The trailing of the DPRK vessel Kang Nam by USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) over the last few days has highlighted the folly of relying on the United Nations Security Council as a means to craft and enforce any meaningful penalty against KJI’s military dictatorship. Recent comments from China’s Foreign Ministry also make clear the role China has had, and continues to have, as the regional power that enables North Korea to defy the international community, most specifically the United States, in its continued development of an arsenal of long-range nuclear-tipped ICBMs.

Reuters reports that China today:

“…warned against enforced boarding of North Korean vessels”.

“This is a complex and sensitive issue,” Qin told a news conference when asked about enforcing the resolution.

“China will strictly observe the relevant Security Council resolution. We believe ship inspections should be enforced according to relevant international and domestic law, and one should have ample evidence and proper cause.”

Reuters also observed; “These latest comments highlighted the divide between China and other powers that have sought a more assertive approach to North Korean ships they suspect may be carrying illicit trade.”

Somewhat coyly, China also disavows any direct knowledge of the DPRK vessel, its cargo, or destination. Seems a little unlikely, for a nation with such a sophisticated maritime intelligence gathering apparatus.

The UNSC Resolution, Number 1874 if you are keeping score, was unanimously approved, with significant fanfare. Citing four other resolutions regarding North Korea’s conduct since 1993, UNSCR 1874 has some impressive language at first blush. However, as usual, the “brass tacks” language that China will insist we so strictly adhere to is pathetically weak. This is particularly true regarding the subject of interdicting North Korean trade of arms and technology that are forbidden by 1874 and other similar UNSCRs. To wit, Paragraphs 11 and 12 of UNSCR 1874:

12. Calls upon all Member States to inspect vessels, with the consent of the
flag State
, on the high seas, if they have information that provides reasonable
grounds to believe that the cargo of such vessels contains items the supply, sale,
transfer, or export of which is prohibited by paragraph 8 (a), 8 (b), or 8 (c) of
resolution 1718 (2006) or by paragraph 9 or 10 of this resolution, for the purpose of
ensuring strict implementation of those provisions;

(italics added)

13. Calls upon all States to cooperate with inspections pursuant to
paragraphs 11 and 12, and, if the flag State does not consent to inspection on the
high seas, decides that the flag State shall direct the vessel to proceed to an
appropriate and convenient port for the required inspection by the local authorities
pursuant to paragraph 11;

The loophole is large enough to sail several cargo vessels full of missile parts through. The permission of the flag state? Not bloody likely. The term “reasonable grounds” will be forever a matter of dispute. Which leaves the North Koreans with the ability to have their cargo vessels make port in a nation that will agree not to search them, carrying whatever they please, with the tacit wink of China as a hedge against US influence and actions.

Unlike 1962, when the US had no intention of asking permission of the Soviets to board a vessel during the naval “quarantine” of Cuba, the US Navy does not currently have the means to enforce such a measure against DPRK, particularly against the wishes of China. And with the PRC/PLAN aiming to gain regional hegemony on the seas in the Western Pacific coupled with a shrinking US Navy, such means are likely not going to be available for the foreseeable future.

One point is very clear from this situation. The concept of the Thousand Ship Navy, particularly when that “Navy” includes our Chinese “partners”, should once and for all be recognized as foolishly naive. It is the United States Navy that MUST have the capability of protecting US interests and projecting power, reliant upon no other nation or maritime force to accomplish those missions.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Foreign Policy, Maritime Security, Navy

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  • Claude Lumpkin

    The response of the Navy today contrasts rather starkly with my recollections of what happened back in the late ’60s, after the capture of the USS Pueblo and the downing of the U.S. reconnaisance aircraft by North Korea. Granted that these two historical episodes demonstrated more aggressive actions on the part of the DPRK, but the risks of our failure to act decisively now are potentially much greater. It is clear that expecting any other nation to provide combatant vessels to supplement our shortfall is folly.

  • William Thayer

    “Toothless Tiger and Enabling Dragon” say it all. The UN resolution which requires permission of the flagged carrier is useless. North Korea will never give its permission. Why are we embarrassing ourselves following this ship? We will not be able to inspect it. We will just end up looking stupid. Was this strategy invented by the people who think we are in Overseas Contingency Operations?

  • Grampa Bluewater

    “It is the United States Navy that MUST have the capability of protecting US interests and projecting power, reliant upon no other nation or maritime force to accomplish those missions.”

    In other words, retain and maintain command of the sea. So doing IS the the use that the Nation puts the Navy to, every day. Failure to do so leads inevitably to decline, and eventually, fall, given the geography which controls the destiny of our nation.

    What we were given by the grandfathers of the current generation has in large measure been thrown away by the short sighted sea blindness of the leaders of both parties and the DoD over the last decade and a half plus. The admiralty, for lack of a better word,
    who should know better, have been shockingly ineffective leaders and managers for the same period.

    What a pretty fix we are in after right sizing, total quality management, six sigma etc, etc, etc. The mills of the gods are still grinding folks.

    Nation states have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests. This is political science 101. So much for 1000 ship pipe dreams. The economic, strategic, and management fundamentals ignored and the hyper simplistic assumptions swallowed whole are equally basic and straightforward.

    This can be turned around. The hour is very late and the price in blood and treasure goes up inexonerably.

    “If you aren’t doing everything in your power to get rapidly better, you are steadily getting worse.” (somebody or other)

    Just an old coot’s unsolicited opinion. Here, let me hold the pin, everybody else deal with the grenade spinning in the center of the room….

  • dick cohen

    Of course we have a number of nuclear subs off n korea waiting for the word to launch their missiles. But we cannot be the first to strike. But if and when we do-good bye to n korea nuclear ambitions-up in smoke. Maybe they don’t want to lose face by having their ship boarded-but they’ll lose more than a face when the booms start. Don’t you just HATE war?

  • UltimaRatioReg


    If your assertion is true, then we have returned to the all-or-nothing choices of the late 1950s, which we had not the intent to exercise for a small contingency. And the bad guys knew it.

  • I knew from the start the 1000 ship navy was a bad idea. When you depend on allies you usually have to defer to their wishes at some point.

  • dick cohen

    URR; We don’t need to use nuclear weapons to take care of n korea. Just a few un-nuclear missiles will do the job. We are not facing an equal super-power anymore. Keep it low key. Regarding the Kang Nam-when our destroyer stops it’s shadowing- look out!!

  • UltimaRatioReg


    There are some very learned gentlemen who would tell you that DPRK would give us and ROK all they could handle for quite a while in a conventional fight….

  • dick cohen

    I have not spoken to any very learned gentlemen. Are they related to the “Peace at Any Costs” organization? My sources are in from the street and have no political agendas. But I have to admit they have no hesitations when the USA is threatened. Do you?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Uhh, Dick, no. I have served for almost 30 years and continue to. But in that bit of time, I have found a useful axiom to be not underestimating one’s enemy. In the Hermit Kingdom, they have plenny o’ stuff, and know how to fight.

  • dick cohen

    URR; Faint heart never wins the fair lady. Or a battle. If we worry about the assumed strength of n korea, we might as well pull in our fleet and wait until they attack the USA- then defend. “Better late than never” might work in social life- but is death in war. Semper Fi

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Look, Dick, I am not advocating being faint of heart. The courage of Don Quixote is nice literature, but it doesn’t deal with the practical side of 37,000 dug in reverse-slope artillery tubes on the Kaesong Heights.

    If it’s time to go, bring enough to win. And start killing stuff. None of this half-measure stuff. “War is an act of force, and to the application of that force, there is no limit”. Or at least a hell of a lot fewer fighting the NKs.

  • William Thayer

    Well, I posted an entry above saying that I thought it was useless for the US Navy to tail the North Korean ship. Now it is has turned around and gone back to North Korea. I can’t figure that out, but I sure am happy. It sure would be interesting to know why they turned around. It certainly wasn’t because we could board or halt the ship.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    And, to the surprise of nobody…

    Wonder who might have assisted with the cyber-disruption capabilities of the NKs? Could it have been our “partners” in the Thousand Ship Navy?