The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted in favor of the strictest sanctions levied yet on Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime on Friday. This new round of sanctions will significantly reduce the nation’s access to crude oil and petroleum-based products, and aims to cut Kim off from one of his more important foreign revenue sources.
While previous sanctions had already limited North Korea’s oil imports to 2 million barrels, the new round of sanctions will now limit them to only 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum per year. Further, the sanctions demand the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within 24 months, though the United States reportedly originally pushed for a timeline half that long.
The U.N. Resolution also sets standards to further limit oil imports into North Korea for any subsequent nuclear weapon or ballistic missile tests.
Although the U.S. and U.N. have each continued to levy stricter and stricter sanctions on North Korea as Kim Jong Un has continued to pursue nuclear weapons and the ballistic missile platforms he hopes to carry them, thus far, the sanctions have not seemed to slow the despotic leader’s progress. North Korea’s ballistic missile program has seen significant leaps in technological capability over the past year, so much so, in fact, that some have wondered if the nation has been receiving outside assistance from a more established nuclear power, such as China or Russia.
Kim’s nuclear weapons themselves have also seen a sharp uptick in performance since sanctions began, with the nation testing its first ever hydrogen, or dual stage, bomb in September of this year. Hydrogen bombs are exponentially more powerful than traditional atomic warheads, and when coupled with North Korea’s latest Hwasong-15 ICBM, Kim now seems to possess a massive amount of firepower and a platform that can deliver it to targets as far away as America’s East Coast.
That isn’t to say that sanctions aren’t working however. Signs of the economic struggle facing the North Korean have become too prominent to ignore, including fishing boats washing up on Japanese shores as fishermen take increasingly large risks in search of bountiful harvests and a sharp uptick in soldiers defecting.
President Trump has used just about every lever you can use, short of starving the people of North Korea to death, to change their behavior,” the White House homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, said Tuesday. “And so we don’t have a lot of room left here to apply pressure to change their behavior.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise regarding these new sanctions is that China and Russia both went along with them. It has become commonplace for the U.S. and China to debate sanction proposals before they reach the council, as China tends to serve as the primary obstacle between Trump’s administration and the U.N. taking action on North Korea, but Russia has repeatedly made their voice heard in such proceedings as well. Friday was no exception, with Russia’s complaints resulting in the extended deadline for the repatriation of North Korean citizens working overseas.
China’s deputy ambassador, Wu Haitao, said the latest measures reflected “the unanimous position of the international community” and he urged North Korea to “refrain from conducting any further nuclear and missile tests.”
Sanctions are, of course, a slow game, and as a result they tend to be frowned upon by those who feel war with North Korea is unavoidable. These sanctions, however, are so strict they may be impossible for Kim’s regime to ignore.
“If the international community, including countries like China and Russia, implements these measures fully, faithfully and quickly, it will apply an unprecedented and irresistible level of pressure on the North Korean regime,” said Evans J. R. Revere, a former senior State Department diplomat for East Asia.
Perhaps more importantly, the act of implementing an escalating series of sanctions serves as a show of good faith on behalf of the United States. If President Trump were to order a preemptive strike on Kim’s regime without first exploring all diplomatic possibilities, the U.S. would likely see widespread condemnation within the U.N. and limited international support. Another war effort on the other side of the planet, of course, would be an expansive, and expensive, undertaking – one the currently spread-thin U.S. military may not want to take on alone.
Just how the North Korean government will respond to these new sanctions, however, is yet to be seen.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press