The Cable

U.N. Votes For New Sanctions Against North Korea

North Koreans working abroad are a source of cash. They won’t be anymore.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley votes during a U.N. Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York City on Dec. 22. (Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley votes during a U.N. Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York City on Dec. 22. (Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations Security Council on Friday unanimously voted to apply tougher sanctions on North Korea. The penalties, drafted by the United States in response to Pyongyang’s November 28 launch of its most advanced ballistic missile, include a measure to reduce the import of refined petroleum products into North Korea by almost 90 percent.

Last month, North Korea shrugged off White House threats, and fired off its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15, on a 53-minute flight that reached higher and traveled further than any previous rocket, before landing in the Sea of Japan. The launch provided the clearest evidence to date that North Korea possesses the technical capacity to target the U.S. mainland.

The 15-0 vote, which came one day after the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly denounced President Donald Trump’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, demonstrated Washington’s ability to rally international support in the face of a critical security threat. It also comes after the White House claimed North Korea was responsible for last May’s international Wannacry cyber attack.

Building upon September’s U.N Security Council resolution, already deemed the strongest sanctions imposed on North Korea, this new raft of penalties target North Korea’s export, import, and maritime sectors, in addition to its energy security. The sanctions require all countries employing North Korean guest workers and their security monitors to send them home within 24 months, and effectively bans the country’s citizens from working abroad.

Approximately 93,000 North Koreans are working in foreign countries. Historically, North Korean workers abroad have served as a source of hard currency for the regime, sending home up to $500 hundred million annually, according to U.S Ambassador to the U.N Nikki Haley.

The resolution also bans all remaining categories of major North Korean exports, including textiles, and forbids North Korea from importing heavy machinery, industrial equipment, and transportation vehicles. In 2016, these items, worth nearly $1.2 billion, made up 30 percent of North Korea’s 2016 imports, according to the United Nations. The resolution also adds a new requirement stipulating that all countries stopping North Korean ships caught smuggling illicit items, including oil and coal, seize and impound those vessels.

To further pressure North Korea, the resolution singles out 16 additional individuals and one entity connected to the financing and development of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs for special designation on the U.N. sanctions list.

Haley heralded the unanimous vote as an “unambiguous message to Pyongyang that further defiance will invite further punishment and isolation,” and stated that the unity of the Security Council reflected international outrage against Pyongyang’s recklessness.

While Security Council members were careful to assign blame for any pain ordinary North Koreans may face as a result of these new sanctions to the regime in Pyongyang, the sanctions are expected to place great strain on North Korean society. “If it is indeed implemented, then we should see not only economic distress but potentially some humanitarian distress,” said Scott Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy.

Noting that he believed the sanctions approach were the least costly of available options, Snyder added that their success, which he considered to be a low probability, would depend on their ability to divide North Korea’s elite.

“The challenge here is that North Korea’s leader has tied his legitimacy to nuclear weapons and has tied his survival to nuclear weapons,” he said. “The only way that is going to work is if it has an impact internally on elite cohesion in ways that cause Kim Jong Un to recognize that he is going in the wrong direction.”

Martin de Bourmont is a journalist based in Washington. Twitter: @MBourmont

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