Allow me to share my thoughts about an ongoing hot topic. The effectiveness of UN sanctions.
Hot topic, because Kim Jong Un has done it again. Less than 24 hours ago, yet another missile of his blasted across the skies of Northern Japan. As I type this, UN staff must be scrambling to prepare for the emergency meeting scheduled in response. I’m no prophet, but I bet it would be a repeat of what we’ve been seeing for weeks. New sanctions would be proposed and approved, and for a few days (hours), the world seems to stand in unity against a rogue (insane) state. And then the punk releases another projectile, and the whole story repeats itself.
This wearisome cycle has led to a lot of scepticism over UN sanctions, the question of whether they even work at all. Russia and China have already expressed their doubts, and every day, opinion leaders and “experts” share lengthy dissertations on why the current pile of multi-national sanctions against North Korea is not working. Since I’m no expert, and thank goodness, have ever only been in (many triumphant) virtual wars, I’m only going to share what I’ve been told more than 20 years ago in varsity political classes.
Correction, I should say, what was hinted to me, the way these lessons are always conducted.
Hinted by a political knowledge lecturer whom I used to greatly respect, but have of late conclude to be just another theoretical *******. Nonetheless, what he said still feels true and valid.
Which is, UN sanctions do work. Of course they work! They work, but unfortunately require an incredible amount of time and perseverance before results are visible. During the process of which, way too many things always happen.
Consider this. The Kims have been at this militarization game for decades. Songun is not only the DPRK’s national philosophy, it’s probably the Kim family chant too. (Songun, Songun, Songun. Pass the soup.) Yes, for the moment, they seemed to have achieved their desired explosive capability, but whether they can effectively deploy this without the warheads falling onto their heads, that’s quite another question. Meanwhile, for 70 years, there have only been mirror skirmishes. North Korea committed many atrocities during this period. But none remotely as provocative as the ones in recent months.
Consider this too. The world is currently balking because the DPRK is brandishing its military might with alarming frequency. Looking at just the schedule of events, is it not easy to see that most are one way or another, a reaction to increased sanctions? Particularly, UN sanctions. In my opinion, all these missile launches, war crying, nuclear testing, do not merely reflect the defiance of the DPRK. Over everything else, they display Kim Jong Un’s very real, very crippling fear of what these sanctions could lead to. Given enough time, not only would he run out of resources to maintain his weapons*, however snazzy he is with the black market, he would also not be able to make new ones. Worse, he might even suffer an internal uprising. Either his deprived people finally accept this Songun garbage leads only to isolated destruction, or there is enough discontent for one of his generals to successful stage a coup. Kim wouldn’t survive either of these intact. He knows this better than anyone. In desperation, he then tries to scare the sanctions off with one missile launch after another.
Of course, this is all on a ceteris paribus basis. Academic, in other words. As mentioned, sanctions need time to work and in cases when they fail, it’s always because a key variable changed during the long wait. For example, political leadership. Unlike nukes, sanctions have no mushroom clouds and eyeball-melting flashes. It’s even boring for journalists to write about. For newly elected leaders, this could be terribly deadly, especially if during campaigning, such politicians have flashily promised immediate solutions. In the rush to sustain the impression that they still have the ability to keep their promises, they then upset some key component, thus reverting the Squeeze to square one. Needless to say, even if they can resist not doing so, there’s still the necessity for many nations to faithfully partner each other for sanctions to work. In the case of the DPRK, with China and Russia both in the picture with the US, this is about as difficult as convincing Kim Jong Un to please, lose some bloody weight before doing another photoshoot! And so sanctions fizzle again and again. UN sanctions would, for the moment, continue to fail to rein in the DPRK. The academic world continues to debate. The rest of us continues to lose sleep over the antics of one rogue nation.