Argument

Bird in Hand

One of the strongest multilateral sanctions architectures ever created already exists to pressure North Korea; it just needs to be enforced.

As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Thailand for talks with her Asian counterparts, a central topic of discussion will be security on the Korean Peninsula. Two weeks ago, North Korea celebrated America's independence with a fireworks show of its own: seven ballistic missiles launched into the Sea of Japan.

This latest launch and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings add urgency to the international debate about how to compel more-responsible behavior from the Hermit Kingdom. This discussion misses a critical point, however. One of the strongest multilateral sanctions architectures ever created already exists to pressure North Korea; it just needs to be enforced. The United States was complicit in emasculating this sanctions regime. So, before jumping into lengthy negotiations over yet more sanctions, why not enforce the coercive measures already on the books?

In response to North Korea's first nuclear test in October 2006, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1718, which authorized three types of sanctions: an embargo on arms and luxury goods, a travel ban, and an asset freeze against individuals or entities contributing to North Korea's weapons program. The resolution banned all transfers in or out of North Korea of heavy weaponry and ballistic-missile technologies and inputs. The resolution did not specify the luxury goods banned, nor did it name the individuals and entities to be designated for the travel ban and asset freeze. Instead, it established a sanctions committee to undertake these tasks.

Shortly afterward, however, North Korea announced it would return to denuclearization negotiations. Within weeks of their adoption, the sanctions were tacitly shelved in deference to the six-party talks (the negotiations between North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States that were initiated when North Korea pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003). Six-party negotiators felt the sanctions resolution had helped compel North Korea back to the negotiating table and worried that trying to enforce the sanctions might jeopardize the fragile talks.

The sanctions became a bargaining piece and were quietly traded away in futile hopes of six-party progress. The following 2½ years saw on-again, but mostly off-again, U.S. interest in enforcing the sanctions, based on the status of the fledgling six-party process.

As a result, the sanctions committee created to track and enforce Resolution 1718 became largely dormant. It took the committee nine months to adopt its working guidelines after passage of Resolution 1718. It failed to define a list of luxury goods and decided in February 2007 that luxury goods meant whatever member states defined them to be. This allowed countries like China to skirt the terms of the resolution. By 2008, only a third of U.N. member countries had reported as required on measures taken to implement the embargo, and the sanctions committee didn't even meet during 2008 due to a lack of business.

The travel ban and asset freeze went similarly unrealized. Without a list of names or entities designated for sanctions, travel ban and asset freeze authorities are a hollow shell. Until three months ago, there were no designations for a freeze of assets under U.N. sanctions toward North Korea, meaning that for more than two years, the mandatory asset freeze created in 2006 was never used. And for nearly three years and in the face of continued North Korean provocations, not a single person was designated for a travel ban.

After North Korea's continued nuclear and missile tests this April and May, the new U.S. administration focused on adopting a second sanctions resolution. The three-week negotiation (Resolution 1718 took five days to negotiate) resulted in Resolution 1874, a resolution that modestly expanded the sanctions authorities already on the books. In a positive step toward enforcement, the U.N. Sanctions Committee on North Korea last week agreed to new designations under the sanctions regime. The committee added two materials to the embargo, listed five new entities and individuals for an asset freeze, and for the first time since the travel ban was adopted in 2006, designated five individuals under it. Senior U.S. officials are now touring Asia to discuss implementation of these designations with Asian and Security Council counterparts.

The shift in focus to compliance is right on target but is also where the administration can expect the greatest expenditure of diplomatic resources. Significantly more designations will be needed to avoid a diplomatic game of whack-a-mole. A more thorough application of sanctions is not unprecedented -- compare the eight entities and five individuals subject to North Korean sanctions with the 35 entities and 40 individuals listed under similar sanctions on Iran. But designation justification packages and identifiers are notoriously complicated to compile, all the more so when information on regime entities and individuals is so difficult to obtain. It is no surprise then that this is where the hard work of building consensus and U.S. focus should lie.

If North Korea continues its path of provocation, and there are few signs that it won't, the United States should focus on enforcement, rather than negotiating more architecture. The Obama administration should continue its recent efforts to unite with China, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea to enforce the arms embargo and to hammer out the search and seizure procedures authorized in Resolution 1874. As North Korea's largest trading partner, China is the lynchpin to enforcement, and as such, the United States should make North Korea's trade and financial dealings with China a priority topic of study and subject of bilateral discussions. Information on trading in banned goods or member-state breaches of sanctions commitments should be brought immediately to the attention of the sanctions committee. The United States should work quickly to propose further entities and individuals for targeted sanctions, and the sanctions committee having taken a positive step in its designations last week, should now be given a long lead to fulfill the terms of its mandate. It should define a list of luxury goods and technologies banned under the sanctions regime, move quickly on further designations proposed by member states, and proactively urge countries to report on measures they have taken to implement the designations. Perhaps most importantly, if and when North Korea expresses an intention to return to negotiations, the Security Council should outline and demand results before allowing the sanctions process to drift once again.

That the situation could rapidly escalate into a military crisis is all the more reason to work quickly to use the wide berth of sanctions authorities so hard won. There is little point arguing about whether coercion is a successful strategy if coercive authorities that already exist have never been tried.

NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

Tough Love Is No Love at All

Why Obama's approach to Israel is collapsing. Rapidly.

"Obama is not 100 percent right to confront Bibi on settlements," a Clinton advisor blew back at me after my July 1 ForeignPolicy.com piece "Cut Bibi Some Slack." "He is 200 percent right!" This from a guy who had argued for years that public confrontation is not the right way to deal with Israel because it undermines the confidence that is a prerequisite for progress in the peace process.

Barack Obama himself addressed the issue in a meeting with American Jewish leaders on July 13. Asked if it were a mistake to let "sunlight" show between the United States and Israel, the U.S. president demurred, "We had no sunlight for eight years, but no progress either."

Obama's conclusion that former U.S. President George W. Bush achieved nothing by working with Israel is amazing, considering that Bush brought the father of the Israeli settler movement, Ariel Sharon, to withdraw every soldier and every settler from every square inch of Gaza in August 2005 in the largest test of the "land for peace" concept in Israeli-Palestinian history. You would think the experience of the Bush years would have led the Obama team to an opposite conclusion: If settlements had been the obstacle to peace, why did Sharon's removal of 8,000 settlers from 21 settlements lead to the rise of Hamas, thousands of Qassam rockets fired at Israel, and war instead of peace?

And they might reflect on the testimony of Elliott Abrams, who negotiated the Bush administration's compromises on the natural growth of settlements that the Obama team now disavows. "There were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank," Abrams wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "The prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation ... the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza. ... There was a bargained-for exchange. Mr. Sharon was determined to ... confront his former allies on Israel's right by abandoning the 'Greater Israel' position. ... He asked for our support and got it, including the agreement that we would not demand a total settlement freeze."

And they should heed the words of Sharon's negotiator in that bargain, Dov Weisglass: "Final-status peace treaties ... will require many American guarantees and obligations, especially in respect to long-term security arrangements. Without these, it is doubtful whether an agreement can be reached. Yet if decision-makers in Israel ... discover, heaven forbid, that an American pledge is only valid as long as the president in question is in office, nobody will want such pledges."

The theory of "tough love" toward Israel is also failing the test, if it is intended to win concessions from the Palestinian side. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who just completed intensive negotiations with an outgoing Ehud Olmert government that was continuing "natural growth" of settlements within the agreed Bush limits, now says the incoming Benjamin Netanyahu government must "stop all settlement activities in order to resume peace talks over final status issues." His chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, adds, "There can be no half-solutions with regards to the settlements."

This is a hardening of the Palestinian position. Abbas did not cut off negotiations when Olmert said publicly to Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in April 2008, "It was clear from day one to Abbas ... that construction would continue in population concentrations -- the areas mentioned in Bush's 2004 letter. ... Beitar Illit will be built, Gush Etzion will be built; there will be construction in Pisgat Ze'ev and in the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem ... areas [that] will remain under Israeli control in any future settlement." Abbas continued meeting with the Olmert government. In fact, Erekat boasted to a Jordanian newspaper a few weeks ago that he and Abbas achieved considerable progress with the Olmert government between the November 2007 Annapolis talks and the end of 2008 in as many as 288 negotiation sessions by 12 committees -- all while the limited growth permitted by the Bush understandings continued.

Now, Obama has generated inflated and unsatisfiable expectations in the Arab world, a belief that the U.S. president can and will force total Israeli capitulation and an absolute freeze. The Los Angeles Times reports, "President Obama's public quarrel with Israel ... is developing into a test of the U.S. leader's international credibility, say foreign diplomats and other observers." Anything less than a 100 percent halt "will not only disappoint the Arabs whom the president has courted, but also will be read by adversaries around the globe as a signal that the president can be forced to back down." Or, as Erekat himself put it on Voice of Palestine radio, "If settlement continues ... Arabs and Palestinians [will] believe that the American administration is incapable of swaying Israel to halt its settlement activities." A prominent Palestinian observer, Ghassan Khatib, states, "Should the U.S. government ... fail to make Israel abide by its international commitments, especially regarding ending the expansion of settlements, it will sabotage efforts to renew the political process."

The Obama people might actually learn something from Abrams, who warns that, when eventually there is a compromise between the Obama and Netanyahu governments regarding settlements, the two sides will put "contrasting spins" on the agreement for their respective audiences. It will be difficult for the Obama administration to explain why there are what will be depicted by critics as loopholes. Maybe then they will ask themselves whether they were wise to do it with a public fight?

For now, they are still on the wrong track. Days ago, Israel's new ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, was warned that the United States wants a halt to construction of 20 apartments in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. Netanyahu responded, "There is no ban on Arabs buying apartments in the west of the city, and there is no ban on Jews building or buying in the city's east." How could the administration believe that any major Israeli political party could possibly agree to making any part of Jerusalem Judenrein? Just how far do they plan to go with this policy of confrontation?

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