While the recent, unanimous U.N. Security Council adoption of new sanctions against North Korea is clearly an encouraging move in a positive direction, there is little reason to regard it is other than a very small step along a very steep and treacherous path forward.
In reality, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un can’t likely be pressured into relinquishing nuclear armaments and delivery systems essential for his impoverished hermit country to achieve plausible international stature — in combination with a pretense of U.S. threat to keep his population in line. Nor can other less directly impacted nations be counted on to fully back the U.S. in bringing about sufficient economic hardship to collapse North Korea’s nuclear and missile technology industry.
The latest round of Security Council sanctions follows eight previously unsuccessful resolutions adopted since 2006 when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. The latest, this time prompted by two long-range missile launches last month, ratchets up previous restrictions even more.
Key pressure points include: a prohibition of all coal, iron, iron ore, and seafood exports; new restrictions on North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank; a cap on new investments and joint ventures; and strengthened shipping oversight.
The sanctions left other important elements of North Korea’s economy relatively untouched. For example, oil imports remain open. And while a cap was placed on the number of North Korean laborers permitted to work overseas and send remittances home, those already employed abroad are permitted to stay.
China, a primary North Korean trade partner, has a history of hedging its interests both ways. As Duyeon Kim, a visiting senior fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul told The Wall Street Journal, "Beijing’s reluctance to implement U.N. sanctions is further enabling Pyongyang to sprint down the weapons path." Kim added, "China knows it can squeeze the North enough without the collapse it fears, but Beijing chooses not to because of its own strategic interests."
Speaking at the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Regional Forum in Manilla, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the Korean Peninsula had reached a "critical point of crisis," and that this circumstance has caused a "turning point for negotiations."
Yi who had previously met with his North Korean counterpart, reported that Beijing has urged Pyongyang to "stop the missile tests and even nuclear research which violate the U.N. Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the international community."
He noted, however, that "Sanctions are necessary, but [are] in no way the ultimate purpose. Imposing fresh sanctions is aimed at bringing the conundrum back to the negotiating table."
Thus far, the situation only appears to be getting worse. North Korea said it would launch "thousands-fold" revenge against the U.S. over the sanctions. President Trump responded yesterday during a press briefing that North Korea would be met with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if it made any more threats against the U.S.
Just hours later, North Korea said it was "carefully examining" a plan to attack Guam, situated in the Western Pacific — just slightly more than 2,000 miles north of the Australian coast.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed cautious expectations that violent conflict can be avoided. He said at a Manilla news conference, "We hope again that this ultimately will result in North Korea coming to a conclusion to choose a different pathway, and when conditions are right that we can sit and have a dialogue around the future of North Korea so that they feel secure and prosper economically."
When later asked when the U.S. would determine was the right time to talk, Tillerson said, "We’ll know it when we see it . . . The best signal that North Korea could give us that they’re prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches."
The time window for any peaceful resolution is rapidly closing.
Very troubling, U.S. spy satellites have recently detected North Korean military loading two anti-ship cruise missiles onto a high-speed boat on the east side of the country. This is not a positive indication that Kin Jong Un is ready to talk.
It is also now well established that the most recent of those North Korean ICBMs had a potential range of more than 6,400 miles . . . capable of reaching Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago.
Some defense experts believe that Kim Jong Un may already have up to 60 nuclear weapons, and a newly released U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency assessment reported by The Washington Post also indicates that North Korea already has a missile-ready nuke.
Whether or not Pyongyang has yet developed a nuclear missile capable of handling atmospheric reentry necessary for a devastating electromagnetic pulse (EMP) device capable of disrupting vast regional electric power grids is not entirely clear.
One thing, however, is very certain. We can’t afford to wait any longer to find out.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2012). Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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