The UN Security Council on March 7 unanimously adopted a resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s third nuclear test.
Several former U.S. officials, however, said that heightened sanctions will not defuse the escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.
At a March 7 press briefing after the sanctions were adopted, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Resolution 2094 demonstrates to Pyongyang the “increasing costs” of “defying the international community.” But in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the same day, Stephen Bosworth, a former U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, warned that the United States should not be “under any illusions that sanctions are going to solve this problem.”
Resolution 2094 builds on three earlier resolutions, dating back to October 2006 (see box), that require North Korea to refrain from nuclear and ballistic missile testing and abandon its nuclear program. The resolutions also restrict North Korea from importing conventional weapons, luxury goods, and materials to develop its nuclear and missile programs. Resolutions adopted in October 2006 and June 2009 were responses to nuclear tests, while the third resolution, passed Jan. 22, followed North Korea’s satellite launch last December. North Korea is prohibited from launching satellites because the technology is directly applicable to ballistic missile development.
In addition to extending the list of materials that Pyongyang cannot import, Resolution 2094 gives states broader rights to inspect cargo that passes through their territories if the states suspect that the cargo may contain illicit materials being imported or exported by North Korea.
At the March 7 hearing, Glyn Davies, who succeeded Bosworth as North Korea envoy in January 2012, said the interdiction measures in the resolution were a positive step because the export of armaments is a “key source of income” for Pyongyang. The United States should keep working in this area “first and foremost,” he said.
The resolution also prohibits “bulk” cash transfers into North Korea, restricts Pyongyang’s financial activities, and calls on UN member states to “exercise enhanced vigilance” over North Korean diplomats.
Carney said that the Security Council also “will take additional measures in the event of another nuclear test or launch.”
Security Council Sanctions on North Korea
Over the past seven years, the UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions imposing sanctions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities. All four resolutions passed unanimously.
North Korean Response
The day after the sanctions were adopted, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson as saying that Pyongyang viewed the sanctions as a “hostile act” that is “creating [a] vicious cycle of tension.”
The ministry also announced that the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which ended hostilities in the Korean War, would be invalid as of March 11 and reiterated its earlier statement that the joint denuclearization declaration it signed with South Korea in 1992 was void. Under the terms of the joint declaration, both countries agreed not to test, produce, receive, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons.
Another former U.S. special envoy to North Korea, Joseph DeTrani, said on March 21 that North Korea’s rhetoric and actions were no longer “normal” and that the situation “needs to be defused quickly.”
Speaking at a March 21 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, DeTrani, who also served as director of the National Counterproliferation Center and now is president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, said that Pyongyang’s actions over the past month have been an attempt to “lock in its nuclear program” so that “negotiations become nonproliferation discussions, not disarmament discussions,” that therefore focus on preventing North Korea from spreading its weapons or technology to others.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice reiterated the U.S. policy of denuclearization in a March 7 statement, saying that the “entire world stands united” behind this goal.
Bosworth, who is dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said in his testimony that a solution to North Korea’s nuclear program will come only by addressing “broader considerations of a peace treaty to replace the armistice,” diplomatic relations, economic aid, and energy assistance.
DeTrani said China could play an important role in defusing the building tension and in reinstituting talks with North Korea, noting that Beijing played an integral role in bringing Pyongyang into the six-party talks in 2003.
Those talks, which also include Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, broke down in 2009 when Pyongyang declared it would no longer participate. In 2005 the talks resulted in an agreement under which North Korea in 2007 dismantled its heavy-water reactor, which had produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for an estimated four to eight warheads.
Bosworth said he was not optimistic about relying on China. Beijing faces an “essential conundrum” because China does not want a nuclear-armed North Korea but is concerned that too much pressure may cause the regime to collapse, he said.
Officials argue that China needs to play a stronger role in implementing existing sanctions. Davies said in his testimony that the United States takes Chinese officials “at their word” that sanctions are being enforced but that Washington will “continue to engage” with Beijing to “ensure that the Chinese do the maximum amount they can” in this area.
On March 18, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga confirmed reports from last November that Japan had intercepted a ship from North Korea carrying aluminum rods that Pyongyang is banned from exporting because they are suitable for building centrifuges. (See ACT, December 2012.)
The cargo was shipped through China last August on a Singapore-flagged ship, according to the statement. Suga did not confirm the final destination of the cargo. Newspapers, however, quoted officials in November as saying it was bound for Myanmar. In a Nov. 27 letter, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who left office in January, asked Myanmar President Thein Sein to explain the shipment. The Myanmar government said that the materials were being shipped to a private company, rather than the state.
Former officials testifying at the March 7 hearing agreed that North Korea’s illicit networks pose a significant proliferation concern. Robert Joseph, former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the committee that North Korea is a “serial proliferator” and “will sell what it has” to states and subnational groups. DeTrani called these proliferation concerns a central issue and said China is aware of them.