Monday, July 12, 2010

The UN Security Council's mealy-mouthed statement on the sinking of South Korea's warship

AFTER much deliberation, at last the UN Security Council has released a statement regarding the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean military vessel which South Korea, America, France and everyone else who has any truck with the international investigation into its demise believes was torpedoed by North Korea. The Security Council's statement is strongly worded, in a strange way, though ultimately toothless. True to form for the UN, it is designed to pacify everyone, but will end up truly satisfying no one.

In an almost Platonically ideal example of fudgery, the wording of the statement condemns the incident (which it does at least identify as an "attack"), but places the blame on nobody in particular. The thing, all of 384 words, is a bit of a marvel, and bears study. The American delegation is claiming that it "sends a clear message" and "increases North Korea's isolation"; the relevant part of the statement must be written in invisible ink.

The 15-member council states that it "deplores" the loss of life caused by the incident, which "endangers peace and security in the region and beyond", but somehow stops short of blaming North Korea. It meekly notes "concern" over the findings of the investigative report, which had pointed its finger squarely at the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. But is that concern that the findings might be right?—or rather concern that anyone would dare suggest such a thing? China's ambassador to the UN will be pleased with the success of his manoeuvring, as will North Korea's, who gets to keep his job.

There is one strong upside, however: this mealy-mouthed statement leaves the door open for dialogue. None of the interested parties is looking to escalate the situation further, and the Security Council’s fine words enable them to draw a line under the affair, without causing too terrible a loss of face for anyone. Remarkably, even the South Korean government is seeking to be done with the matter (in which 46 of its sailors were killed). As such, a return to six-party talks is on the cards.

Such talks will no doubt result in a renewed series of concessions to North Korea in exchange for promises of good behaviour. If the past is any guide, those promises will prove empty. Yet against the backdrop of turbulence seen on the Korean peninsula over the past few months, most of the powers involved seem grateful to return to the familiar song-and-dance, if grudgingly so.
The Economist

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