missile programme and to prove its real readiness to do so by entering into a viable process of negotiation.”

The statement was as futile as the ones before. On 6 August 2019, the DPRK fired two short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan in a move that was widely seen as a reaction to a joint military exercise by U.S. and South Korean troops. As before, the German reaction followed on the same day. A Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson issued the following statement:

“The Federal Government condemns the new test conducted by North Korea with two short-range ballistic missiles. With its fourth missile test within a very short space of time, today North Korea has once again violated its obligations under relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.

We call upon North Korea to refrain from provocations of this kind, to comply with the decisions of the Security Council and to return to the negotiating table. We expect North Korea to undertake concrete and credible steps leading to the complete, verifiable and irreversible cessation of its ballistic missile programmes and its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.”

The next tests followed on 10 August 2019. Two missiles of a new type were launched rising to around 400 km. This was followed on 16 August 2019 by yet another launch of two projectiles after the South Korean President had called upon the DPRK and the United States to resume their talks. In response to both events, a Federal Foreign Office spokesperson issued the following statement on 16 August 2019:

“The Federal Government condemns the new test conducted today by North Korea of two short-range missiles. The latest missile test on Saturday [10 August] was the sixth such launch in only a few weeks and is once again a major breach of North Korea’s international obligations contained in relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.

The German Government calls on North Korea to abide by international law, refrain from threatening behaviour and return to the negotiating table. To achieve a better and secure future, North Korea must completely, verifiably and irreversibly end both its ballistic missile programmes and its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.”

A little more than a week later, the DPRK continued with its testing series. Two short-range ballistic missiles were fired on 24 August 2019 flying about 380 km before landing in the Sea of Japan. As had now become routine, Germany’s Federal Foreign Office issued a statement the next day, saying:

“The German Government condemns the new test of two short-range missiles by North Korea. With a series of illegal missile tests in recent weeks, North Korea is blatantly violating its obligations under relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. The seventh test-firing so far of a ballistic missile confirms doubts regarding North Korea’s declared willingness to denuclearlise [sic]. […].”

This latest missile test was again raised by Germany, France, and the United Kingdom under any other business during Security Council consultations. After the meeting on 27 August 2019, the three States issued a joint statement which read in part:

“[W]e are very concerned by the series of launches of ballistic missiles by North Korea in the past weeks. […] We reiterate our condemnation of such repeated provocative launches, which are violations of UN Security Council Resolutions.

North Korea must take concrete steps towards its complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. […]

International sanctions must remain in place and be fully and strictly enforced until North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes are dismantled. It is vital that the Security Council shows unity in upholding its resolutions.”

As on previous occasions, the demands went unheeded. On 10 September 2019, the DPRK launched two more short-range projectiles that reached about 330 km. On the same day, a Federal Foreign Office spokesperson issued the following statement:

“The German Government condemns the testing of two more short-range missiles by North Korea, which has now conducted its tenth test of such weapons systems this year. The United Nations Security Council has obliged North Korea to cease its ballistic missiles programme. […]  The German Government urges North Korea […] to refrain from any further provocation. […] The goal remains the complete, verifiable and irreversible end of North Korea’s ballistic missiles programmes and its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.”

A further test occurred on 2 October 2019. Only hours after the United States and the DPRK had agreed to resume their dialogue, at least one submarine-launched ballistic missile was launched, reaching 450 km in distance and more than 900 km in height. It was the first ballistic missile that landed in the exclusive economic zone of Japan and the first nuclear-capable missile tested since November 2017. Again, Germany was swift in its condemnation. On the same day, a Federal Foreign Office spokesperson issued the following:

“The German Government condemns today’s test of a submarine-launched medium-range missile by North Korea and calls on Pyongyang to adhere to international law and to discontinue all missile tests. By conducting this test, North Korea is once again flagrantly breaching relevant UN Security Council resolutions and endangering our close partners in the region.

The nature of this test – the eleventh missile test this year – poses a further escalation. At the same time, the test goes completely against North Korea’s announcements on its wish to resume talks on denuclearisation with the United States. Pyongyang must finally act upon the international community’s demands and prove that it is serious about this offer of dialogue. The confidence-building, which North Korea in particular has repeatedly called for, must not be put to the test time and again by such provocations. The goal remains the internationally legally binding, complete, verifiable and irreversible end of North Korea’s ballistic missiles programmes and its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.”

The submarine-launched ballistic missile test was also discussed under any other business at a Security Council meeting on 8 October 2019. After the meeting Germany joined other States in a statement which read in part:

“We reiterate our condemnation of these provocative actions: they undermine regional security and stability, and they are in clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

We therefore welcome the productive discussion that we had today. It is vital that the Security Council upholds its resolutions. International sanctions must remain in place and be fully and strictly enforced. The decisions of the Security Council are clear: the DPRK is under the obligation to abandon its programs for the development of weapons of mass destruction and of ballistic missiles in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

We urge the DPRK to engage in good faith in meaningful negotiation with the United States, and to take concrete steps with a view to abandoning all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner. There is no other way to achieve security and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.”

The discussions in the Security Council, however, did not stop the DPRK from launching another two short-range projectiles on 31 October 2019. The projectiles travelled up to 370 km before splashing into the Sea of Japan but did not reach the Japanese exclusive economic zone. In response, a Federal Foreign Office spokesperson issued the following statement on 1 November 2019:

“The Federal Government vehemently condemns yesterday’s test conducted by North Korea with two short range ballistic missiles. With its twelfth missile test this year, North Korea has once again violated its obligations under relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and is endangering international security in an irresponsible manner.

The Federal Government issues an urgent call to North Korea to comply with its obligations under international law and in particular to refrain from testing further ballistic missiles. North Korea remains bound to the complete, verifiable and irreversible ending of its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. We call on North Korea to relaunch the negotiations with the United States that the country unilaterally broke off in Stockholm on 5 October.”

Again, the test was also discussed in the Security Council. After the meeting on 13 November 2019, Germany joined France and the United Kingdom in issuing the following statement:

“Since May, the DPRK has conducted 12 sets of launches of ballistic missiles, including what appears to be a medium-range missile launched from under water.  We strongly condemn these provocative actions, which undermine regional security and stability and are in clear violation of unanimously adopted UN Security Council resolutions. The decisions of the Security Council are clear: the DPRK is under the obligation to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

We urge the DPRK to engage in good faith in meaningful negotiations with the United States and to take concrete steps with a view to abandoning all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner. There is no other way to achieve security and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Meanwhile, it is vital that the Security Council upholds its resolutions and that sanctions should remain in place. We call on the international community to comply with the obligation to strictly enforce these sanctions, including by repatriating to the DPRK all DPRK nationals earning income in Member States’ jurisdiction immediately but no later than 22 December 2019, in accordance with UNSC resolution 2397. […]”

Missile tests also continued in November. On 28 November 2019, the DPRK fired two more short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan. In line with its usual practice, the Federal Foreign Office issued a following statement on the same day, which read:

“The Federal Government condemns the new test of two ballistic missiles by North Korea, which has now conducted tests for the thirteenth time this year on this type of weapons system, thus violating its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and irresponsibly jeopardising international security.

The UN Security Council has obliged North Korea to completely, verifiably and irreversibly cease its ballistic missile programme and all other programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The German Government calls on North Korea to work peacefully with the international community and in particular to accept the United States’ offer to begin conducting serious negotiations on giving up its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile systems. For this purpose, an end to the testing of ballistic missile systems is as urgently needed as is restraint on North Korea’s part from issuing unilateral ultimatums.”

The missile launches were also discussed in the Security Council. After the meeting on 4 December 2019, Germany joined five other EU Member States condemning North Korea’s “provocative actions”. The E6 States considered these actions to “undermine regional security and stability, as well as international peace and security and are in clear violation of unanimously adopted UN Security Council resolutions.”

No further missiles were fired in December, but it was reported on 7 December 2019 that an engine for long-range ballistic missiles was tested on the ground. A second missile engine test was reported a week later on 14 December 2019. These tests, however, did not trigger any reaction from Germany.

The DPRK’s nuclear programme and repeated missile and nuclear tests pose a serious threat to peace and stability across the Korean Peninsula and to international peace and security more generally. In addition, these tests call into question the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. It goes without saying that the DPRK’s open challenge to the international community cannot remain without response. Of course, U.S. President Trump’s policy of threatening the DPRK with “fire and fury” can be dismissed easily. Other strategies such as regime change from outside or waiting until “an insider will finally get angry enough to take him [Kim Jong-un] out” also do not seem very promising. North Korea is already one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world, such that additional sanctions are also no real alternative, not to mention China’s reluctance to support any further sanctions. This seems to leave public condemnation and demands upon North Korea not to conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile as the only option. Yet the question may be asked whether calling out Pyongyang in a Pavlovian response after every single test is the best approach, or whether this series of prayer wheel-like condemnations of the DPRK’s violations of binding Security Council resolutions without this having any consequences is ultimately undermining the credibility of both the Security Council and international law. However, until other, more creative and novel responses are developed, the present pattern will probably continue: as night follows day, German condemnation follows North Korea’s missile test.

Category: Arms control and disarmament

 

Julian A. Hettihewa

Julian A. Hettihewa is a research assistant and PhD student at the Institute for Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He studied law in Berlin and London and worked as a student assistant at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law.

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