UNITED NATIONS, United States: In slapping its seventh set of sanctions on North Korea, the United Nations has adopted its toughest measures yet against the regime—but how effective they will be in changing Pyongyang’s behavior is another matter.
Days after the UN unanimously approved the US-drafted sanctions, aimed at thwarting the North’s nuclear weapons programs, Pyongyang railed against the measures as US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un traded fiery threats.
Crucial to their success is whether Beijing and Moscow enforce the sanctions—which could cost North Korea $1 billion a year in revenues.
The sanctions impose a full ban on North Korean exports of coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore as well as fish and seafood.
Despite the skepticism of experts, UN diplomats think they will be applied more strictly than in past efforts.
Their fate hinges largely on China, which accounts for 90 percent of trade with North Korea but is suspected of failing to enforce past UN measures, even after voting in their favor.
Member states are required to regularly report on the implementation of sanctions—a duty Beijing, the North’s sole major ally, has skirted in the past, according to a diplomat speaking on the condition of anonymity.
But another diplomat emphasized, “The trend is to implementation.”
And Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has vowed that Beijing “will for sure implement the new resolution 100 percent, fully and strictly.”
If China follows through on that promise, the North may be tempted to trade through other countries. The United States recently lectured Thailand, for example, about the need to seriously clamp down on North Korean exports.
UN sanctions regimes have sometimes come under fire for harming general populations rather than their targeted leaders. But they worked well in South Africa to build pressure against apartheid, and more recently to rein in Iran’s nuclear program.
But such change takes time: in Iran’s case more than a decade.
When it comes to North Korea, “so far, the impact of these and other sanctions in order to change the DPRK’s actions appears to be limited,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
“Moscow has an ambiguous position” on economic sanctions against North Korea, he said. Past resolutions “are strangling Russia’s economic cooperation” with the North and have hurt the corporate interests of powerful Russian players, he said in a recent analysis.
A top target of the sanctions adopted August 5 is the fish and crustacean industry—some 29 percent of North Korean exports from that sector are destined for Russia. And according to Chinese customs figures, Beijing imported $50 million in North Korean fish and shellfish in June alone.
Echoing the view of many experts, Thomas H. Lee, a law professor at Fordham University in New York, said enforcement of even preexisting sanctions has been loose.
But the latest set “will really hurt the North Korean leadership,” he predicted.
And if sanctions fail to change the regime’s behavior, the Security Council still has other options, such as an oil embargo or the return home of North Korean nationals working abroad.
A new report on the implementation of UN sanctions against North Korea is expected in September.