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Questions Linger After Sanctions

Prepared by: Carin Zissis
Updated: October 16, 2006


The UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution imposing sanctions against North Korea for its October 9 nuclear test, but the document's vague wording raises questions on how it will be enforced. It remains unclear, for example, whether economic activity between North Korea and its main trading partners—namely China and South Korea—would be affected (LAT). Both countries indicated their intention to continue cross-border trade and carry out a number of economic projects already in the works (NYT). Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels to the region this week in an effort to press these countries to carry out the sanctions regime (CSMonitor).

Over the past week of intense diplomatic negotiations, UN Security Council members struggled to find consensus on how harshly the regime should be disciplined for the test, which the United States has confirmed was nuclear. The differences (BBC) among main Security Council and regional actors reflect long-standing preferences by some states to coax, rather than punish, poorly behaving regimes. Before the approval of the UN resolution, Japan had already passed strong unilateral sanctions (Mainichi) banning North Korean ships in its waters, imports, and citizens. In spite of taking a hardline approach to the Hermit Kingdom, the nuclear crisis has given Shinzo Abe, Japan’s new prime minister, common ground to mend relations with China and South Korea, as this new Backgrounder explains.

R. Nicholas Burns, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, says the North Korea crisis presents an opportunity for Washington to strengthen its strategic position in Asia. Yan Xuetong, a Chinese security expert, tells Der SpiegelAmerica committed a grave mistake” that caused the current problem when it imposed sanctions last year excluding North Korea from participating in international banking. Peter Hayes and Tim Savage of the Nautilus Institute say Beijing—along with Seoul and Moscow—knows that bringing down the regime with financial punishment could result in nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. But Beijing signaled it would go along with the UN agreement when it began inspecting cargo trucks (Reuters) Monday along its border with North Korea.

Ross Terrill of Harvard’s East Asia Center says the UN resolution won’t resolve the problem, and that “less perilous for nearly everyone than either war or diplomatic Band-Aids are steps toward Korean reunification.” (Australian). The “only way to disarm the regime is to destroy it,” Charles Krauthammer writes in the Washington Post, but says this won’t come to pass because the United States will not go to war with North Korea. Sanctions and military action have emerged as options to confront the threat, and an essay published by the American Society of International Law looks at the legality of aggressive responses to Weapons of Mass Destruction. Recent sanctions placed on North Korea by Japan and Australia are summarized by Arms Control Today.

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