As the UN Security Council assembles to vote for a new round of sanctions against North Korea, experts warn of consequences for the U.S. and the world as a whole.
The UN Security Council will vote late Monday on a new watered-down sanctions resolution against Pyongyang in response to the regime’s sixth nuclear test earlier this month. While the sanctions are set to ban North Korea from importing natural gas liquids, the rogue state has already reacted with a series of threats.
Earlier on Monday, Pyongyang warned that it will inflict “the greatest pain and suffering” on the U.S. if the toughest sanctions ever on the Kim Jong-un regime are approved by the UN.
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What’s in the new sanctions resolution against North Korea?
The new sanctions resolution eliminated Washington’s initial demands to ban all oil imports to North Korea, freeze the international assets of leader Kim and his government, and authorize the use of force against nine ships that have carried out activities prohibited by previous UN sanctions.
The draft obtained by the media on Monday shows the result of Sunday’s negotiations between the U.S. and China, North Korea’s key oil supplier and major trading partner. The draft shows that the new sanctions – if approved by the UN on Monday – would ban Pyongyang from importing natural gas liquids and put restrictions on the rogue state’s imports of refined petroleum products and crude oil. The new watered-down sanctions resolution is also set to ban all textile exports, the main source of hard currency for North Korea.
While experts say that the new round of sanctions has the “potential to do some damage” to the North’s economy, how might Pyongyang, which has an infamously long track record of making bizarre threats against the U.S., respond to the imminent threat to its own well-being?
North Korea to have a “provocative, calculated” response, experts warn
In a statement issued early Monday, North Korea said it was “ready and willing” to respond with measures of its own if the U.S.-backed proposal is approved by the UN. Pyongyang added in the statement that Washington will pay a heavy price for the new measures against the Kim regime.
When he spoke to ValueWalk hours before the UN’s meeting on Monday, a former U.S. Department of State diplomat specializing in North Korea reminded us that Pyongyang has “a pattern of making bellicose threats toward Washington and Seoul that Pyongyang has no intention of actually implementing.” Mintaro Oba advised senior officials in President Barack Obama’s administration on key issues in U.S.-Korea relations in 2016.
Mr. Oba told us that he expects the rogue state to show “a provocative, but calculated response designed to show domestic and international audiences it is not deterred by the latest round of sanctions.”
When asked if the toughest sanctions resolution ever could cripple North Korea’s economy, Mr. Oba said the new sanctions have “the potential to do some damage,” but he added that “the key question is really how rigorously they will be enforced.”
Washington reportedly watered down its initial demands for the UN sanctions resolution against Pyongyang in the hope to win support from Russia and China. Moscow and Beijing are two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council that have shown reluctance to support the tough measures suggested by the U.S. against North Korea.
The former advisor for the Obama administration also warned that North Korea “won’t feel the heat from the pressure campaign until sanctions start to directly affect North Korean elites, whose support is important to the Kim regime and who depend on foreign currency to maintain their privileged lifestyles.”
North Korea to meet pressure with “defiance,” experts warn
While the revised draft sanctions resolution was reportedly stripped of America’s initial demands to halt oil exports to North Korea and freeze Kim’s and his government’s assets, Pyongyang is still most likely to “meet pressure with defiance.” A Japan and Korea editor at the East Asia Forum, Ben Ascione, tells ValueWalk that North Korea has “proven adept at evading sanctions over the years.”
The draft obtained by the media early Monday showed that the oil embargo was replaced with a proposal to gradually reduce oil imports to North Korea. Another concession to win support from China and Russia is softening the initial restrictions on North Koreans working outside the rogue nation, where they earn and send to North Korea much-needed foreign currency to keep the Kim regime afloat.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country itself is facing a heavy weight under international sanctions for annexing Crimea in 2014, has previously argued that sanctions against North Korea are not effective in halting the Kim regime’s missile and nuclear programs. The Russian leader also slammed the oil embargo, arguing that such strict measures could hurt the North Korean people.
China has expressed a similar sentiment and has been reluctant to go fully onboard with the U.S.-proposed sanctions resolutions against its major economic partner.
Sanctions to have “crippling effects” on the North’s economy if “effectively implemented”
When speaking to ValueWalk ahead of the much-anticipated meeting by the UN Security Council on Monday, Mr. Ascione argued that the oil embargo could have “crippling effects” on the North Korean economy “if effectively implemented.”
The research associate of the Japan Center for International Exchange in Tokyo stressed that even if “crippling pressure” is applied against North, there is “no guarantee that Kim Jong-un will capitulate given the country’s historical national mentality of facing threats in all sides.”
Mr. Ascione also warned that China may be “hesitant to apply such crippling pressure out of fear that a North Korean collapse would result in flows of refugees across its northeastern border and that a unified Korea would deprive it of a buffer zone and see US troops stationed along its border.”
Ever since the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed to end the hostilities of the Korean War in 1953, China has greatly relied on North Korea as a buffer zone between itself and the U.S. military forces stationed in South Korea.
U.S. should brace for “a worst case scenario”
Mr. Ascione also argued that the U.S. should brace for “a worst case scenario on the Korean peninsula.” The researcher said the U.S., China, South Korea and Japan would need to “bolster multilateral contingency planning to be ready to deal with a worst case scenario” if the UN sanctions are approved.
“If China gets on board with an oil embargo, and if the aim is to cripple to North Korean economy, then the international community should position such pressure within a broader strategy towards realizing a negotiated settlement and should bolster multilateral contingency planning,” Mr. Ascione explained.
The new international pressure against North Korea has been triggered by its claimed test of a hydrogen bomb on September 3. The hydrogen bomb is said to be capable of being loaded onto an intercontinental missile (ICBM), something that has given a serious headache to the U.S. and its allies. Given that the North’s missile and nuclear tests are getting bigger year after year, the rogue state could be inching closer to its ultimate goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
But Mr. Ascione argues that Pyongyang has the ability “to inflict pain on the U.S. and its allies in the region” even “without resorting to nuclear options.” The researcher explained that the nation has “heavy artillery amassed along the DMZ (Korean Demilitarized Zone) which is able to target the 25 million people living in the greater Seoul area.”
North Korea’s missiles are also capable of targeting South Korea, Japan and U.S. military bases in these countries, the researcher warned.
What’s inside North Korea’s secret nuclear box?
North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, the most recent, which Mr. Ascione reminds us “yielded its biggest explosion yet at an estimated 100 kilotons (5 times bigger than the atomic bombs the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 while its previous five tests failed to surpass that),” showed that Pyongyang has made significant advancements in its nuclear and missile technologies since Kim assumed power in 2011.
The researcher adds that there are doubts as to whether North Korea can “sufficiently miniaturize a nuclear warhead for use on ICBMs and whether its ICBMS can survive the re-entry stage through the earth’s atmosphere.” However, he also warns that it’s “possible” Pyongyang will “solve these issues as early as in the coming couple of years.”