The United States is tracking a North Korean vessel, the Kang Nam, which left port on Wednesday. The ship first made its way south, hugging the China coast. It appears headed for an initial refueling stop in Singapore or a port nearby.
Why the interest in the tramp freighter? The Kang Nam is, in the words of a senior defense source, a “repeat offender,” a vessel known to carry “proliferation materials.” “North Korea does not export anything other than weapons,” said an American official to Fox News. “And this ship is presumed to be carrying something illicit given its past history.”
So Washington wants to look at what is in its hold. On June 12, the Security Council, at the urging of the United States and six other nations, unanimously passed Resolution 1874. The new measure bans Pyongyang from selling arms and requires member states to confiscate and destroy exported weapons that they find.
It also calls upon countries to inspect North Korean cargoes on the high seas — but only “with the consent of the flag state,” in this case, North Korea. Should Pyongyang refuse — a virtual certainty — the United States can, within the terms of the resolution, direct the Kang Nam to “an appropriate and convenient port” for inspection by local officials. Should Pyongyang refuse to divert the ship — another certainty — the resolution contemplates the filing of a report to a UN committee.
Our remedy is to file a report? Security Council discussions stalled over China’s objections to searches on the high seas. And after passage, Beijing made it clear it did not want the United States using muscular measures to enforce Resolution 1874. “Under no circumstances should there be use or threat of the use of force,” said Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador.
Washington, however, is not without countermeasures. The Obama administration can, as the Pentagon says, “poison the host.” The Kang Nam, when it docks, will need to take on fuel and food and will be in no position to object to local authorities inspecting the vessel. India, for instance, has been especially vigilant in searching North Korean cargoes. Singapore can be counted on to give the North Koreans a particularly hard time as well.