2016: Sanctions and Defiance in NK

Nordkorea:   06.01.2016 H-Bom Test
                  07.02.2016 Missile

The Asia Pacifi Journal/Japan Focus, Volume 14 | Issue 9 | Number 4, May 1, 2016

Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea

Mel Gurtov

North Korea has now been sanctioned five times by the United Nations Security Council for its nuclear and missile tests: resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013) and 2270 (2016). UNSC Resolution 2270 is the strongest one yet, spelling out in great detail the proscribed goods and requiring that all parties neither import them from nor export them to North Korea. Each resolution obliges the members to carry out the terms of the sanctions and (as the April 15 press statement of the UNSC says) "facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue." This is a case of mission impossible for two fundamental reasons: the sanctions will not work, and the fact of them impedes any chance for a "peaceful and comprehensive solution." The way forward, which I discuss at the end of this article, is to address North Korea's legitimate security concerns and economic needs while also considering how to build trust and reduce tensions in Northeast Asia as a whole.

Sanctions: Why They Fail

Foremost among the obstacles to an effective North Korea sanctions regime is smuggling along the China-DPRK (North Korea) border. Military items disguised as ordinary goods seem easily able to evade detection thanks to inconsistent inspection by border guards, bribery, false declarations, and North Korean firms based in China that actually belong to military-run trading companies.1 Since these practices are surely well known to the Chinese authorities, it seems fair to assume they have no strong interest in preventing or at least substantially reducing it-something they could accomplish with a more intensive border inspection process. That China is not doing so no doubt reflects its oft-stated position that the North Korean nuclear issue is the result of other countries' policies, not China's, hence that resolving it is others' responsibility, mainly the US.

This is not to say that China is refusing to follow the UNSC's latest resolution (UNSCR 2270). Beijing's criticism of North Korea's nuclear and missile tests has become increasingly harsh and open over the last few years, and voting to approve UN sanctions is one way to underscore its criticism. Reports indicate, for example, that China has closed its ports to North Korean coal and iron ore exports.2 But the Chinese have created a large loophole. At their insistence, 2270 allows for humanitarian trade affecting people's "livelihood." Thus, as China's foreign ministry spokesperson said on March 4, "We will earnestly observe the UNSCR 2270. The resolution prohibits the DPRK's export of coal, iron ore and iron, but those that are deemed essential for people's livelihood and have no connection with the funding of the DPRK's nuclear and missile programs will not be affected."3 As a result, China's exports to North Korea actually rose about 15 percent in the first 3 months of 2016 compared with 2015, and Chinese imports rose nearly 11 percent.4 ......

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