Can Japan Search North Korean Ships on the High Seas?

by Julian Ku

The much-ballyhooed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 against North Korea continues to amount to pretty much nothing. This article , for instance, suggests that Japan is not sure that it has the legal authority under the U.N. Resolution to stop and inspect North Korean vessels suspected of carrying illicit weapons or materials. It is a bit murky, I have to admit:

Here are the key grafs from Resolution 1718:

(a) All Member States shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale

transfer to the DPRK, through their territories or by their nationals, or using

flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in their territories, of:

[list of banned items]

(f) In order to ensure compliance with the requirements of this paragraph,

and thereby preventing illicit trafficking in nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, their means of delivery and related materials, all Member States are called upon to take, in accordance with their national authorities and legislation, and consistent with international law, cooperative action including through inspection of cargo to and from the DPRK, as necessary;

Typically, though, international law does not authorize nations to board foreign-flagged vessels on the high seas, although one might argue for an exception for ships suspected of carrying WMDs. But this language doesn’t clearly provide such an exception. Unless I’m missing something, then, Resolution 1718 doesn’t really do all that much.

One Response

  1. Let’s assume for a moment that it does authorize to stop and search North Korean vessels. What if North Koreans hide their wares on military ships? Does it apply even to those?

    The LOS Convention is absolutely clear that no one has the right to S&S military ships (Art. 95). Let’s say that the Security Council can override that norm (which is arguably also customary law). The fact is that S&Sing military vessels is very risky, and if I were god ole’ Kim I would use them to make sure stuff I want to get in and out of the country goes freely around (like his favorite cognac, for instance). Thus, even if it the resolution allows S&S do not hold your breath for incredible findings in those cargo holds. You know, they read this blog in North Korea…

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