Sources tell me that any formal action this week is fairly unlikely, but there is a great deal going on behind the scenes to figure out how the Security Council should respond to the shelling of a South Korean island.
Of course, the degree of action that the Security Council takes mostly depends on how far China is willing to go. China is the only country on the Security Council with any real leverage and influence in North Korea, so it will be interesting to follow how Beijing responds to this incident. Two recent debates at the Security Council might can give some insight into that to expect from China:
Model 1: In May 2009, the Security Council passed very tough resolution authorizing a wide array of sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear program. The resolution, which passed unanimously, received strong support from China. After the resolution passed, the Chinese ambassador to the UN said it showed the international communities “firm opposition” to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
The Lesson: Test a nuclear bomb, and China will draw a pretty hard line and join nearly lock-step with the west.
Model 2: In June 2009, the Security Council issued a
“presidential statement” on the sinking of the South Korean naval ship, The Cheonan, which killed 46 people. A “presidential statement” is weaker than a “resolution” because it does not have the force of law. Also, this presidential statement was notable for the fact that, at China’s insistence, a clause was inserted that left some ambiguity over who was to blame for the incident.
Lesson: Launch a military strike against North Korea, and China will permit a slap on the wrist.
So what to expect this time around? My sense is that this incident resembles more the latter than the former. My prediction is a fairly strongly worded presidential statement–no resolution, and no further sanctions. Of course, I could be wrong. Let’s wait and see.