UN Passes Mega-Ultra Toughest-Ever North Korea Sanctions, Again

Yet again, the United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously for a resolution imposing the toughest-ever sanctions on North Korea. This round, responding to North Korea's test of what Pyongyang claimed was a hydrogen bomb, goes by the label of Resolution 2375, and marks the ninth time over the past 11 years that the UN Security Council -- voting unanimously -- has approved new sanctions in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.

Each round has been tougher than the last. In March, 2016 for instance, following North Korea's fourth nuclear test, the UN passed Resolution 2270, which former Ambassador Samantha Power described as "so much tougher than any prior North Korea resolution." Less than nine months later, following North Korea's fifth nuclear test, came UN Resolution 2321, hailed by CNN as "Toughest UN sanctions yet... ."

You get the idea. This parade of tough-tougher-toughest and tougher-than-toughest UN sanctions has been going on since the UN Security Council in 2006, following North Korea's first nuclear test, unanimously approved Resolution 1718, imposing sanctions that President Bush described at the time as "swift and tough."

I'm all in favor of being ultra-tough on North Korea (make that mega-ultra-jumbo-tough, even better). This latest round aims to constrict North Korea's oil supply, ban its textile imports, curtail its smuggling and end its revenues from joint ventures and laborers working abroad. That's on top of the web of previous strictures.

But by now one might begin to suspect that sanctions, however tough, are not going to stop Kim Jong Un's nuclear missile program. It's a bad sign that these UN resolutions, which routinely begin by listing the relevant previous resolutions, have now achieved a degree of layering that resembles portions of such monstrosities as the Affordable Care Act. The UN has not yet posted the full text of this latest resolution, #2375. But a reasonable proxy can be found in the prior resolution, passed on August 5. Just add one more layer:

"Recalling its previous relevant resolutions, including resolution 825 (1993), resolution 1540 (2004), resolution 1695 (2006), resolution 1718 (2006), resolution 1874 (2009), resolution 1887 (2009), resolution 2087 (2013), resolution 2094 (2013), resolution 2270 (2016), resolution 2321 (2016), and resolution 2356 (2017), as well as the statements of its President of 6 October 2006 (S/PRST/2006/41), 13 April 2009 (S/PRST/2009/7) and 16 April 2012 (S/PRST/2012/13),"

There are two basic problems here.

The first problem is that sanctions are not an airtight proposition. They are more like a sieve than an impermeable barrier. They leak. They erode. For sanctions violators, part of the game is to set up new fronts and devise new deceptions; part is to wait until the immediate crisis passes, and enforcement starts to flag. North Korea has long experience at evading and adapting to sanctions. So do its chief patrons, Russia and China. So does its partner-in-proliferation, Iran, and Iran's mascot, Syria.