2003 June 11 Wednesday
United States Organizing Limited Interdiction Of North Korean Shipping

The Bush Administration is trying to build support among allies for a limited form of naval blockade against North Korea referred to as "selective interdiction" where North Korean ships suspected of carrying certain categories of goods would be boarded and searched.

John Bolton, US undersecretary of state for arms control, said last week that Washington was discussing with its allies a plan to interdict ships carrying goods to and from North Korea and other rogue states suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction.

Australia is among the nations involved in the naval interception planning.

Australia is talking to the United States about a new mission to intercept North Korean vessels suspected of carrying missiles, counterfeit money and drugs - a move that could escalate the already high tensions in northern Asia.

North Korea's recent announcement that it is a nuclear power has strengthened the case of the hardliners in the Bush Administration. Greater efforts will be made to reduce North Korea's income.

Despite divisions in US ranks over how to treat with North Korea - between hard-liners and super-hard-liners, as one analyst describes it - the White House for now is willing to apply a combination of carrots and sticks to test the possibility of getting Kim Jong Il to abandon his nuclear goals. Later this week in Honolulu, American, Japanese, and South Korean officials will meet to refine this approach - including discussion of how to "dry out" the North's cash flow through efforts to stop its drug and counterfeiting trades, as the senior Asian diplomat puts it.

Indications are that Japan and Australia are ready to join the US in ratcheting up pressures on North Korean shipping.

An Australian diplomat, Ashton Calvert, is due to meet officials in Tokyo on Wednesday to discuss the proposals. He is also due to meet US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is also visiting Tokyo.

Japan's recent detention of a couple of North Korean ships in Japanese ports is part of an unannounced plan to pressure and reduce income to the North Korean regime.

The detentions come after Bush administration officials said recently that they are encouraging allies to squeeze North Korean shipping by enforcing safety rules and by searching for illegal drugs, a major North Korean export. This unannounced and unlabeled policy is designed to pressure North Korea into negotiating an end to its nuclear bomb program.

This gradual ratcheting up of pressure seems like the right policy to pursue at this point. It is not so drastic that it is going to frighten off the Japanese from going along with it. The Australians are joining in. It is even possible that South Korea may at least partially cooperate to at least try to cut into North Korean illicit drug smuggling.

The Japanese have already announced that they will let these two ships, the Namsan 3 and the Kuksabong-2, go. But North Korea has responded by cancelling a visit by another North Korean ship in protest. Each inspection and delay is another cost for the North Korean regime.

The North Koreans can not understand what the fuss is all about. The Pyongyang regime says they just want to develop nukes as an economy measure to save money.

''We are not trying to possess a nuclear deterrent in order to blackmail others but we are trying to reduce conventional weapons and divert our human and monetary resources to economic development and improve the living standards of the people,'' KCNA said.

The US and at least some allies are going to gradually introduce new measures to make life more difficult for North Korea. An outright total blockade of North Korean shipping is still unlikely at least thru this summer. But it seems a safe bet that the Bush Administration is at very least doing the planning and preparing the resources needed to escalate all the way to a total naval blockade.

The biggest wild card in this game continues to be China. The impact of a blockade of North Korea can be greatly decreased if China responds by stepping up aid to North Korea. On the other hand, it is still possible that at some point the Chinese leadership will decide to cooperate with the United States and put the screws to North Korea. If the US and allies cut North Korea off from other external sources of income the effect will be to increase the leverage of China over North Korea while at the same time effectively making China responsible for what the North Korean regime does. The Chinese leaders must be aware that if they prop up the North Korean regime after the regime has had other sources of income cut off and if the North Korean regime then sells nuclear weapons China will be widely seen as the enabler that made possible whatever North Korea's customers do with the weapons.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 11 03:50 AM  Politics Grand Strategy

The Marmot said at June 11, 2003 11:23 AM:

"But North Korea has responded by cancelling a visit by another North Korean ship in protest."

Oh my! What are the Japanese to do?

Coincidentally, where is the South Korean navy in all of this? Has South Korea even been consulted? At least one Korean daily - the left-leaning Hankyoreh - is furious about this. If you want, I translated their latest editorial ("Only if the US and Japan Put the Brakes on a Blockade...") at my translation site.

Other papers, on the other hand, are blasting President Noh for looking like a dear in headlights while Korea's neighbors and allies are taking meaningful action. To which, I cite this article - "Misjudging the Nuke Crisis", found in the right-leaning Chosun Ilbo.

It's going to be interesting to see how the North responds, and they WILL respond, I promise you. Hopefully, however, they might start to realize how weak their hand really is - there's only so far that North Korea can escalate this crisis short of starting a war that they can't win.

BTW, I can't get excited about China; while it's true that China has more influence than anybody over Pyongyang, that influence can be greatly overrated, and at any rate, Beijing is loath to use it. China doesn't want to see the DPRK with nukes, that's for sure. But at the same time, it doesn't want to see North Korea collapse, either. It's really tough to balance the two, and I think Chinese Korea policy reflects the reality to some degree.

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