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Lopez reflects on UN experience

Anna Boarini | Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A crowd of individuals curious about what it would be like to travel around the world working for the United Nations came to hear Professor George Lopez give the talk, “Denuclearizing North Korea: Confessions of a UN Practitioner,” Tuesday in the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.

Lopez returned to the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies this semester after working for 10 months as a part of a UN panel of experts on denuclearizing North Korea.

“We were a particular kind of functional panel that was put together because of skills associated with high tech transfer of goods and money,” Lopez said.

Lopez said his particular expertise on the panel was primarily related to sanctions involving terrorism and the financing of international illicit goods, as well as nuclear materials.

There have been two Security Council resolutions passed regarding North Korea and its nuclear program, Security Council Resolution 1718 (2006) and Security Council Resolution 1874 (2009), he said.

“When the second nuclear test occurs and security council resolution 1874 passes a new wave of sanctions, then the security council gets serious and says, ‘We really have to have a panel of experts monitoring sanctions evasion and sanctions implementation,'” he said.

While working on the panel, Lopez said there were some distinct challenges to sanctions regimes, or the institutes implementing the sanctions, when dealing with the control of nuclear materials.

“The first and most important is, if we look at the history of how states have denuclearized, sanctions may have played a role for a good bit of the time, but so too had the injection of diplomatic dialogue and ultimately a package of very attractive incentives,” he said.

Nevertheless, Lopez said the Security Council can impose sanctions, but they cannot give incentives.

“They have one half of the equation,” Lopez said. “They hope that other states will rise to the occasion and at appropriate times engage in the incentives stuff, but the council has no authority to call for that.”

While serving on the panel, Lopez dealt with the illicit networks of money, illicit goods and dual-use goods, or goods that can be used for good and legal uses, but also have the capability to become illegal.

Lopez said a way to combat these complex and sophisticated networks is to find and disrupt the systems.

Lopez said his most difficult arguments with his Chinese colleague was convincing him he was not there to strangle North Korea, but rather to find and disrupt the illicit networks.

“With sanctions, you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” he said. “The UN now needs to reevaluate and implement ways to strengthen that link.”