Pressure on N. Korea is mostly symbolic

The United Nations Security Council has answered North Korea’s latest misdeeds on nuclear and other weapons testing by increasing the severity and sweep of sanctions against it.

These include an obligation by Pyongyang’s trading partners to inspect its imports and exports to prevent it from moving goods that contribute to the advancement of its weapons programs. This puts a particular burden on China, the only nation other than South Korea and Russia that borders North Korea.

China voted for the sanctions. Nevertheless, China is unwilling to see an economic collapse by its neighbor that would send untold numbers of North Korea’s 25 million people flowing across the border as refugees or migrants.

Thus, although the sanctions might help bring North Korea to reason – the Iran nuclear sanctions deal is a model – its situation is not changed much by the U.N. resolution.

It is still a miserably poor, underdeveloped state with only 3 percent of its roads paved and a high percentage of its population hungry. It also has a huge army, with about 1.2 million North Koreans under arms.

North Korea’s leader is 33-year-old Kim Jong Un. While it is easy to make fun of his haircut and his sometimes murderous actions, the fact is he appears to be in charge. So the country remains a ramshackle state with nuclear weapons led by an insecure, now third-generation dynastic figure.

No one, including South Korea, wants to invade North Korea and clean it out. That should be the last thing the United States wants, with 28,500 American troops based in South Korea as a tripwire against an invasion from the north.

The new sanctions are mostly a symbolic act, accompanied by probably ill-founded hope. Whether they lead to real change won’t be known for a while.