On December 23, 2017, the United Nations (UN) unanimously voted to enforce strict new sanctions on North Korea. These sanctions are in response to the recent missile launches from North Korea, particularly the one which Pyongyang says is capable of reaching anywhere in the United States.
While there is still debate as to whether or not the missiles are actually capable of reaching the U.S., with the passing of these sanctions, the UN has made clear they are not taking any chance with North Korea. Instead, the actions taken demonstrate their continued efforts to keep North Korea in line and prevent a potential nuclear holocaust from taking place. In the words of Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, “The unity this council has shown in leveling these unprecedented sanctions is a reflection of the international outrage at the Kim regime’s actions.”
The sanctions in question touch on a number of topics, including lower limits on North Korean oil imports, the return of all North Korean workers overseas within a period of 24 months, and a crackdown on ships which smuggle banned items, such as coil and oil, to and from the nation.
The resolution, drafted by the United States and negotiated with China, drew criticism from Russia for the short time the 13 other council countries had to consider the text, and last-minute changes to the text. One of those changes was raising the deadline for North Korean workers to return home from 12 months to 24 months. More specifically, the resolution caps crude oil imports to 4m barrels a year. All imports of refined oil products, such as kerosene and diesel, are capped at 500,000 barrels a year, a drop from the 2m barrels authorized in early September.
As the sanction bans nearly 90% of the refined products, a key component in the North Korean economy, the country will almost certainly begin to feel the pressure to stop their ballistic missile tests in order to continue receiving imports from other nations. Without these products, it is difficult for North Korea itself to run, let alone continue their missile tests.
Furthermore, the sanctions also ban the exportation of numerous items, such as food, machinery, earth, wood, and electrical equipment among other products from North Korea. In the same vein, all countries are banned from exporting industrial equipment, machinery, vehicles, and industrial materials to North Korea.
Despite the strict new regulations, the sanctions did not include further sanction support by President Donald Trump, which included the ban of all oil imports as well to freeze the international assets of the nation and leader, Kim Jong-Un. However, it is likely that the UN did not want to undertake such drastic measures unless absolutely necessary.
The most surprising sanction in the resolution pertains to the removal of all North Korean workers within 24 months, a decision which has received some backlash. Many feel sending workers back to a violent, oppressive regime is not the best course of action. However, concerns that their wages were funding the government, and North Korea’s missile program, led to the ultimate decision to remove the workers. While this is a drastic step, in the words of France’s UN ambassador, François Delattre, “We believe maximum pressure today is our best lever to a political and diplomatic solution tomorrow … [and] our best antidote to the risk of war.”
The decision to remove workers also involves a cut off on new work permits. Combined, these actions will cost North Korea an estimated $500 million a year once all of the current work permits expire, of which there are an estimated 93,000. The loss of these funds will be a heavy hit to North Korea and their economy, and likely stunt their ability to continue their ballistic missile tests. The UN only hopes that the actions they have taken not only show a united front against the nation, but demonstrate their serious efforts to prevent nuclear war at all costs.