Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Has North Korea overplayed its hand? 

Will the United Nations Security Council have the stones to pick it up?
North Korea said it would regard any sanctions by the United Nations as an act of war, after Washington said it may take the issue of the communist nation's nuclear program to the UN Security Council.

``The U.S. may bring the nuclear issue to the UNSC, if it wants that so much,'' the North's official Korea Central News Agency said late yesterday, citing an unidentified foreign ministry spokesman. North Korea ``will regard the sanctions as a declaration of war.''

Sanctions are the means of confrontation that doves prefer to substitute for other methods of coercion. Doves especially approve of sanctions authorized by the United Nations, which seem to internationalists to be all that more legitimate. Indeed, even I think that sanctions have their uses.

If, however, the prospective target of sanctions declares preemptively that their imposition would in and of itself be an act of war, the doves find themselves in something of a pickle. If the Security Council actually imposes sanctions, it opens itself up to the accusation -- and the actual possibility -- that it is "risking war" with North Korea. The Security Council must therefore only authorize sanctions if it is also prepared to go to war. But if the Security Council shrinks from imposing sanctions, then every dirtbag in the world -- or at least every dirtbag who might have a nuke -- will know that the way to avoid sanctions is to announce in advance that they are "a declaration of war." The Security Council would end up with less credibility than Dan Rather.

The question is, what is the best move for the United States? If it requests that the Security Council impose sanctions in the teeth of North Korea's declaration, it will run smack into the Paris-Beijing block, which does not want North Korea's government to fall. Beijing does not want to see the Korean peninsula united for any number of reasons, and Paris will go along because it will do or say almost anything to get into good graces with China. China first choice would be to veto the sanctions resolution, rather than risk war or destabilization in North Korea. China's veto would both hand North Korea a huge diplomatic victory -- it would have "deterred" the great powers of the world by dint of a simple threat -- and trash the credibility of the Security Council.

Of course, if the United States were willing to risk trashing the credibility of the Security Council, its demand that that the Security Council call North Korea's bluff and impose sanctions would might corner the Chinese into voting for sanctions, if only to uphold the value of Beijing's Security Council seat (which would be pretty damn worthless if the Security Council backed down in the face of North Korea's threat). There is some evidence that the United States and China are already headed in this direction:
The newspaper, quoting senior officials of US President George W. Bush’s administration and diplomats briefed on the proposal, said the possible resolution would amount to a quarantine of North Korea, although it said White House aides were not using that word.

The Times quoted several American and Asian officials as saying the main purpose would be to provide China with political cover to police its border with North Korea, that country’s lifeline for food and oil.

It is possible, therefore, that North Korea has made a huge mistake in putting the Security Council's credibility in play. By preemptively declaring that sanctions would be the equivalent of war, it has given the United States a golden opportunity to force China to choose between support for North Korea's horrid regime and the value of its own seat in the Security Council. Will we take that opportunity, and how will China respond?


By Blogger Sluggo, at Tue Apr 26, 12:45:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.  

By Blogger Sluggo, at Tue Apr 26, 12:46:00 PM:

Did the NKs say who, specifically, they would be in a state of war with in the eventuality of sanctions? The security council? The nations represented by the security council? The upper east side? If the SC votes for sanctions and the NKs go to war with us what is the responsibility of the nations of the SC?  

By Blogger Dr. Demarche, at Tue Apr 26, 02:41:00 PM:

Sluggo has it just right- the NK govt has lost it completely. Who are they going to be at war with? I vote for France. Seriously, the NK's know that the UNSC is not going to risk confrontation with anyone. Danger Will Robinson...  

By Blogger Dr. Demarche, at Tue Apr 26, 02:41:00 PM:

Sluggo has it just right- the NK govt has lost it completely. Who are they going to be at war with? I vote for France. Seriously, the NK's know that the UNSC is not going to risk confrontation with anyone. Danger Will Robinson...  

By Blogger pedro, at Wed Apr 27, 11:30:00 AM:

Really, could the credibility of the UN and the security council be any more degraded after Iraq? I don't see how any dictator could take the UN seriously.  

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