On Monday evening, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2375, which imposes a new set of economic sanctions on North Korea.
The new sanctions target the country’s gas and textiles industries by banning the sale of natural gas liquids to North Korea as well as limiting textile exports. The new sanctions also prohibit Member States from providing work authorization to North Korean nationals.
The council also decided to extend several existing sanctions, including a travel ban and assets freeze on three North Korean entities.
A Security Council press release reported that the new sanctions – the harshest imposed on North Korea thus far – were in response to the “serious and escalating nature of the threats posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley stated that the North Korean regime had not yet passed the point of no return, and emphasized that “the choice is theirs” with regards to their escalating nuclear program.
The new sanctions are not as harsh as those the Trump administration had originally called for immediately following news of North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test – reportedly of a hydrogen bomb — last week. At an emergency Security Council session last Monday, Ms. Haley had pushed for a full oil embargo on North Korea as well as a total assets freeze and global travel ban on Kim Jong-un, cautioning that the North Korean leader “is begging for war.” These initial proposals failed to garner support with Russia and China, however, and the later drafts of the resolution proposed less far-reaching measures.
American officials now estimate that the new sanctions, by imposing a cap of 2 million barrels of refined petroleum for the year, will decrease North Korea’s oil imports by 30 percent.
The Debate over Sanctions
Resolution 2375 is the ninth sanctions resolution adopted by the UN against North Korea. While previous sanctions have certainly squeezed the country’s economy, they have done little to curb its nuclear weapons development program.
Foreign policy scholars and practitioners have several theories as to why sanctions have not worked in the latter regard. One theory implicates low implementation rates of the adopted sanctions regimes by certain UN Member States. A 2016 UN report revealed that non-compliance was a problem not only among countries that have traditionally balked at harsher sanctions against North Korea, such as Russia and China, but among others as well. According to the report, 90 member states had completely failed to submit required national implementation reports for any of the North Korea-related sanctions resolutions up to that point. Another theory argues that North Korea is largely immune to economic and financial sanctions, because of the unusually far-reaching sacrifices the leadership is willing to make with regards to the lives and well-being of its citizens. Adam Taylor of the Washington Post recently offered a breakdown of these two theories, concluding that they are not mutually exclusive, and likely both partially explain why sanctions thus far have failed to weaken the North Korean regime as well as curtail the country nuclear weapons development program.
Following the announcement of the new sanctions regime, North Korea’s ambassador the UN stated at a UN conference in Geneva that “[t]he forthcoming measures by DPRK [the Democratic Republic of Korea] will make the US suffer the greatest pain it has ever experienced in its history.”