The Need for North Korea Sanctions


World powers have unanimously agreed that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a threat to global security. As a result, the isolated country has been overwhelmed with heavy economic sanctions. Despite the international effort to stop North Korea’s proliferation of nuclear weapons, Pyongyang has continued with tests and has shown little sign of willingness to participate in denuclearization agreements.

The growing danger, both to North Korea’s neighbors and to the United States, has caused an immediate escalation of financial sanctions meant to isolate the Kim regime further. While these measures have exacted a heavy toll, experts are uncertain of the long-term effectiveness and believe the lack of enforcement of some countries undermines the efforts.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stated that there is a direct link between Iran and North Korea.  Richard Goldberg and Mark Dubowitz of FDD believe that “fixing or scrapping the Iran nuclear deal is the best thing Trump can do to denuclearize North Korea.”


The Cause of the Sanctions


For years, North Korean leadership has deemed the acquisition of nuclear weapons to be the ultimate means to guarantee its survival. Pyongyang has expressed fear that the nearby U.S. military bases and naval ports in the region are a potential threat to their existence.

In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (signed in 1985) and cited U.S. aggression as the basis for the decision. Three years later, the country carried out its first nuclear tests. Since then the U.S. and local powers have attempted negotiations with the aim of denuclearization, but all discussions have failed.


The UN’s Response

The UN Security Council, composed of fifteen countries, unanimously passed nine rounds of sanctions against North Korea in the time since their first nuclear test. The measures have evolved to include specific bans on arms and military equipment, civilian versions of military equipment, transport vehicles, raw metals, coal, food and agricultural products, textiles, petroleum products and restrictions on the country’s fishing rights.


The EU’s Response

In addition to the UN bans, the EU has passed supplemental restrictions on North Korean government officials that have known connections to the nuclear weapons program. The prohibitions have limited access to educational opportunities and training within the EU. They have also prohibited the export of a wide range of goods and services including certain livestock, and even ski equipment.


The United States’ Response

Last year, the United States extended the reach of their sanctions to include non-North Korean entities, such as some Chinese and Russian Banks for providing support to the weapons program. These bans have been lifted on several occasions on the condition that North Korean leadership promises to freeze its nuclear program and dismantle its facilities. Despite the deals, the North Korean government has never held up to its end of the agreement.

In 2008, as part of an agreement with North Korea, the United States removed the country from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. In November 2017 President Trump returned North Korea to the list in response to the assassination of Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother and the death of a U.S. student in North Korean custody. More U.S. sanctions are likely to follow this re-listing of North Korea as a state sponsor of terror.


What have the Sanctions done?

The UN Panel of Experts released a report on sanction violations by North Korea. Mathew Ha of FDD explained, “the contents of the report indicate that the Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign is working, yet there remains much to be done to ensure that Western pressure on North Korea is truly at a maximum.” FDD is a non-partisan organization, headed by Mark Dubowitz and dedicated to fighting terrorism and promoting freedom.

The sanctions have had an undeniable adverse effect on North Korea’s economy, but it is unclear whether the cost will be significant enough to force serious negotiations. As Pyongyang grows increasingly isolated from the world and economic opportunity the Kim regime could lose an estimated $800 million annually. Only time will tell whether or not that type of loss will lead to a change in the North Korean government’s policy toward denuclearization.