(Nikki Haley, current UN ambassador and a key to the negotiations around the current North Korean sanctions. Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore, via Flickr.)
Tensions around the Korean Peninsula rose even higher after North Korea test-launched another missile and the UN Security Council unanimously passed newer, tougher sanctions on the country. In response, the North Korean government vowed that it would deal the U.S. the “greatest pain it has ever experienced in its history.” U.S. President Donald Trump also made clear his desire to hit North Korea even harder, with more intense sanctions later.
The current sanctions go after North Korean oil imports, textile exports, and overseas workers. The ban on oil imports is only partial, meant to handicap North Korea’s million man army, while the sanction completely banned purchasing North Korea textile exports. North Korea exports some 700 million US dollars worth of textiles a year–their second biggest export. Overseas workers also add a sizable chunk to North Korea’s economy with the money they send back home. By cutting them off, the US hopes to remove 500 million U.S. dollars from the North Korean government’s budget. Overall, the sanctions could cause over a billion dollars worth of damage to a country that only made around 28.5 billion dollars in 2016.
Still, the sanctions were lighter than what the US government originally wanted–and still wants. In order to get Russia and China– North Korea’s biggest allies to sign on, the U.S. needed to water the sanctions down. Most notably, the U.S. wanted to completely cut off oil imports to North Korea–a move that would handicap the country.
Russia and China have their own frustrations with North Korea, but neither want to see the regime collapse. Both have urged the U.S. and North Korea to come together and negotiate. China has pushed a “freeze for a freeze” plan where the U.S. halts building missile defenses and performing military drills in South Korea in exchange for North Korea halting their nuclear program. Both powers see the regime collapsing as a threat to the region. They also claim that North Korea will not relent when threatened.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin went so far as to say “sanctions of any kind are useless and ineffective. They’ll [The North Koreans will] eat grass, but they won’t abandon their program unless they feel secure.” China’s Foreign Ministry also set down a clear line against deposing the North Korean regime by saying that “the Chinese side will never allow conflict or war on the peninsula.” Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and President Donald Trump have both called for deeper sanctions. Tensions in Korea have soared, but they may still soar higher.