North Korea's Provocative Behavior Continues

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(DON EMMERT/Getty)

The persistent threat that North Korea's provocative behavior could spark a war in Northeast Asia has stalked the Earth for so long now that it is tempting in some quarters to dismiss it as posturing or some kind of geopolitical herpes. As long as North Korea could count on China's tacit backing, or at least Beijing's inaction, the cycle invariably went on. 

But the unanimous vote in the UN Security Council on Tuesday (2 March) on sanctions devised by the United States and China at the UN this week could change that. The sanctions will require that all cargo to and from North Korea be inspected and it would completely embargo shipments of rocket fuel and aircraft. The UN also imposed a ban on travel for an expanded list of regime officials. 

The sanctions showed a new coordination between the US and China and coincide with even tougher unilateral US measures blacklisting North Korea's National Defense Commission and the Worker's Party of Korea Central Military Commission for their role in the North's nuclear weapons development. 

The US and China, along with other regional actors have cooperated before on the North, during the 1990s "Agreed Framework talks," the first attempt to get the North to eschew nuclear weapons development, as well as in the first decade of this century, when they co-founded the Six Party Talks. Both initiatives, in spite of US and Chinese efforts,  been notable failures, at times led to finger pointing between Beijing and Washington over motives and diplomatic strategy. 

Today, their fingers are pointed in a more rational direction: At North Korea's reclusive and erratic regime. Little genuine progress was ever  achieved during Agreed Framework talks or the long Six Party process (or, indeed, during  the less formal contacts the US relied on in the early 1990s that traded the removal of American nuclear weapons from the peninsula in 1991 for the North's signature on the short-lived North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. 

Over the years, through multiple generational changes of the Kim guard, Pyongyang instead chose to test nuclear warheads,  develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capability and export some of its technology to Pakistan and other would-be clients. That China took a leading, public role in censuring the North in this instance can only be seen as a good thing among those eager to reverse North Korea's proliferation activities. 

Michael Moran is a Visiting Media Fellow and author of The Reckoning: Debt, Democracy and the Future of American Power. The opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of the Corporation.