Policing the Seas and Skies: Gunboat Diplomacy

The high seas and international airspace are the nearest thing to the Wild West that exists today. Even if weapons of mass destruction or missiles are known to be in transit, it’s often illegal to intercept them. Now there’s a scheme to change all that and the first exercises are already under way. But there is a serious risk of greater international instability if America gets its way and the right to preemptive self-defence is included.

The World Today
4 minute READ

Michael Byers

Last December, Spanish marines, acting on a request from the United States, boarded the So San, a North Korean freighter crossing the Arabian sea. Hidden under the bags of cement listed on the manifest were fifteen Scud missiles. But when Yemeni officials declared that they had purchased the missiles, the Spanish and US governments allowed the delivery to proceed. As former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer explained: ‘We have looked at this matter thoroughly, and there is no provision under international law prohibiting Yemen from accepting delivery of missiles from North Korea.’

Neither Yemen nor North Korea has signed the Missile Technology Control Regime voluntary guidelines. Although Yemen has ratified the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, North Korea has not, and its scope does not extend to the content or destination of cargoes.

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