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11 Mar. 2013: The challenge of implementing the new sanctions against North Korea

Is United Nations Security Council Resolution 2094 tougher than previous resolutions?

The latest round of UN sanctions on North Korea strengthens measures in existing resolutions by making some mandatory and extending the scope of others. The strength of these measures will depend on the willingness and resources of the states being asked to enforce them. 

States are now required to inspect cargo where there is credible information indicating that doing so would prevent the transfer of banned items. Another new inclusion aimed at limiting illicit transfers asks member states to deny the use of their ports and air space when required. Together with the freezing of financial support, these new tools will only be applied in cases where the evasion of sanctions is likely.

China’s role in implementing the sanctions will be crucial
However, while all member states have been asked to implement these new measures, their strength will be ultimately determined by China’s actions. The majority of North Korean cargo—including illicit consignments of military and dual-use goods—passes through Chinese ports and airspace. Two of the three newly designated individuals specified in UN Security Council Resolution 2094 are cited as being based in the Chinese port city of Dalian.

China previously voted against some of these new measures; their inclusion in the most recent set of sanctions shows signs of China’s growing frustration with North Korea. Whether this will lead to increased implementation remains to be seen. Recent statements from the Chinese Government echo its previously expressed view that political dialogue—rather than punitive sanctions—will stabilize the Korean peninsula.

Targeting North Korea’s proliferation financing networks
UN Security Council Resolution 2094 urges UN member states to exercise enhanced vigilance with respect to North Korean diplomatic personnel and consignments of bulk cash. The inclusion of these measures comes after numerous incidents involving illicit activities conducted under the cover of diplomatic immunity. Imports of foreign cash from insurance payouts as well the production of counterfeit bank notes has been cited as providing a lifeline to North Korea’s proliferation financing. 

However, this new focus on state personnel and unconventional financing also underscores an attempt to target the small number of individuals involved in arms smuggling and proliferation without heavily affecting North Korea’s impoverished population. For example, overflight denial—another new addition specified in the resolution—is known to be an effective means of enforcing arms embargoes with minimal economic impact. This measure has previously been applied to North Korean flights of proliferation concern (although not by China, through which most such flights must pass).

Along with the strengthening of financial sanctions in this latest resolution, these new, targeted measures could be taken up by member states and effectively used to slow supplies of strategic goods destined for North Korea’s nuclear programme. This will require, amongst other things, the application of sanctions in deregulated business and free-trade zones used by North Korean smuggling and proliferation networks. 

Read the SIPRI essay by Hugh Griffiths and Lawrence Dermody from February 2013 on how to make North Korean sanctions work