Security Council Poised to Vote on New North Korea Sanctions

Can a new round of international sanctions on North Korea do the trick? Three months after North Korea last tested a nuclear weapon, the Security Council is again poised to sanction the regime in a vote on Wednesday.

Last March, the UN Security Council passed the toughest set of sanctions ever levied against a country when it passed a resolution punishing North Korea for its latest nuclear test. The sanctions subjected all shipments to and from North Korea to mandatory cargo inspection; banned the export of some earth metals, and tightened restrictions on North Korean banks, among other measures.

There was a big loophole though: The sanctions did not ban the export of North Korean coal (mostly to China) so long as the proceeds could be demonstrated to not be diverted to its nuclear program.

Now, that loophole has been mostly closed. According to Michelle Nichols of Reuters:

The new sanctions to be voted on Wednesday would cap North Korean coal exports at $400.9 million or 7.5 million metric tonnes annually, whichever is lower, starting on Jan. 1. Over the first 10 months of this year China has imported 18.6 million tonnes of coal from North Korea, up almost 13 percent from a year ago.

Coal is particularly important to the economic health of North Korea because it is one of its only sources of hard currency and its largest single export item. North Korea would also be banned from exporting copper, nickel, silver and zinc.

This is a big step for China, which previously insisted that the coal-exception be carved out in the previous round of sanctions. Also included in these new sanctions are other measures intended to pressure North Korea’s political class. From Reuters:

It calls on U.N. states to reduce the number of staff at North Korea’s foreign missions and requires countries to limit the number of bank accounts to one per North Korean diplomatic mission amid worries that Pyongyang had used its diplomats and foreign missions to engage in illicit activities.

The draft text says that countries can inspect the personal luggage of individuals entering or leaving North Korea as it could be a way to transport banned items.

The Security Council would blacklist a further 11 individuals, including people who have served as ambassadors to Egypt and Myanmar, and 10 entities, subjecting them to a global travel ban and asset freeze for their role in the North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The previous round of sanctions imposed last March clearly did not dissuade the government from embarking on new nuclear tests. Still, these ever-tightening sanctions do hold value. For one, it likely slowed the development of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. These sanctions also act as a potential deterrent to other countries who may wish to pursue nuclear weapons. Finally, the UN Security Council is the only real available diplomatic game in town. The use of force is not an option, so increasing the costs of these tests to the regime is the only viable international response.

The effects of these new sanctions on the decision making in Pyongyang remains to be seen. But for now, this resolution is an important demonstration of unity at the Council. At a time when the other big global crisis ( Syria) are dividing the council, North Korea’s nuclear provocations are bringing the Security Council together in a constructive way.