North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is fixated on obtaining a serious nuclear arsenal, and continues to thumb his nose at the U.S. and other world powers. The latest round of United Nations Security Council sanctions approved Monday are not going to change that. But one aspect of them -- new measures to interdict ships breaking trade embargoes against Pyongyang -- could be baby steps toward much stronger sanctions enforcement.
The new resolution gives the U.S. and other countries the power to inspect ships going in and out of North Korea’s ports but, unfortunately, does not authorize the use of force if the target ships don’t comply. Equally bad, the inspections would need the consent of the countries where the ships are registered. This is a far weaker regime than what was initially proposed by the Donald Trump administration, which would have empowered U.S. military vessels to “use all necessary measures” to force compliance. That the language was watered down to avoid a veto from Russia or China.
The fact is, the only way to keep the Kim regime from violating UN sanctions would be a stringent naval blockade. While a full-on blockade would require a Security Council resolution, it would be possible for the U.S. to immediately start putting in place the rudiments of a comprehensive inspection regime on the high seas, which could be easily adapted over time as more allies, partners and ultimately geopolitical competitors like China and Russia can be persuaded to sign on. Indeed, the Trump administration has already been thinking along these lines.
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