Sanctioning the DPRK? This Time It’s All about Implementation Not Design

South Korea missiles on display.

This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 14 March 2016.

In the wake of the nuclear and missile tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) calls were renewed for further sanctions on the regime in Pyongyang. It was claimed, as it was in 2006, 2009, and 2013, that with China fully on board these sanctions had a chance of greater success in producing a cessation of the DPRK’s nuclear ambitions. The weeks of discussion between the US and China to craft the sanctions also indicated that the 2016 resolution would be a landmark agreement. Surprisingly then, in the immediate assessments, it may be that for the first time it is Russia (rather than China) that has become the ‘wild card’ regarding sanctions and the DPRK.

However, there are reasons to doubt whether extended sanctions will produce the outcomes that key players want to achieve and also how much of a step change these sanctions actually present. The reason for my caution is two-fold. First, this claim is based on a judgement that China’s interests are now more in-step with the US and other powers than they had previously been (and that Russia won’t be a problem). Second, it suggests that a key stumbling block was in the scope and scale of the sanctions rather than their implementation.

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North Korea’s Blackmail Missile

Korea

Korea. Photo: jon.t/flickr.

TOKYO – The Unha-3 rocket launched from Sohae in North Korea on the morning of December 12 passed through Japanese air space over the island of Okinawa 12 minutes later, and crashed into the Pacific Ocean roughly 300 kilometers east of the Philippines. The launch could be considered a mild surprise, because South Korean intelligence sources had suggested that it had been canceled.

More surprising was the success of the launch, which makes North Korea the tenth member of the world’s “Space Club” (the ninth member was Iran, which successfully launched its Safir rocket in 2008). The Unha-3, a three-stage rocket weighing 92 tons, follows the Unha-2, which failed spectacularly in 2009, so the evident progress that North Korea has made in its missile technology in such a short period has shocked governments around the world.

The United Nations Security Council responded by debating a resolution on strengthening sanctions against North Korea. Only China – no surprise – opposed new sanctions, stressing that “actions that heighten tension on the Korean Peninsula should not be taken.” China has agreed to Security Council resolutions against Iran on several occasions, but it has backed sanctions against North Korea on only two, both coming after the North conducted nuclear tests (in 2006 and 2009). » More

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