“Look at me: I’m the Captain Now!”

Michael Monajemi – The United States and its Asian allies are gearing up to expand intercepts of ships that are suspected of violating the sanctions on North Korea.[1] This would involve sending the United States Coast guard out to seize vessels in Asia-Pacific waters that are under suspicion of violating the sanctions.[2] The move for crackdown is an attempt to force North Korea to stop using the waterways as a means for its continuing development of their nuclear missile program.[3] The plan is to go as far as possible, but stop short of a blockade which North Korea would take as an act of war.[4] The United States along with its Asian allies are trying to force the North Korean government to come to the table and discuss their nuclear program; however, it is unclear what result this will have. Recently, Washington initiated new sanctions on more than a dozen companies that are linked to the North Korean shipping trade routes that they suspect are sidestepping the existing international sanctions.[5] However, the United States’ relationship with North Korea is already fragile and essentially non-existent[6] while the relationship with South Korea has just gained some steam during the recent Winter Olympics, when the Koreans marched as one, and no plan can go into effect without the support of the South Koreans.[7] The result of the possible new crackdowns will also provide new challenges for the military because resources will be stretched out, and because the military may incur new costs while simulatenously providing another reason for countries around the world to hate the United States for overstepping its bounds.[8] Even though the United Nations should be involved in a mission of this scale, it is unlikely for the United States to wait for the United Nations to take any action and the U.S. will likely start to scale their activities in the region.[9] The United States government is coming up with the legal arguments that allow them to stop and seize ships based on a U.N Security Council resolution which allows member states to stop and seize boats that are under suspicion of transferring prohibited items through deceptive maritime practices.[10] The United States is trying its best to convince the international community to step up and implement the sanctions that are needed to prevent North Korea from gaining nuclear weapons.

China and Russia have repeatedly prevented the United States from engaging North Korea on the level that the United States wants to. There have been reports that Russia and China have supplied North Korea with prohibited items such as fuel and coal in violation of sanctions.[11] However, the United States is seemingly going to try and force North Korea’s hand through the way it knows best: money. The U.S. wants to bleed North Korea dry by making everything they do more expensive. An official commented, “the point of these sanctions is not just to punish the rouge nation, but to raise the cost of doing business with North Korea for other counties.”[12] Instead of an actual blockade, the U.S. is engaging in an economic blockade. The U.S. Treasury (responsible for the sanctions) said that they were designed to disrupt and isolate North Korea.[13]

It is unlikely that China or Russia will support any plan of action unless it is by direct U.N. regulation and possible oversight, especially since they are implicated in violations of the sanctions.[14] The enforcement is the biggest problem and without any real support from other countries, especially China, which counts for almost ninety-percent of North Korea’s trade, the sanctions on an international level will likely not be as effective.[15] It also seems that these sanctions will do nothing more than just bolster North Korea’s position to develop nuclear weapons as they see their nuclear arsenal as the only way to protect themselves.[16] Although some in the administration have not gone so far as to claim that they will board ships, President Trump seems to have implied that he will take unilateral military action when he said,  “[i]f the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go Phase 2, Phase 2 may be a very rough thing — may be very, very unfortunate for the world.”[17] Only time will tell whether sanctions are the answer to this problem.

[1] Matt Spetalnick, U.S. Prepares High-Seas Crackdown on North Korea Sanctions Evaders, Reuters (Feb. 23, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-north-korea-missiles-ships-exclusive/exclusive-u-s-prepares-high-seas-crackdown-on-north-korea-sanctions-evaders-sources-idUSKCN1G72UY

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] PBS, New U.S. sanctions crack down on North Korean illegal trade, Pbs (Feb. 23, 2018), https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/news-wrap-new-u-s-sanctions-crack-down-on-north-korean-illegal-trade#transcript

[6] Austin Ramzy, Dennis Rodman, Frequent Visitor to North Korea, is Back, New York Times (June 13, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/world/asia/dennis-rodman-north-korea.html

[7] Motoko Rich, Olympics Open with Koreans Marching Together, Offering Hope for Peace, New York Times (Feb 9. 2018)  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/world/asia/olympics-opening-ceremony-north-korea.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=98AA3F8C5F96FACC57E6F7E5677567CE&gwt.

[8] Spetalnick, supra note 1.

[9] Id. 

[10] S.C. Res. 2397 (Dec. 22, 2017).

[11] Yara Bayoumy, U.S. Ready to Open Jerusalem Embassy in May, Reuters (Feb. 23, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-israel-diplomacy/u-s-ready-to-open-jerusalem-embassy-in-may-state-department-idUSKCN1G71WF.

[12] Kaitlan Collins, Trump Announces New North Korea Sanctions, Cnn (Feb. 24, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/23/politics/donald-trump-north-korea-sanctions/index.html.

[13] Steve Holland and Christine Kim, U.S. Imposes More North Korea Sanctions, Trump Warns of ‘phase two’, Reuters (Feb. 23, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-trump/u-s-imposes-more-north-korea-sanctions-trump-warns-of-phase-two-idUSKCN1G71RD.

[14] Mark Landler, Trump Announces Harsh New Sanctions Against North Korea, New York Times  (Feb. 23, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/us/politics/trump-north-korea-sanctions.html.

[15] Eleanor Albert, What to Know About the Sanctions on North Korea, Council on Foreign Rel. (Jan. 3, 2018), https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-know-about-sanctions-north-korea.

[16] Id.

[17] Landler, supra note 14.


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