CAUTION ON NORTH KOREA - AT 6:50 A.M. ET: David Sanger, of The New York Times - a fine reporter - outlines the administration's first physical response to the new UN sanctions on North Korea, voted last week by the Security Council:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will order the Navy to hail and request permission to inspect North Korean ships at sea suspected of carrying arms or nuclear technology, but will not board them by force, senior administration officials said Monday.
The new effort to intercept North Korean ships, and track them to their next port, where Washington will press for the inspections they refused at sea, is part of what the officials described as “vigorous enforcement” of the United Nations Security Council resolution approved Friday.
The planned American action stops just short of the forced inspections that North Korea has said that it would regard as an act of war. Still, the administration’s plans, if fully executed, would amount to the most confrontational approach taken by the United States in dealing with North Korea in years, and carries a risk of escalating tensions at a time when North Korea has been carrying out missile and nuclear tests.
COMMENT: This is a half-decent first step, but the decision not to board by force gives the North Koreans a huge advantage: Why should they cooperate if they know their ships will not be boarded? All they have to say is that they'll resist boarding "by force," and, presumably, we'll back off. What is our fallback position? Why, we'll "press" for inspections in port.
I can't imagine the North Koreans being very impressed with this. I certainly can't imagine anything here that will change that country's policies. Again, we go nowhere with tough-sounding words.
The late Gen. Lauris Norstad, one-time commander of NATO, said that toughness is not a policy. He was right. You have to decide what to be tough about. The Obama decision on North Korea is, by that standard, disappointing.
June 16, 2009