A week after North Korea’s sixth test of a nuclear weapon, this one a high-yield hydrogen bomb, followed by an emergency UN Security Council meeting to decide what to do about it, the Council met again on 11 September to give effect to the American-expressed sentiment “Enough is enough”.
During the intervening days, the United States had circulated a draft resolution which the world was led to believe would either bring North Korea to heel or leave military action as the only option. The great powers would give the Kim regime one last chance to abandon its nuclear program. On the brink, however, they pulled back.
Resolution 2375 (2017) is worth reading in its entirety for the lesson it imparts on the current state of international leadership. Even when the great powers are agreed on a goal shared by just about every other nation — the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula — they can’t seem to buck up the courage to do the right thing if there is any risk to it. There are many good things about UNSC 2375 resolution, noted below. But it runs to almost ten pages and is filled with important exemptions and caveats, a sure sign of hesitancy — one that the cunning boss of Pyongyang will not have overlooked. US President Trump acknowledged as much when he described the new sanctions as “just another small step”. At issue is what weight Kim will put on the president’s comment that the additional measures are “nothing compared to what will ultimately have to happen”.
The contents of Resolution 2375
- Articulates the goal of “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner”;
- Expresses the Council’s “determination to take further significant measures in the event of a further DPRK nuclear test or launch”.
- Broadens the application of existing measures to additional individuals and entities;
- Restricts trade in additional WMD- related and conventional arms-related equipment and technology;
- Targets vessels transporting prohibited items from the DPRK including permitting their inspection on the high seas — the measure (a naval “quarantine”) which had the most impact on resolving the Cuban missile crisis.
- Prohibits all trade in natural gas liquids and materials.
What’s not so good:
- Does not prohibit the export of refined petroleum products to the DPRK, just restricts it to 500,000 barrels for the next three months (October to December) and to 2,000,000 barrels in 2018 “and annually thereafter”.
- Prohibits new and existing joint ventures with North Korea with the exception of “non-commercial, public utility infrastructure projects not generating profit”. Exempted in particular are “existing China-DPRK hydroelectric power infrastructure projects and the Russia-DPRK Rajin-Khasan port and rail project solely to export Russia-origin coal”.
- Calls for the resumption of the Six Party Talks.
What to expect? If history is a guide, there’s little reason to believe the Kim regime has reached the point where it is prepared to reverse course. On the contrary, it’s more logical to assume that Pyongyang takes comfort from the fact that all the pressure it is under remains in the political and economic realms. That it can handle — as long as China and Russia continue to cover its back. But they won’t be able to help Kim much if further nuclear tests or missile launches convince the United States that the days of the sanctions charade are over.