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Officials say New Delhi is still awaiting details of the launch before taking a firm view…
6 April 2009
India in dilemma over North Korean satellite launch news analysis
New Delhi: India on Sunday chose not to directly react to North Korea’s launch of a satellite with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee offering a non sequitur by declaring that all countries should abide by their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In fact, the NPT prohibits all but five states from possessing nuclear weapons but has nothing to say about satellite or even missile launches. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea — which first signed but then withdrew from the NPT as the treaty itself provides for — tested a nuclear device in 2006. Though the United Nations Security Council condemned Pyongyang for the test and imposed sanctions on it, Resolution 1718 did not accuse the country of violating the NPT. Instead, it called on North Korea to “immediately retract its announcement of withdrawal from the Treaty,” something the Kim Jong Il regime eventually agreed to do in the framework of a broader set of confidence-building measures envisaged by the Six Party Talks process.
Indian officials said New Delhi was still awaiting details of the launch before taking a firm view but that Mr. Mukherjee’s reference to the NPT was because of Indian concerns about the “known proliferation links” between North Korea and Pakistan.
Among the demands UNSCR 1718 made — under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter which provides for mandatory implementation — were that the DPRK “not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile” and that it “suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme and in this context re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching.” It is these provisions which the U.S. now accuses North Korea of violating with Sunday’s launch of a rocket from Musudan-ri. The DPRK said the rocket launch was aimed at putting a satellite into orbit.
Washington, however, says missile and satellite-launch technologies are indistinguishable and insists on calling what was launched a Taepo-dong 2 missile.
In legal terms, North Korea is likely to make three inter-related arguments in justification of Sunday’s launch. First, that it is obliged to implement only those resolutions of the Security Council which are in accordance with the UN Charter and that those sections of UNSCR 1718 which seek to restrain its pursuit of peaceful technology are ultra vires of the Charter. Second, that its satellite launch is not an activity “related to its ballistic missile programme.” And third, that Pyongyang has the unfettered right under the 1966 Outer Space Treaty to launch a satellite. Article I of the treaty declares: “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies.”
While laying emphasis on the importance of countries following through on their NPT obligations, Mr. Mukherjee stressed that the only body competent to pass judgment on this matter was the International Atomic Energy Agency. Though the IAEA has no competence or locus standi on matters related to rocket launches, the Indian statement is a reflection of New Delhi’s reluctance to let the Security Council be the arbiter of matters which do not directly concern it. Even on Iran, India voted to send the Iran file to the SC but has since been emphasising the centrality of the IAEA in finding a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear issue.
India’s dilemma is heightened by the fact that it has itself been the victim of Security Council over-reach in the past. UNSC resolution 1172, passed in the wake of India’s Pokhran II nuclear tests in 1998, called, inter alia, on both Delhi and Islamabad to “cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” Unlike 1718, however, that resolution was not passed under the UN Charter’s Chapter VII authority and was, thus, not binding. Nevertheless, India at the time rejected the resolution as prescriptive and violative of its sovereignty, something Pyongyang has also said about 1718.
On the wider nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula, Indian officials told The Hindu that New Delhi remained firmly in support of a negotiated settlement via the Six Party Talks process.