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(LEAD) (News Focus) New U.N. sanctions modest step forward, but unlikely to change N. Korea's calculus: U.S. experts

All Headlines 05:12 December 01, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS White House comments in last 2 paras)
By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (Yonhap) -- The new package of U.N. sanctions on North Korea will make life harder for the communist nation by slashing its foreign currency earnings, but is unlikely to change Pyongyang's calculus on its nuclear and missile programs, U.S. experts said Wednesday.

The Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2321, which centers on putting a significant cap on North Korea's exports of coal, its single biggest export item and source of hard currency, and banning exports of four additional minerals.

These two measures and other restrictions, if fully enforced, would strip the North of at least $800 million in annual revenues, a sizable sum that accounts for more than a quarter of the impoverished nation's total exports, estimated at about $3 billion.

"The U.N. sanctions are a modest step forward, narrowing some loopholes. They will make life a bit more difficult for the North Korean elite, but are unlikely to change Kim's behavior," Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Yonhap News Agency, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

In order for sanctions to have a serious impact, Manning said that the North should be frozen out of access to the international financial system and that the U.S. should impose secondary sanctions against banks and firms dealing with North Korea.

Victor Cha, a Georgetown University professor and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), also said that the new resolution represents an earnest effort at closing loopholes in the previous sanctions, but is unlikely to change the North's nuclear pursuits.

"Reducing North Korea's hard currency earnings to $400 million per year from coal exports to China is not likely to have a definitive impact on their persistent pursuit of nuclear weapons. I would like to believe otherwise, but past experience tells us not to be optimistic," he said.

(LEAD) (News Focus) New U.N. sanctions modest step forward, but unlikely to change N. Korea's calculus: U.S. experts - 1

The North's coal exports have already been banned under a previous resolution, adopted in response to January's fourth nuclear test, but shipments for "livelihood" purposes have still been allowed, an exception that has been cited as the biggest loophole that has kept export levels little changed despite the ban.

The export cap in the latest resolution is an effort to close the loophole.

As in previous sanctions, Chinese cooperation is key to enforcement of the new resolution.

More than 90 percent of North Korea's total trade is with China, and coal exports, which account for about 42 percent of the total, are almost entirely for the neighboring nation. In 2015, coal exports amounted to 19.6 million tons or $1.05 billion.

"These are potentially very significant sanctions, targeting North Korea's main avenues for export revenue and access to the global economy. China's willingness to circumscribe its business with North Korea, to precise dollar amounts, is an important step forward," Richard Nephew, a former State Department sanctions expert.

Still, the North is unlikely to change its nuclear behavior, and the sanctions could end up hurting the North Korean people more than the leadership, said Nephew, currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

"I doubt Kim Jung-un will be dining on tree bark in the event of a renewed famine or massive economic dislocation in the country. His people may be," he said.

Ken Gause, a senior North Korea analyst at CNA Corp., said the sanctions could trigger the North to carry out more provocations rather than changing its behavior.

"These measures fall far short of the pressure threshold that would have to be achieved to impact North Korea's calculus on its nuclear program, which the regime sees as vital for its survival," Gause said. "Kim Jong-un will feel even more pressure to show that the sanctions are having limited impact on the regime. This can be done through enhanced rhetoric or even provocations."

Most likely the provocations will come in the form of missile or, possibly, nuclear tests designed to show the United States and the world community that pressures alone will not bring the North to its knees, and back to the negotiating table, the expert said.

How the incoming administration of Donald Trump reacts to the North's actions will determine how Pyongyang will play its cards in the future -- whether it will return to a diplomatic charm campaign or double down on its counter-sanction strategy, he said.

Alan Romberg, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, said the scope of the new sanctions is significant and the key is how rigorously they are carried out by countries, especially China.

Still, however, the measures are unlikely to derail the North's nuclear program, he said.

"It is hard to envisage the DPRK abandoning or even significantly altering its nuclear weapons program at this stage. It may have to tighten its belt, but if so it is likely to do so in other areas," he said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the resolution will put "real pressure" on Pyongyang, but only time will tell whether the sanctions will change the North's behavior.

"I don't think anybody outside of the North Korean government can predict exactly whether or not this will lead to the kind of change in their behavior that we'd like to see. But we do know that this will increase the pressure and it will make things more difficult for the North Korean government," he said.


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