Thursday, June 11, 2009

More toothless sanctions coming against North Korea

For two weeks now the US, Japan, South Korea, Russia and China have been wrestling with the response to North Korea’s nuclear test on May 25. Once again it is nothing more than a gesture, filled with empty rhetoric. The plan is for shipping from North Korea to be boarded and inspected if it is suspected nuclear or ballistic missile technology is being transferred to another country. Sounds great and it is a good approach. The Kennedy administration took this course of action during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Soviet ships were never boarded because they knew they would be. They simply stopped in their tracks and never crossed the “no go” line. But our friends the Chinese and the Russian threw a hooker into the plan. Permission must be given by the country whose flag the ship carries—most likely North Korea in the case of banned goods. Fat chance! From yesterday’s Independent (UK). If the text indeed wins passage before the full Council tomorrow, it may not be long before North Korea, which has a record of belligerence in face of international censure, makes its opinion felt. The country's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper this week said any sanctions from the UN would be seen as a declaration of war that would be met with "due corresponding self-defence measures". Even more ominously, North Korea itself said on Tuesday it would respond by using nuclear weapons in a "merciless offensive". It is not clear whether intercepting ships on the high seas will work in practice. The draft text says that a boat can be stopped and boarded en route to or from the country but only if permission is given by the country whose flag the ship is carrying. If a ship is flying the North Korean flag, it is hardly likely such permission will be given. In those circumstances, the vessel will in theory be expected to submit to inspection once in port. I seriously doubt Syria or Iran, the most likely destinations for nuclear and missile goods or technology, will submit to a UN sanctioned inspection of ships in their ports. The UN is a great debating society, but a miserable failure at stopping nuclear proliferation.

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