Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Iran, North Korea and UN Sanctions

Last June, the UN Security Council imposed tougher sanctions on both Iran and North Korea. Following in the footsteps of sanctions imposed on DRC, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Sudan, Somalia/Eritrea, and of course Al Qaida and the Taliban, the Council decided to appoint Panels of Experts for each of the new regimes (it's worth noting that the new sanctions on Libya also feature such a Panel).

Anyway, these Panels, the ones on Iran and North Korea, were a little different from their Africa-focused step-siblings. For one thing, they included a member who hailed from a P5 country (US, UK, France, Russia, China). Then they typically also had representatives from key regional countries or countries involved in high-level diplomatic initiatives. For another, they had more support staff and more resources.

Both Panels just submitted their final reports to the Council. It took 24 hours for the Iran Panel's report to be leaked to the press and 72 hours for the North Korea Panel's report to be leaked. As has been reported by Reuters, the experts have found that North Korea and Iran have shared nuclear missile technology and that they have received assistance, in violation of the sanctions, from China and Russia respectively. The reports also detail the evasive measures that North Korea and Iran have taken to avoid the sanctions.

Now why does this matter? Because China and Russia will be using the excuse that they were leaked, first to block their release, and second to either delay or prevent the sanctions renewal and of course the renewal of expert panels' mandates. China has of course blocked the publication of the North Korea report. This is not the first time this has happened, it took four months for the October report of the Sudan Panel to be released after China blocked it--they found evidence that China violated sanctions by providing ammunition to Sudan, for use in Darfur. Similarly, the May 2010 report on North Korea, wasn't released until November.

I think it's more likely that the panels' mandates will not be renewed. That's bad news because the panels are doing an important job and providing a useful service to countries who want to abide by the sanctions and don't have the intelligence capacity to monitor implementation themselves (and therefore be aware of potential illicit activity in their own jurisdictions). Second, there's also something to be said for putting a report out there that lays out the evidence and helps to hold countries, private companies, and of course international organizations accountable.

Finally, it would be a shame for these sanctions, which were seen as a loss by both Iran and North Korea, to lose some of their teeth or even for them to no longer have assigned monitoring. It's clear that would be a victory for both of them and it would be a shame for that to happen just because these reports are supposedly embarrassing to China and Russia.


  1. Man, I will never understand why people think the UN is otiose, impotent and silly!

  2. Argh--I have a response but having problems with it and I have an appointment to go to.

    I'll just say this, that is the kind of glib response that drives me nuts because these are Council decisions, that means they're member state decisions. The much maligned (sometimes deservedly so) UN Secretariat is not the one drafting the resolutions and introducing them for discussion. In fact, that's what member states do, with guidance from their capitals. As such, any blame falls squarely on the member states' shoulders.

  3. You'll have to forgive me, but when I write about "the UN," my presumption is that other people will take that to mean the international organization composed of member states. I suppose if I wanted to say something about the allegedly more-useful UN Secretariat, I would write something like "Man, I will never understand why people think the UN Secretariat is otiose, impotent and silly."

  4. Well, you didn't so after years of working on UN issues and constantly having to explain this to people, you'll forgive my assumption that most people don't, in fact, differentiate.

    I have plenty of criticisms for the Secretariat. In real life, I've made them public, written about them, published and briefed them to high ranking US officials, the UN Secretariat, and at various Permanent Missions. Even in these venues, I've had to make that point. It bears repeating.