North Korean president Kim Jong Un is threatening to provide a Christmas surprise to the U.S. if there are no sanctions relief before the end of the year. Sanctions initiated by the United Nations and other individual member nations have squeezed the North Korean dictator’s economy and inflicted hardships on the average citizen of the Communist regime. Many authorities believe Kim’s surprise will be a long-range missile launch, an act that is prohibited by the United Nations and presents a threat to the United States and many of our allies. During his initial meeting with President Trump, Kim pledged to end nuclear testing and long-range missile launches. He promised to “denuclearize” and partially destroyed one of his decommissioned testing facilities. He apparently has kept his pledge thus far with respect to nuclear development and long-range missile testing. Monitoring has found none of either but the North Koreans continue to test short-range missiles and other more conventional weaponry. Although the sanctions are hurting the North Koreans it has done little to dissuade their belligerent and hostile behavior. The fact is the North Koreans and Kim will remain emboldened as long as they have the covert cooperation of Russia and (most importantly) China. Neither China nor Russia are honoring the U.N. imposed sanctions that they voted for in the Security Council. The first U.N. sanctions were passed in 2006 after NOK officially withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and followed that with their first nuclear tests in 2006. Early sanctions were limited to luxury goods but were later expanded to imports of oil, fertilizer and machinery. The U.N. then added restrictions on the export of coal and other mining resources.
A United Nations Panel of Experts has determined that NOK continues to trade in arms and minerals in spite of the U.N. sanctions. North Korea has developed a complex web of organizations enabling it to evade the sanctions through a number of techniques. Those techniques include document falsification and ship-to-ship transfers of materials (especially oil) while at sea. The U.S. has satellite evidence of the ship transfers and have seized a NOK cargo ship transporting coal. It is believed that both China and Russia are complicit in the embargo violations. Until every nation honors the U.N. sanctions, Kim will continue his rogue behavior. Unfortunately those suffering the most from the sanctions are the country’s poorest people. It is estimated that over a half million deaths have resulted from inadequate food production and medical supplies attributed to the sanctions. Kim is mistaken if he believes that aggressive actions on his part will bring a loosening of sanctions and return of American negotiators to the table. Russia and China do not need a recognition-seeking neighbor armed with nuclear warheads who has a track record of unpredictable behavior. That is a dangerous combination!