United Nations Security Council Slaps Sanctions On North Korea: Is It Time For A New Formula? – Analysis


A unanimous vote was passed in the United Nations Security Council to add more sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear program, and this marks the eighth round of sanctions imposed on the Hermit kingdom since 2006. There may have been a consensus on the vote, but there are still differences within the U.N on where to go now.

The latest round of sanctions towards Pyongyang is needed at this particular moment because the DPRK Continues to enhance its nuclear capabilities which have violated previous U.N resolutions. A surprising takeaway from these sanctions was that all the members of the security council including China and Russia jumped on board to vote for these sanctions, and it was very encouraging to see everyone agree on this initiative. The question now becomes, how much of an effect will this have on the DPRK from the previous U.N resolutions? Will the sanctions ramp up the pressure on the North Korean government, or will Pyongyang simply continue to do what they are doing right now? More needs to be done by the global community to achieve the goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Why Do These Sanctions Work Now?

The unanimous vote at the United Nations does not necessarily reflect the policies of the countries who voted for the sanctions. There are still deep divides between China and Russia on the one hand, and the United States and the western countries on the other. The reason why China and Russia voted for the sanctions was to ease the tensions with the U.S and its western partners, and they want to test U.S foreign policy on the Korean Peninsula because we don’t know what the Trump Administration will do, and this administration seems unpredictable. The differences may not go away, but U.S foreign policy can cause problems because you cannot have a massive military presence in South Korea and in a month, the DPRK will dissolve its nuclear weapons. Russia and China have started creating a new formula, but the U.S and the west simply do not want to respond.

Within the Trump Administration, there seems to be no consensus on a cohesive foreign policy approach towards North Korea. Secretary of State Tillerson says one thing, Trump says another thing, and CIA director Pompeo says something else. If the goal is a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, then the question still remains, what is a cohesive, effective U.S foreign policy that de-escalates tensions on the Korean Peninsula that avoids a confrontation and enhances diplomacy? We have heard signals from the State Department and the White House that regime change is not the goal, but the goal is to preclude the DPRK from enhancing any nuclear weapons capabilities that are a threat to U.S allies in the region. President Trump did a good job on getting the 15-0 vote in the U.N Security Council and a lot of credit must also go to Russia and China, two countries the U.S has had strained relations with, to send a message that this North Korea issue is a very serious issue that must allow all parties to negotiate on a diplomatic solution.

The goal for everyone in the global community is for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, except the DPRK. The North Koreans want to keep their nuclear deterrent and they have seen around the world that many countries got rid of them, so the DPRK sees getting rid of its nuclear weapons as a threat to their national security, and the Korean War has continued since the 1950’s. Unfortunately, in the case of North Korea, sanctions are not going to work. The DPRK has blown off seven rounds of sanctions by the U.N Security Council since 2006 and it has shown that its population can be paid a heavy price for a long time. Kim Jong Un does not really care about what popular opinion thinks in North Korea. U.S foreign policy needs to face the reality that sanctions will not bring North Korea to the negotiating table. The ICBM’s are a huge concentration, but we have to realize that sanctions are not going to change the DPRK’s behavior, and Seoul is right across the border, so a new formula is desperately needed to solve this problem.

Can a Denuclearized Korean Peninsula be Achieved?

U.S troops, its allies, and all the players in the Asia-Pacific region are in harms way of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The Chinese, led by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, came out with a reasonable proposal called the ‘freeze for freeze policy’ which allows the U.S and South Korea to stop military exercises in exchange for Pyongyang freezing its ballistic nuclear missile tests.

Philosophically, the proposal by Foreign Minister Yi was very well presented, and if this were accepted by all the parties involved to achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula, tensions could diminish in the region. It remains to be seen if the U.S and South Korea would accept this proposal, but while denuclearization remains to be the main objective, we also need to look at the concerns coming from North Korea and look for ways to address their concerns about security and survival. North Korea does worry about what the U.S can do if Pyongyang got rid of their nuclear weapons, but efforts need to be made by the U.S and its allies to take North Korea’s security concerns into consideration. If they don’t, then the U.S message to the world would seem confusing and incoherent for achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula.

One of the consistencies the U.S has calculated is that China is the key to resolving the Korean Peninsula tensions. China has economic leverage on the DPRK, it has reduced coal exports to North Korea and it has reduced trade, but China alone cannot solve this problem. China also has past political relationships with the DPRK that go back to the Cold War era, but there has been a lot of pushback by China that indicates that the DPRK is a security threat to East Asia, and we all need to deal with it. China has always been an important factor when it boils down to the Korean Peninsula, but we also need to be realistic about how much China can do, and what the ultimate impact would be if China can continue to exercise its influence on the situation.

On the other hand, the United States must stop pointing fingers at China saying that China is the problem, so again, the U.S consistency is flawed, and re-engaging China must be the solution for there to be a diplomatic settlement.

There is this view in Beijing that Donald Trump’s tweets and others in the foreign policy establishment point the finger at China on North Korea and that China alone has to solve this. But at the same time, the U.S has threatened trade sanctions on China, they have sanctioned Chinese banks that have business connections with the DPRK, but again, China cannot solve this problem on their own. Around 90% of North Korea’s exports go to China, so China does play an existential role from an economic perspective, but North Korea’s economy is not an economy that is linked to the global community. North Korea is very self-sufficient, and it will be difficult for the global community to really pressure North Korea with sanctions, so there needs to be a new formula for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Vincent Lofaso

Vincent Lofaso is a recent graduate of Manhattan College with a Political Science major with a focus in international affairs. Most of his research is related on geopolitical and security issues.

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