Since the early 1950s, the world has been greatly affected by the actions of North Korea, from its development of nuclear weapons to international reconnaissance and cyber espionage. The United Nations Security Council has responded by sanctioning the country to achieve “denuclearization, peace and stability in the region” and “seek a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula”.
In 2006, North Korea was the first country to conduct a nuclear weapons test. In response, the Security Council began applying a series of sanctions which have since seen considerable expansion. Under Resolution 1718, a travel ban and arms embargo were put in place, with funding and asset freezes following in 2007 and 2008.
The sanctions were further expanded by Resolution 1874 in 2009. It included additional asset freezes, measures against countries found to be supporting North Korean nuclear proliferation, as well as an addition of luxury goods (such as high-end cars and planes).
In 2013, the Security Council passed Resolution 2094, extending existing sanctions, and more recently, Resolution 2321 expanded the arms embargo, added further asset freezes, and strengthened the targeted financial measures.
These sanctions may have had some effect on North Korea, but critics suggest that they remain largely symbolic, as the country continues to export coal, oil and other materials to China and other allies.
These sanctions also have a significant human cost; human rights watchers have suggested that greater financial sanctions are likely to impact the general population more severely. Reports from North Korean defectors have indicated that people living in poverty and hunger already suffered from sanctions passed in 2006 and 2007.
Experts suggest that sanctions in their current form are unlikely to be effective in curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Some argue that dialogues must be initiated with North Korea in order to bring about a peaceful resolution.
Strained Relationships with South Korea and China
The relationship between North Korea and South Korea has been strained in recent years due to the continued sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. North Korea routinely launches military exercises and cyber-attacks against South Korea in a show of defiance, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in has made multiple requests to the Security Council to reduce sanctions against North Korea.
North Korea’s relationship with China has been especially strained due to the implementation of tougher sanctions. Although China remains North Korea’s closest ally, it has been some of China’s most stringent enforcement of U.N. sanctions to date, heavily cutting off North Korea’s access to fuel and other vital resources.
The Chinese government has pushed for a negotiated settlement to the conflict and proposed a “suspension-for-suspension” of military exercises, missile testing and nuclear development by both North and South Korea. This proposal was rejected by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and as a result, there have been tension between the two countries.
In spite of this, China has continued to provide economic assistance to North Korea and has even stepped up their enforcement of the latest U.N. sanctions by conducting maritime inspections of North Korean cargo ships.
Crackdown on North Korean Banks
The United Nations Security Council has imposed a series of sanctions on North Korean banks in an effort to curb the country’s nuclear program. Under these sanctions, any North Korean bank operating outside of North Korea is barred from conducting banking related activities in countries outside of North Korea that involve their home country’s financial institutions.
Additionally, the sanctions mandate that countries are prohibited from providing financial assistance to any institutions or individuals in North Korea. This measure is particularly impactful, as the bulk of North Korea’s foreign currency earnings come from foreign banks.
The sanctions also prohibit any foreign financial institutions from opening branches or subsidiaries in North Korea, and limits North Korean access to the international banking system. This restriction effectively limits the ability of North Koreans to transfer funds internationally, thus impeding their ability to purchase goods, services and technology from abroad.
The 2014 United Nations Security Council resolution further extended the international financial sanctions on North Korea by prohibiting any entity or individual from providing North Korea with nuclear or missile technology, or engaging in any activities that would contribute to their nuclear or ballistic missile programs.
Global Pressure for Denuclearization
Since North Korea’s nuclear test in 2006, the world has been calling for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The United States and its allies in the region have been particularly vocal in their calls for North Korea to denuclearize, while the United Nations Security Council has passed several rounds of sanctions in order to pressure the country to comply.
Although North Korea has agreed to several dialogue initiatives, the country has refused to budge on its nuclear weapons program, citing that its nuclear weapons program is essential to its national security – a view shared by the current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
As a result, the United States and its allies have maintained pressure on North Korea, and have urged China, who is considered to be North Korea’s key ally and protector, to put more pressure on the country. In response, China has called for both sides to observe peace and patience, but has taken some steps to enforce the sanctions, particularly against companies or individuals that are suspected of helping North Korea to circumvent the sanctions.
Apart from the sanctions, there have been some friendly initiatives such as the inter-Korean family reunions that took place in 2015, where families from North and South Korea were able to meet for the first time in 66 years, but for the most part, relations between North and South Korea remain bitter.
International Cooperation to Counter North Korea’s Growing Nuclear Power
The international community has been working hard to deter the threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. A major part of this strategy is the coordination of the United Nations Security Council’s sanctions on North Korea.
In addition to the economic pressure, the U.S., Japan and South Korea has conducted several joint military exercises in an effort to demonstrate their commitment to the defense of the region. These exercises involve the use of naval vessels, ground troops and fighter jets, and are aimed at deterring North Korea from carrying out any further nuclear tests or military action.
The U.S. has also been pushing for the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system on South Korea’s territory, a move that North Korea strongly opposes. North Korea has condemned the deployment, arguing that the U.S. is attempting to bring about a nuclear war in the region.
The U.S. has also been pursuing a diplomatic approach to the situation, inviting North Korean representatives to participate in international dialogues and peace processes. Notably, former U.S. president Barack Obama visited South Korea in March 2016 to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the fostering of peace between North and South Korea.
Attempts have also been made to resolve the crisis through the United Nations. In July 2017, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted the harshest set of sanctions yet, targeting North Korea’s trade with other countries and cutting off the country’s access to fuel and cash.
International Response and Impact on North Korea
The sanctions against North Korea have been met with opposition from several countries, including Russia and China. These countries have argued that sanctions are ineffective and are only designed to create a “humanitarian disaster” in the country.
The economic sanctions have had a significant impact on North Korea, with the country’s economy shrinking by an estimated 3.5 percent in 2017 – the largest economic contraction in two decades. The sanctions have also caused severe food shortages and increased poverty in the country.
In spite of the sanctions and pressures, North Korea has maintained its resolve and continued to pursue its nuclear weapons program. The country has conducted multiple nuclear tests over the last decade and has also launched a number of ballistic missiles in defiance of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.
However, North Korea has indicated in recent months that it is willing to hold a dialogue with the US, a move that some commentators have said could mark an important step towards ending the diplomatic crisis.
Since the 1950s, North Korea has been an important international security concern, with the country’s nuclear weapons program being a major source of tension in the region. In order to counter the threat posed by North Korea, the United Nations Security Council has imposed increasingly stringent sanctions on the country, while other countries have taken part in joint military exercises and diplomatic dialogues in an effort to seek a peaceful resolution.
The sanctions have had a severe impact on the North Korean economy and its people, but it remains to be seen whether they are effective in curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.