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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Update: This story originally said that a comprehensive arms trade embargo would close a loophole that has allowed North Korea to import “light arms, conventional weapons and ammunition,” as opposed to “small arms, light weapons, and ammunition.” We regret the error.
The U.S. presented a punishing new sanctions package to the UN Security Council on Thursday, responding to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and February rocket launch, events which violated four sets of international sanctions.
With a Security Council vote on the measures assumed to take place this weekend, the new sanctions package – which has crucial Chinese backing – will represent the sharpest ever rise in international pressure on North Korea if it is approved.
Perhaps most significantly, international scrutiny and pressure on North Korea’s shipping industry, a key vector in Pyongyang’s illicit networks, will increase significantly.
“For the first time in history, all cargo going in and out of the DPRK (North Korea) would be subjected to mandatory inspection,” said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power on Thursday after submitting the draft to the Security Council.
Such measures would stop North Korean ships suspected of carrying illegal goods from ports worldwide and ground North Korean flights suspected of carrying contraband
Tightened financial sanctions will target North Korean banks and monetary assets, while Pyongyang’s largest cash cow – the export of coal, iron, gold and rare earth minerals – will be limited and in “some instances (banned) outright,” according to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power on Thursday.
A proposed cut-off of jet fuel deliveries, which can have applications not just in aircraft but also rocket fuel, will not include exemptions for civilian purposes, meaning North Korea’s state airline Air Koryo could face significant hurdles in keeping its fleet in the air.
However, one observer said the effect of this could be questionable. “On paper North Korean imports of kerosene from China have been negligible since March 2014,” said Leo Byrne, NK News data and analytic director. “This implies the data is inaccurate, or the DPRK can refine the fuel themselves.”
A total embargo on arms trade will close a loophole that has – despite three nuclear tests and multiple rocket launches – continued to allow North Korea to import small arms, light weapons and ammunition.
And vague legal language over the type of luxury products that should be banned from export to North Korea will be tightened, with the AP news agency reporting that “luxury watches, snowmobiles, recreational water vehicles and lead crystal,” will be added to the list of products banned from sale to the DPRK.
UNAMBIGUOUS MESSAGE, AMBIGUOUS IMPLEMENTATION
“These sanctions, if adopted, would send an unambiguous and unyielding message to the DPRK’s regime the world will not accept your proliferation,” Ambassador Power said on Thursday in remarks carried by Yonhap. “There will be consequences for your actions and we will work relentlessly and collectively to stop your nuclear program.”
Dr. Stephen Haggard of UC San Diego said that if implemented, “on top of Kaesong and secondary sanctions, there is no question this will have material effect (on North Korea).”
“The preliminary announcements suggest a substantial shift in Chinese policy if the measures are fully enforced,” he said. “By far the most significant measure – again if enforced – is the willingness of China to go after North Korea’s commercial trade by restricting – and perhaps even banning – mineral imports.
“From 2011-2013, following official Chinese encouragement of direct investment in North Korea, minerals shot up from about 40% of North Korea’s exports to fully 60%,” he continued. “Other measures, such as small conventional weapons sales and slowing shipping by insisting on inspections, are nuisance measures by comparison.”
But another expert told NK News on Friday that if a vote for the proposals is secured, which is expected, the effectiveness of the sanctions regime will depend in large part on how tightly implemented it is.
“Will China strictly enforce the sanctions?” asked Daniel Pinkston of Troy University. “My assessment is China will calibrate enforcement based upon North Korean behavior.”
And in that regard, Haggard said China was likely keeping the door open to further talks with North Korea.
“China would not be making these concessions if it didn’t want something in return and that “something” is going to be resumption of talks,” he said. “Those could be the Six Party Talks or some omnibus talks that would roll together discussions of a peace regime, as proposed by Wang Yi last week.”
A RETURN TO 2013?
If implemented, Kim Jong Un will face significant pressure to respond, especially given the context of a forthcoming Workers’ Party of Korea Congress.
“I think he will be facing extraordinary internal constraints and internal pressure to respond,” said Pinkston. “If he does not, he runs a high risk of being viewed as weak.
“And inside a dictatorship like North Korea, it is very dangerous to be perceived as weak … It is inevitable and unavoidable, but we are entering a dangerous period.”
“If we make it through this one without some kind of kinetic clash, we will be facing periodic episodes of rising tensions and increasing risks of conflict,” Pinkston added.
And if the sanctions go ahead, it’s possible that recent personnel changes promoting a number of hard-liners inside North Korea could contribute to a harsh response from Pyongyang.
“Three recent appointments — Rim Kwang Il, Kim Yong Chol and Ri Myong Su — suggest the country will answer a new round of denunciations with heightened brinkmanship in advance of its 7th Party Congress,” wrote Michael Madden on Thursday at the 38 North website.
As a result, “Pyongyang watchers should expect the coming months to resemble the tense geostrategic environment last seen during the spring of 2013,” continued Madden, “when Pyongyang declared a national emergency, mobilized its military and declared that the safety of foreign citizens in the two Koreas could not be guaranteed.”
Featured Image: UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Update: This story originally said that a comprehensive arms trade embargo would close a loophole that has allowed North Korea to import "light arms, conventional weapons and ammunition," as opposed to "small arms, light weapons, and ammunition." We regret the error.
The U.S. presented a punishing new sanctions package to the UN Security Council on Thursday, responding to North Korea's fourth nuclear test and February rocket launch, events which violated four sets of international sanctions.