‘Sanctions have little effect on North Korea’

 A North Korean soldier stands guard in front of an Unha-3 rocket at Tangachai -ri space center (AFP Photo / Pedro Ugarte)
Despite international condemnation and threats of “an appropriate response” over its past rocket launches, Pyongyang found ways around UN sanctions on ballistic missile tests, North Korea expert Rudiger Frank told RT.

North Korea successfully launched a long-range ballistic rocket on Wednesday morning, which Pyongyang says put a scientific satellite into orbit. The UN Security Council has strongly condemned North Korea and is considering to impose harsh sanctions.

North Korea has carried out four previous unsuccessful rocket launches, the most recent one eight months ago.The UN, US and neighboring countries consider these tests a threat to international security, though Pyongyang claims it has a peaceful space program.

RT talked to Professor Rudiger Frank, an expert on North Korea from the Vienna University, about Pyongyang’s attitude towards UN sanctions and possible threats for neighboring countries.

RT: How effective would fresh sanctions on North Korea be do you think? Given that such measures in 2006 and 2009 haven’t really succeeded in ending its rocket launches.

Rudiger Frank: Sanctions are of course an appropriate means to show your political dissatisfaction, but in terms of being effective they are almost useless in terms of N.Korea. Sanctions have been implied for decades; N. Korea had enough time to find ways around the sanctions. There are humanitarian concerns, that is the alliance with China. So I think sanctions have more or less a symbolical function, but they will have little actual effects on N.Korea.

RT: But N. Korea is banned isn’t it from conducting ballistic missile tests by the UN and even its ally China criticized its move today. Why is it so defiant against the international community?

RF: I think it is easy to understand exactly why for example China is against tests, because N.Korea depends a lot on China economically and by now having this missile capability N. Korea again, gains some distance from China, some upper ground if you like. Regarding the UN resolution there are various interpretations. I’m no legal expert, but I know that N. Korea definitely doesn’t believe that this resolution is enough to prohibit missile or rocket launches for peaceful purposes. So we again as in so many other cases have contrasting interpretations of UN Security Council resolutions.

RT: Two days ago N. Korea said that the launch could be delayed due to technical problems. S. Korea media reported that the rocket was being dismantled. Looks like the North is trying to wrong foot its opponents.

RF: I don’t know if they’re doing it deliberately. The point of misunderstanding is very telling regarding the quality of our information about N. Korea. Despite all the satellites we have and the close observation of the launching site all those predictions about the launch being delayed or actually called off all turned out to be wrong. And I think this means that we should do a bit of soul-searching on our side: how reliable our information is on which we at the end of the day base our policies on N. Korea.

RT: That being the case Pyongyang says its developing a peaceful space program; some critics say its testing technology to mount a nuclear warhead or a long-range missile. How big a threat in reality is N.Korea to its neighbors and the US in your opinion?

RF: Whether it’s a rocket or missile its definitely a question of interpretation from a political perspective because technically both devices would be the same. Its just the difference is that if you put a satellite on top if it’s a rocket, you put a nuclear warhead on top it’s a missile. But basically it’s the same thing. South Korea is threatened by North Korea through its conventional weapons, Japan to certain degree as well. I think the biggest threat if it really exists is to the US, to China perhaps , also to Russia. Frankly speaking I don’t really believe that N. Korea intends an attack on its neighbors. This program including nuclear program has purely defensive and deterrence purposes. Of course you can never exclude once they have their tool it’s dangerous. And of course there is a question of proliferation, which I think is the biggest concern of the international community.

RT: You mentioned US and S.Korea, and they recently reached a deal to extend the South’sballistic missile range, making Seoul capable of hitting any part of the North.With that kind of approach how achievable is peace on the Korean peninsula?

RF: Well we do have peace on the Korean peninsula if you briefly forget about a few very unfortunate military incidents. It’s in no side’s interest to have war because if we have war in Korea both Koreas will suffer a lot. As long as the regime is stable in N. Korea- and that is actually the key question- I think we shouldn’t be concerned, but there is no immediate danger of a war breaking out.