Sanc­tions might not budge North Korea

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

The strong­est sanc­tions yet against North Korea could still prove no match for the com­mu­nist coun­try’s re­lent­less nu­clear weapons am­bi­tions. While the United States hails a new pack­age of UN penal­ties that could cut a third of North Korea’s ex­ports, the sanc­tions them­selves aren’t the Amer­i­can ob­jec­tive. They’re only a tac­tic for get­ting Kim Jong Un’s to­tal­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment to end its mis­sile ad­vances and atomic weapons tests. And there is lit­tle ev­i­dence to sug­gest this new­est round of eco­nomic pres­sure will be more suc­cess­ful than pre­vi­ous ef­forts.

Nev­er­the­less, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Tues­day hailed the sanc­tions as nec­es­sary “to fi­nally ad­dress the dan­gers posed by North Korea.” He tweeted: “We must be tough & de­ci­sive!” What­ever the eco­nomic pain on Py­ongyang, Kim’s gov­ern­ment has ex­pressed no in­ter­est in ne­go­ti­at­ing away its fast-grow­ing ar­se­nal of per­haps 20 nu­clear bombs and the bal­lis­tic mis­siles needed to de­liver them. For the young North Korean leader, the weapons are fun­da­men­tal to the sur­vival of his au­thor­i­tar­ian regime, even if they deepen di­plo­matic iso­la­tion and bring even more ex­treme poverty for his long-suf­fer­ing peo­ple.

And the sanc­tions may not prove ef­fec­tive. The North has learned through decades of U.S. ef­forts at iso­la­tion how to cir­cum­vent com­mer­cial and fi­nan­cial re­stric­tions, and re­luc­tant pow­ers like China and Rus­sia have of­ten proven half-hearted part­ners when it comes to polic­ing their ally. “On pa­per, this is a pretty strict con­tain­ment of North Korea eco­nom­i­cally,” said Scott Sny­der, an ex­pert on the Koreas at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. “But North Korea has been able to evade sanc­tions in the past and it’s not clear to me things are go­ing to be much dif­fer­ent this time.”

Speak­ing in the Philip­pines af­ter meet­ing Asian for­eign min­is­ters, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son on Mon­day said there is “no day­light” in the view among Wash­ing­ton and its part­ners that North Korea must move to­ward aban­don­ing its nu­clear weapons. But he was quick to stress the im­por­tance of ev­ery­one en­forc­ing the new, tougher sanc­tions. “We will be mon­i­tor­ing that care­fully,” he said.

The UN penal­ties aim to cut off roughly $1 bil­lion of North Korea’s es­ti­mated $3 bil­lion in an­nual ex­ports, by ban­ning coun­tries from im­port­ing its coal, iron, lead and seafood prod­ucts, and stop­ping them from let­ting in more North Korean la­bor­ers, who help Kim’s gov­ern­ment by send­ing cash home. Trump’s UN am­bas­sador, Nikki Ha­ley, called it “the sin­gle largest eco­nomic sanc­tions pack­age ever lev­eled against” North Korea.

Even if, in the best-case sce­nario, the sanc­tions hurt North Korea’s econ­omy and weaken its gov­ern­ment, ques­tions re­main over what to do next. Can North Korea be per­suaded to give up its weapons of mass de­struc­tion, re­mov­ing the threat to the United States and its al­lies, South Korea and Ja­pan? If not, what new op­tions does the United States have? Trump is only the lat­est US pres­i­dent to choose sanc­tions in­stead of con­fronting the North mil­i­tar­ily or of­fer­ing di­plo­matic talks with­out nu­clear con­ces­sions.

China cau­tious

Much rests on the will­ing­ness of China, the North’s tra­di­tion­ally ally and main trad­ing part­ner. China op­poses Py­ongyang’s nu­clear weapons, and was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally forth­right in say­ing so this week. But it re­mains cau­tious of trig­ger­ing a North Korean col­lapse, fear­ful of fo­ment­ing chaos along its bor­der or ad­vanc­ing any sce­nario that would lead to a re­uni­fied and US-al­lied Korea on its doorstep.

In pri­vate di­plo­matic con­ver­sa­tions, the US has been telling Bei­jing that the North’s weapons de­vel­op­ment will even­tu­ally spread in­sta­bil­ity in the re­gion, an ar­gu­ment that plays to China’s strong pref­er­ence for poli­cies that pre­serve long-term sta­bil­ity and the sta­tus quo. The US has been ar­gu­ing that an un­fet­tered North Korea could lead to an arms race in which Ja­pan, South Korea and even Viet­nam could pur­sue their own nu­clear weapons, said a US of­fi­cial who briefed re­porters trav­el­ing with Tiller­son on con­di­tion of anonymity.

There have been a half-dozen pre­vi­ous UN res­o­lu­tions on North Korea since 2006, when the coun­try be­came the first and only one this cen­tury to con­duct a nu­clear test ex­plo­sion. Four fur­ther atomic tests since then have honed its ca­pa­bil­ity to minia­tur­ize a nu­clear de­vice. Last month’s pair of ground­break­ing tests of long-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles has put the con­ti­nen­tal United States in range for the first time. While un­cer­tainty re­mains over the North’s abil­ity to wed a war­head with such a mis­sile and strike a US tar­get, it is a prospect that looms large over Trump’s pres­i­dency.

Amid all the pres­sure, his ad­min­is­tra­tion has left open the pos­si­bil­ity of re­sum­ing talks with Py­ongyang. In Manila, Tiller­son said he hoped the North would “choose a dif­fer­ent path­way and when the con­di­tions are right, that we can sit and have a di­a­logue.” He urged North Korea to first halt tests for an “ex­tended pe­riod,” how­ever of­ten such con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures have failed. — AP

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