U.N. Security Council should meet urgently to deal with North Korea’s nuclear threats

The United Nations Charter is the only constitution we have for governance of the planet. It is not likely that it is going to be changed signficantly or that we are going to get a new one.

Therefore, we need to use it to deal with grave threats to international peace and security such as North Korea’s recent threats to attack neighboring countries, perhaps with nuclear weapons.

No one can deny that a grave threat to international peace and security exists.

See, e.g., Jethro Mullen, “North Korea issues new threat to U.S. bases,” CNN, March 26, 2013 (updated 7:38 PM EDT).

Unless we are to go back to the system of the great powers in 19th century, we need to use the international law and institutions that we have, which were created following World War II.

Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter provides in part:


Article 39
The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Article 41
The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.

Article 42
Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.

The “threat to the peace” consists of North Korea’s threats to attack its neighbors, in violation of Article 2 paragrpahs 3 and 4 of the U.N. Charter, which provide:

Article 2
The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.

1.The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.
2.All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.
3.All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
4.All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

It is time that the Security Council assume its responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace and security under the terms of the United Nations Charter.

This is the world’s constiution. It cannot be taken for granted. Great Powers may think they know what North Korea is going to do. But the time for the Security Council to act is now, not after Seoul or another city has been wiped off the map.

New and additional sanctions should be imposed against North Korea for its recent behavior of actively threatening to launch nuclear attacks on other countries.

If such threats are not sanctioned now, will they become commonplace in the future? And if they do, who can assure the world that they will never be carried out?

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.