The Security Council has unanimously passed a new series of sanctions on North Korea over it’s unrelenting quest to bolster its nuclear capabilities. The newest sanctions comes about 10 days after North Korea concluded its latest–and largest–nuclear test. This was North Korea’s sixth nuclear test explosion since 2006, and its first since Donald Trump took office.
As with previous tests and other provocations, like ballistic missile launches, the Security Council has voted to tighten economic sanctions against Pyongyang. These latest sanctions build on a previous resolution, passed on August 5th, that prohibits all export of North Korea coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood–in all depriving North Korea of about one third of its foreign income.
These new sanctions are an incremental expansion of previous measures, but still amount to the toughest sanctions ever leveled by the Security Council
The resolution that passed was a watered down version of a draft resolution circulated by the United States last week. That resolution, according to several media outlets that obtained a copy, included a total ban on oil and natural gas exports, an asset freeze and travel ban against Kim Jong Un, and a measure that would allow navies to forcibly board North Korean ships suspected of evading the sanctions regime. These more forceful measures would likely have been met with a veto by China and Russia, so they were removed in negotiations over the weekend in the interest of getting this resolution passed. What remained in the resolution was a ban on all textile exports and a cap on the amount of oil and natural gas North Korea can sell abroad, as well as further tightened financial sanctions and restrictions on remittences that North Korean workers abroad can send home
Will these new sanctions do the trick?
North Korea has repeatedly violated international norms by detonating a nuclear weapon, something no other country has done in nearly 20 years. Ever tightening sanctions send an important signal that nuclear weapons proliferation and nuclear testing has consequences. The fact that these sanctions are leveled by a united Security Council shows that the entire international community is unified around this point. It is an important demonstration of international unity around the basic principle that countries should not be provocatively testing nuclear weapons.
The devil, of course, is in the details. These new sanctions come just two days following a report by UN investigators showing how North Korea is able to evade existing sanctions. The report, prepared by a panel of experts dispatched by the Security Council to monitor the implementation of sanctions, shows that North Korea “continued to violate sectoral sanctions through the export of almost all of the commodities prohibited in the resolutions, generating at least $270 million in revenue during the reporting period.”
In other words, North Korea is evading sanctions as soon as new sanctions are implemented, and UN member states are not taking the necessary measures to stop them. It is hard to conclude that these new sanctions, though justified, will have a more meaningful bite than any previous round of sanctions and compel North Korea back to the negotiating table.
Still, more sanctions are better than no sanctions — countries need to face consequences for blatantly violating norms around the world’s most dangerous weapons. Also, the unified manner in which the Security Council is approaching North Korea gives the international community a degree of leverage should negotiations like the Six Party Talks ever resume. The alternative is a divided Security Council, and that would sharply restrict the kinds of diplomatic initiatives that could be pursued to mitigate this crisis.