It’s a well-known adage that rules are made to be broken. Although there is some truth to that statement, it stops well short of its inevitable ending: the consequence.
In some cases, however, rules truly are made to be broken. It all depends on who is making the laws and how serious they are about carrying them out. For example, I have never been pulled over for not wearing my seatbelt. That’s against the law. Point being that a rule is only as strong as it’s enforcer.
Last Sunday, North Korea put that saying to the test as they launched a rocket from Pyongyang that sailed over Japan until it finally crashed in the Pacific Ocean. In doing so, they disregarded two UN resolutions.
The launch is seen by South Korea, the United States and Japan as a threat, a disguised test of a long-range missile designed to carry warheads to the U.S. However, North Korea claims a satellite was launched in the process. Reports from Japan claim that no satellite was released during the flight.
Immediately following the launch, North Korea warned that they would take “strong steps” if any action was taken against them in response to the launch. They threatened to boycott six-nation disarmament talks and restart a plant that makes bomb-grade plutonium. They also warned of military action if anyone tried to retrieve debris from the rocket.
Now, the UN’s five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — and Japan have a critical decision to make. Are they going to punish North Korea? Or give them another warning?
Are they going to stand behind the rules they made? Or, downplay the event and let them off easy?
The UN is split about the decision, but is currently working on compromise that would make a statement (a step less than a resolution) tightening existing sanctions by singling out North Korea.
Japan, the U.S. and South Korea were actively pursuing a more serious reprimand of North Korea. However, China and Russia were holding back, saying that any punishment would be “counter productive.”
Clearly, getting involved in a military show down would not be a good decision. The UN just doesn’t have the military stamina to get involved in a potential war. The world is exhausted by the Iraq war, even outside parties.
However, a legitimate response to the North Korea’s provocative act would be to issue economic sanctions. China supplies North Korea with 80-90 percent of its energy, as well as food and other humanitarian needs. The problem with this solution is that China did not want to do anything. I guess when they drafted the original resolution they never actually thought they would have to stand by it.
An outside aspect of this dilemma is that whatever the UN chooses to do, Iran is watching closely and making decisions based on the precedent.
“The response of the UN to date has simply indicated to Iran that it’s got a green light,” senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and UN critic Anne Bayefsky said. “They’re not serious about sanctions.”
It turns out that rules are made to be broken, or at least that’s the message that the UN is sending to the rest of the world.
Clinton McGue is a journalism senior and Mustang Daily reporter.