News / Asia

Effectiveness of UN Sanctions on North Korea Questioned

In this Dec. 12, 2012 file image made from video, North Korea's Unha-3 rocket lifts off from the Sohae launching station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea.
In this Dec. 12, 2012 file image made from video, North Korea's Unha-3 rocket lifts off from the Sohae launching station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea.
As the world waits to see whether North Korea will follow through on its threat to conduct a third nuclear test, some analysts say the international community should look into new ways of dealing with Pyongyang.

Last month, North Korea promised to soon conduct a "high-level" nuclear test after the United Nations Security Council tightened sanctions against the communist state. The 15-member body was responding to a November long-range rocket launch that North Korea was banned from conducting under previous U.N. sanctions.

Sanctions not working

If the new threat is carried out, it would be the third time in the last seven years that North Korea has conducted a nuclear test following U.N. condemnations of its rocket launches, raising serious questions about the effectiveness of the U.N.'s strategy toward Pyongyang's advancing nuclear weapons program.

The latest Security Council resolution, which expands asset freezes and travel bans on several North Korean entities, virtually assured that Pyongyang would conduct another nuclear test, according to Korea analyst Ben Habib of Australia's Latrobe University.

"We've seen in the past whenever the international community tries to 'tighten the noose' on North Korea, it has the opposite effect of provoking more escalatory behavior," Habib says. "I'm quite certain that's going to happen again here."

But he says it is unclear what else the Security Council can do, other than take steps to target outside entities that help North Korea get around the sanctions.

Negotiations the best way forward?

Others say negotiations, not more sanctions, may be the most effective method moving forward.

"It looks like it's time to look at the possibility of talking to the North Koreans, rather than pushing them further toward the corner," says Leonid Petrov, a Korea researcher at the Australian National University.

North Korean Nuclear Tests

2006
  • Carried out underground at Punggye-ri
  • Powered by plutonium
  • Released radioactive materials

2009
  • Carried out underground at Punggye-ri
  • Seismic signals were consistent with a nuclear test
  • Radioactive material was not detected
If the United States and its allies were to hold talks with North Korea, Petrov says they should not take place in the context of the stalled, six-party negotiations, which North Korea walked out of in 2009.

"[The talks should probably take place] in the form of bilateral negotiations and agreements between Pyongyang and Washington, Pyongyang and Seoul, Pyongyang and Beijing, Moscow, and Tokyo - bilaterally rather than multilaterally," he says.

Petrov also suggests the United States and its allies should not give up on offering aid to win concessions from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has promised to use this year to improve the lives of his people, following years of food shortages and famine.

China plays key role

But whether through sanctions or negotiations, it seems that China, North Korea's only major ally, will play an important part in helping reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Linda Jakobsen of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy, says it is encouraging that Beijing backed the latest Security Council resolution, saying it could be a sign that China's frustration with North Korea has "reached the point of exasperation."

"This could be a signal that China is more ready than it has been in the recent past to back a tougher response against North Korea," says Jakobsen, who also warns that it is unclear how far Beijing is ready to go. "One must always remember that China's long-standing policy when it comes to North Korea is no war, no instability, and no nukes - and in that order."

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