International partners increase patrols to uphold North Korea sanctions

International partners increase patrols to uphold North Korea sanctions


A multinational commitment to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea has been bolstered in recent weeks with air and maritime patrols by Australia, Canada, France and the United Kingdom, in partnership with Japan and the United States.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed a series of trade restrictions on Pyongyang over its continuing development of weapons of mass destruction, including its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which represent “a clear threat to international peace and security.” However, North Korea has used ship-to-ship transfers and other “deceptive maritime practices” to export coal and import oil, according to the Security Council.

In response, U.N. member states have been directed to seize, inspect and impound any vessel in their ports or territorial waters that is suspected of helping Pyongyang skirt the sanctions. (Pictured: The North Korean cargo ship Wise Honest is towed into port in American Samoa in May 2019 after being seized by the United States Coast Guard for allegedly violating United Nations sanctions.)

In late September 2021, the U.K. Royal Navy announced that HMS Richmond “located multiple ships of various nationalities apparently acting in contravention” of U.N. sanctions. The frigate was conducting enforcement operations in the East China Sea as part of the U.K.’s Carrier Strike Group 21 deployment to the Indo-Pacific. The Royal Navy, which did not specify the nationalities of the suspected violators, reported its findings to the U.N.

In mid-October, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Canada and France would use U.S. military bases in Japan to conduct several weeks of aerial surveillance against illicit maritime activities by North Korean-flagged and other vessels. Japan’s Coast Guard and Maritime Self-Defense Force also are monitoring vessels suspected of violating Security Council resolutions.

The announcement followed a month of similar surveillance by Australian Defence Force aircraft, also operating from a U.S. military base in Japan.

“Japan welcomes these activities from the viewpoint of ensuring effective implementation of the relevant UNSCRs [U.N. Security Council resolutions] while maintaining the solidarity of the international community for the realization of North Korea’s dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner,” the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

North Korea’s foreign ministry called the Canadian and French air patrols near the Korean Peninsula a “military provocation,” according to South Korea’s government-affiliated news agency, Yonhap.

Officials say North Korea continues trying to evade U.N. sanctions, which have weakened its already rickety economy — a crisis exacerbated since 2020 by coronavirus lockdowns and severe flooding. A nonprofit research group reported in September 2021 that smugglers are creating fake identities for sanctioned ships. Experts monitoring the sanctions enforcement also have cited alleged violations by the People’s Republic of China and Russia, which are neighbors of North Korea and Security Council permanent members.

In February 2021, the French Navy reported that its frigate FS Prairial detected two oilers engaged in an illegal ship-to-ship transfer during its deployment in the East China Sea to enforce the U.N. sanctions.

The latest surveillance operations come as North Korea persists with missile tests in violation of Security Council resolutions, including of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, short-range ballistic missiles and long-range cruise missiles. The international community has condemned the weapons tests, with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield calling them “reckless provocations,” according to The Associated Press.

South Korea and the U.S. have urged North Korea to resume stalled negotiations over denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“North Korea’s nuclear and missile development represents an unprecedented, grave and imminent threat,” Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement. “It is not an exaggeration to state that the security situation surrounding Japan has become most severe since the end of World War II.”