Sanctions won’t reverse NK nuclear program

By Zhao Lixin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/10 21:41:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT



On August 5, the UN Security Council passed a resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea for its intercontinental ballistic missile test in July and violations of UN resolutions. The new sanctions target North Korea's primary exports, including coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood, and also ban countries from hiring additional North Korean workers. The sanctions do not include an oil embargo.

Resolution 2371 demands North Korea stop nuclear testing immediately, start complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear program, suspend all ballistic missile-related activities and abandon its weapons of mass destruction agenda completely.

Resolution 2371 is called "the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against" North Korea. If fully implemented, it will cost North Korea at least $1 billion in foreign exchange revenue a year, one-third of its total export revenue. It will increase the cost of nuclear and missile testing and of owning those expensive facilities by hitting North Korea's "limited source of hard currency." These unprecedented pressures will weigh on its nuclear program, leading to an even poorer economy.

With a push from America, the new sanctions were immediately put into practice. Obviously, the international community including China and Russia, at least for now, unanimously thinks "sanctions are necessary," and Resolution 2371 is seen as their "display of collective power."

North Korea has reacted strongly to the recent UN sanctions against the country over its missile program, saying that it would respond to the UN sanctions with strong follow-up measures. In a statement on August 7, Pyongyang said that it fully rejects UN Security Council sanctions and it "will make the US pay by a thousand-fold for all the heinous crimes it commits against the state and people of this country." It would never "flinch an inch" from its push to strengthen its nuclear deterrence as long as US hostility against North Korea persists.

US President Donald Trump did not forget to stress "military options." White House officials also hinted that the US is capable of destroying North Korea's nuclear program and claimed that "military options" are an increasingly significant reality. After North Korea's second firing of the Hwasong-14 on July 28, two American B-1B bombers flew over the Korean Peninsula on July 30. Then on August 2, the US launched an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile.

Despite strong opposition from China and Russia, South Korean President Moon Jae-In ordered the deployment of four additional THAAD anti-missile defense units, which had been suspended by an environmental assessment.

Tensions keep building on the Korean Peninsula. With China and Russia in picture, there is little possibility the US will use force against North Korea unilaterally. More tangible economic sanctions will squeeze North Korea's room to maneuver and its strategic confidence and threats of "strong follow-up measures" will gradually lose steam.

Then will sanctions reverse North Korea's nuclear development process? The answer is no.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests from 2006 to 2016 as the UN Security Council imposed several rounds of sanctions to stop it. The sanctions cost North Korea a lot. Without access to external resources and the global market, North Korea has suffered from years of slow economic growth, food shortages, foreign exchange deficiencies and energy scarcity.

However, UN sanctions have failed to force North Korea to abandon or freeze its nuclear program, and now it owns nuclear warheads and long-range missiles. Reasons may mainly be North Korea's internal unity, desire for self-sufficiency and determination of betting everything on its drive for nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, North Korea also takes advantage of the lack of discipline among countries imposing the sanctions. The sanctions are weakened by illegal economic activities, and infighting among the big powers.

The binding force of sanctions is limited. Sanctions against North Korea by the UN Security Council are the result of multilateral coordination, for they must spare both people's livelihood and the country's regime. Though compulsory, non-military sanctions have ruled out the possibility of using UN-authorized force against North Korea, which is an important reason behind North Korea's insistence on its nuclear program.

Sanctions against North Korea are actually an important step by the US to solidify its alliance system, rather than an attempt at a sincere solution to the nuclear issue.

Although the US is flexing military muscles against North Korea, it's unlikely it will take real military actions.  So, why not try dialogue to "freeze" the nuclear program as China proposed and follow the Chinese dual suspension proposal, urging North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile testing in exchange for a halt to military drills by US and South Korean forces?

The US and South Korea always accuse China of not playing its due part in solving the problem. They might as well consider the "roadmap" proposed by China and Russia and return to the negotiation table together with North Korea.

The author is director of the Department of International Political Science, College of Political Science and Public Management, Yanbian University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion



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