That resolution may have been the only potentially effective U.N. action in my living memory, and the hand that held the dagger belonged to none other than our own State Department.
The United States ignored an apparent violation of the international sanctions against North Korea by turning a blind eye to an arms shipment that Pyongyang sent to Ethiopia earlier this year, according to a story in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times.North Korea has been subject to strict sanctions since it tested a nuclear device last October. An anonymous Pentagon official tells the paper the January shipment was “an unambiguous Security Council violation.”
“The United States allowed the arms delivery to go through in January in part because Ethiopia was in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias inside Somalia, a campaign that aided the American policy of combating religious extremists in the Horn of Africa,” the Times reports.
“American officials said that they were still encouraging Ethiopia to wean itself from its longstanding reliance on North Korea for cheap Soviet-era military equipment to supply its armed forces and that Ethiopian officials appeared receptive,” the paper says. “But the arms deal is an example of the compromises that result from the clash of two foreign policy absolutes: the Bush administration’s commitment to fighting Islamic radicalism and its effort to starve the North Korean government of money it could use to build up its nuclear weapons program.”
The Times, which doesn’t identify most of its sources for this story, says Ethiopia has spent about $20 million a year on North Korea’s low-cost weaponry. American officials say they have been urging Ethiopia to find alternative sources for armaments and spare parts. [USA Today]
I realize the Islamists in Ethiopia are bad guys who need killing, and I can even live with the unsavory compromise of temporarily allying ourselves with the Ethiopians, but would we have just stood by if they’d bought the arms from Iran or Hezbollah? It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of cheap Soviet arms for sale in Bozgovakia, Boratisan, or Zungluwayo.
A spokesman for the State Department declined to comment on the specifics of the arms shipment, but said the United States was “deeply committed to upholding and enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions,” the newspaper reported….
Washington’s former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who helped push the resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea through the Security Council in October, said the United States should have told Ethiopia to send the weapons back.
“I know they have been helpful in Somalia, but there is a nuclear weapons program in North Korea that is unhelpful for everybody worldwide,” the Times quoted Bolton as saying.
U.S. intelligence agencies reported in late January that an Ethiopian cargo ship that was probably carrying tank parts and other military equipment had left a North Korean port. The shipment’s value was unclear, the Times said.
After a brief debate in Washington, it was decided not to block the arms deal and to press Ethiopia not to make future purchases, according to the report. [Reuters]
Let’s pause to think about what colossolly incompetent diplomacy this really is. First, in defiance of decades of international diplomacy, North Korea tests a nuclear weapon. In advance of this threat, we’d promised that the consequences of the test will be severe. China goes on trading with North Korea and forking over aid with nary a pause. Ditto our faithless ex-ally in South Korea, whose entire economy depends on trade with the United States and a massive U.S. defense dependency. At our encouragement, Japan actually plays a major role in drafting and lobbying for a UN resolution in response. Together with the Japanese, we expend considerable political capital — capital that we might have spent on Iran or Iraq instead — to get a unanimous vote on this resolution. Then, for the sake of an arms control agreement with Kim Jong Il, which has to be the most predictably ephemeral legacy prize in all of U.S. history, we throw away the fruits of that capital in a few short months.
Let’s pause to keep score here. Six months after the nuclear test and two months after Agreed Framework 2.0, here’s a list of Kim Jong Il’s diplomatic accomplishments:
- Partially breaking the financial sanctions that showed signs of bankrupting his regime, and regaining $25 million in criminal proceeds with our specific assent and in obvious violation of UNSCR 1718;
- Declaring his intention — despite the express words of AF 2.0 – to hang on to his existing nuclear arsenal, with the answer being mere token words of protest from the State Department (despite the fact that 1718 required North Korea to ”abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner”);
- Continuing to deny having a uranium enrichment program (ditto);
- Within a week or so, the “shut down and seal” deadline will pass and the Yongbyon will be fully operational. The only question is whether anyone will actually bother to stick a piece of yellow “caution” tape over the door (same-same);
- Securing his access to South Korean and Chinese largesse by removing all U.S. and Japanese pressure to restrict or end it;
- In tandem with a dubious free-trade agreement, a major political boost to his close ally, and our ex-ally, in Seoul;
- The potential for significant infusions of energy aid, and even the restoration of trade and diplomatic relations with the United States and numerous other nations. And does anyone really believe that Kim Jong Il’s Japanese or South Korean hostages, his concentration camps, or his mass starvation of his own people will interfere with any of this?
- And now, reestablished himself as a legitimate arms trader, also in violation of UNSCR 1718;
Of course, Kim Jong Il couldn’t have done any of this without our help. I cannot, for the life of me, make any sense of that whatsoever. I cannot see how we have gained a single thing from this, or that anyone can seriously argue that the potential exists for us to gain anything from this. I’m operating under a working theory that Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale have seized the reins of power in a secret coup.