The first mid-term report of the U.N. Panel of Experts should be out any day now, and among its revelations will be yet more evidence that Pyongyang is helping Assad gas his own people:
Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were intercepted in the past six months, according to a confidential United Nations report on North Korea sanctions violations.
The report by a panel of independent U.N. experts, which was submitted to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month and seen by Reuters on Monday, gave no details on when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained.
“The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” the experts wrote in the 37-page report. [Reuters
Add this evidence to the already-long dossier
on Pyongyang’s chemical weapons assistance to Syria. The vendor, predictably, was KOMID, or the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, Pyongyang’s main arms dealing agency. (According to the Panel’s most recent annual report, by the way, KOMID representatives continue to operate openly in
and transit through China.)
Two different member states intercepted the shipments. Previously, Greece, Turkey, and Israel have all intercepted shipments of banned items from North Korea in the eastern Mediterranean. Last year, Egypt intercepted a shipment of North Korean-made rocket-propelled anti-tank grenades at the southern end of the Suez Canal. And just so we’re clear, Pyongyang is willfully supplying the chemical weapons that Assad is using to do this:
During the last year, we’ve also learned that Pyongyang is perfectly willing to make its own use of the deadliest chemical weapons known to mankind, including the persistent nerve agent VX
against a noncombatant in an area crowded with completely uninvolved civilians in the capital city of a friendly nation. We know that North Korea would proliferate anything, including the means to produce nuclear weapons
, to Syria.
Suspend your belief that Pyongyang (as it continues to insist) will never negotiate away
its nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles. Suspend your disbelief that Pyongyang would comply with its agreements even if it signed yet another one. At no point have talks with Pyongyang so much as broached its proliferation, or its chemical weapons, or its biological weapons, or the tube and rocket artillery (some of it chem/bio-capable
) it has pointed at the people of Seoul. There is no diplomatic process or agreement that will foreseeably end that threat before Pyongyang proliferates it globally.
Yes, you can rail against Clinton, Bush, and Obama for wasting years we did not have, but we are where we are. The best alternative left to us may be a combination of sanctions and information operations to destabilize the regime, along with the best blockade of North Korea we can now manage in the meantime. When member states don’t inspect North Korean cargo as required under UNSCR 2270, it may not be legally possible to search them, but it’s certainly physically possible
. To complicate that option, however, most of North Korea’s maritime trade is run through short-haul trips across the Yellow Sea to China. It would be risky, but possible, to search smuggling ships and those running with their lights and beacons off, but that presents a high risk going hot with Chinese or North Korean ships. If that’s more risk than you’re willing to accept, the KIMS Act would also allow us to penalize ports
don’t meet their inspection requirements and flag states
that reflag North Korea’s ships, but that would come with economic costs for us. An amendment to the NKSPEA (“notwithstanding section 203(b) of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act”) could close the legal loophole
that Air Koryo continues to fly through, and could — eventually — ground it, but that, too, would take time to work.
These measures could eventually shut down most of North Korea’s external maritime trade, but implementation is never immediate — at best, it would take months. Other measures, like mining harbors or bombing runways, present undue risks of causing civilian casualties or starting a war. But increasingly, we must balance all of the risks of shutting down Pyongyang’s proliferation against the risk of the civilian casualties that Pyongyang’s proliferation is causing right now, and could cause for years to come.
I occasionally see scholarly articles arguing that destabilizing the regime in Pyongyang presents an unacceptable risk that “loose” WMDs would proliferate. What I’d like to ask the scholars writing these articles is this: isn’t the greater proliferation risk that a “stable” regime in Pyongyang endures?