North Korea Showdown

May 19, 2017 • Volume 27, Issue 19
Can a military confrontation be averted?
By David Hosansky


Should the U.S. tighten penalties on companies dealing with North Korea?


Sue Mi Terry
Managing Director, Korea, Bower Group Asia. Excerpted from testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, on Feb. 7, 2017,

Contrary to what many believe, the U.S. has not yet used every option available at our disposal to ratchet up pressure against the Kim regime. As a near-term solution, there's much more we can still do on sanctions, on human rights, on getting information into the North, as well as on deterrence, defense and on diplomacy….

The first step to raise the cost for North Korea is through stricter sanctions, by adding even more individuals and entities to the sanctions list and by seeking better enforcement of sanctions, including secondary sanctions.

Until February 2016 … U.S. sanctions against North Korea were a mere shadow of the sanctions applied to Iran, Syria or Burma, and even narrower than those applicable to countries like Belarus and Zimbabwe. Thankfully, with the bipartisan support of this committee, the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 was passed and signed into law, and today we finally have stronger sanctions in place.

A month after its passage, in March, the United Nations Security Council also unanimously passed a resolution, U.N. Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2270, imposing new sanctions on the Kim regime, including mining exports.

In June, triggered by the requirements of the Sanctions Act, the Obama administration finally designated North Korea as a primary money laundering concern, and in July, the Treasury Department sanctioned Kim Jong Un and 10 other senior North Korean individuals and five organizations for human rights violations.

In late November, the U.N. Security Council also got around to another round of sanctions, adopting UNSC Resolution 2321, which further caps North Korea's coal exports, its chief source of hard currency.

But for sanctions to work, [they] will need to be pursued over the course of several years as we did with Iran, and most importantly, they need to be enforced. Here, the chief problem has been that Beijing is still reluctant to follow through in fully and aggressively implementing the U.N. sanctions….

Secondary sanctions must be placed on Chinese banks that help North Korea launder its money and Chinese entities that trade with North Korea or are involved with North Korea's procurement activities…. Even if the U.S. has to endure some ire from Beijing for enforcing secondary sanctions, this is exactly what Washington should do.


Doug Bandow
Senior Fellow, Cato Institute; Author, Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World . Written for CQ Researcher, May 2017

No one outside of Pyongyang wants the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to have nuclear weapons. But there is no obvious way to stop North Korea's program, and enhancing sanctions likely won't work.

Despite the claim that the DPRK's leader Kim Jong Un is irrational, he, along with his grandfather and father, behaved rationally in developing nuclear weapons. Otherwise, no one would pay attention to the small, impoverished state. Nukes also offer North Korea national prestige and a tool for extortion. Most important, nuclear weapons are the only sure deterrent to U.S. military action. Washington is allied with the South, routinely deploys threatening naval and air forces near the North and imposes regime change in nations whenever the whim strikes American policymakers.

If diplomacy ever was going to dissuade the North from building nukes, that time has passed. Military action would be a wild gamble and likely would trigger the Second Korean War with catastrophic consequences.

Unfortunately, tougher economic penalties likely will be ineffective without China's cooperation. Winning that assistance requires more than offering unspecified trade concessions. The United States must address Beijing's political and security concerns about a failed DPRK and a reunited, U.S.-allied Korea.

Washington could impose secondary sanctions, penalizing Chinese enterprises dealing with the North. But that would likely generate resistance from China, a rising nationalistic power. Economic penalties also would disrupt Washington's relationship with Beijing in several important areas. North Korea also might well refuse to comply even if the United States imposed more sanctions. The Kim dynasty refused to change policy even during the mass starvation of the 1990s — and survived.

It would be better if the United States took a multifaceted approach toward the DPRK. Washington should coordinate with Japan and South Korea, engage the North, develop a comprehensive offer for Pyongyang, forge a deal with China to win the latter's support and only then press sanctions with Beijing's support if the North refuses to negotiate. Finally, to reduce North Korea's insecurity, Washington should back away from the two Koreas' military struggle. Washington should withdraw its forces from the South because Seoul can defend itself from conventional attack.

There is no simple answer for eliminating Pyongyang's nuclear program, and focusing on more sanctions is unlikely to work.

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Document APA Citation — See Alternate Citation Style
Hosansky, D. (2017, May 19). North Korea showdown. CQ researcher, 27, 433-456. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2017051906
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ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
May 19, 2017  North Korea Showdown
Jul. 05, 2011  North Korean Menace
Apr. 11, 2003  North Korean Crisis
May 19, 2000  Future of Korea
Aug. 12, 1977  Relations with South Korea
Apr. 24, 1968  Divided Korea
Jan. 27, 1960  Korea: Problem Protectorate
Aug. 24, 1951  Rehabilitation of Korea
Nov. 01, 1945  Freedom for Korea
Alliances and Security Agreements
Arms Control and Disarmament
Conflicts in Asia
Diplomacy and Diplomats
Export Sanctions and Restrictions
Party Politics
Regional Political Affairs: East Asia and the Pacific
U.S. at War: Korea
War and Conflict
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