U.N. Finally Hits Back at North Korea

But little hope that the Communist prison state will change course.

The United Nations Security Council displayed a rare sign of effectiveness on March 7th by passing unanimously its most toughly worded resolution to date (Resolution 2094) against North Korea. It condemns the rogue state's nuclear test last month and imposes significant new penalties under the Council's enforcement powers pursuant to Chapter VII of the UN Charter.  More than three weeks had elapsed following North Korea's test before the United States and China found enough common ground to agree on the text of a resolution, but they were finally able to do so.

After the passage of Resolution 2094, both U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice and China's UN Ambassador Li Baodong expressed satisfaction with their accomplishment. Ambassador Rice, who smiled noticeably as she emerged from the Security Council chamber to speak with reporters, chose to emphasize the scope and strength of the new sanctions, saying that they "will bite and bite hard." She added that "the entire world stands united in our commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and in our demand that North Korea comply with its international obligations. If it does not, then the Security Council committed today, in this resolution, to take further significant measures if there is another nuclear test or missile launch. We regret that North Korea has again chosen the path of provocation instead of the path of peace."

Ambassador Li Baodong was more circumspect, but pointed out that the resolution is a reflection of the determination of the international community to stand against nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula. He said that China voted for the resolution because it regarded the resolution as "balanced" and" proportionate," with appropriate focus on the nuclear issue. He characterized the resolution as one step in "a long journey" and called for resumption of the six party talks as soon as possible to help achieve "peace and stability" in the region.

Resolution 2094,  the fifth since 2006, strengthens and expands the scope of the strong sanctions regime already in place. For example, it requires member states to freeze or block any financial transaction or financial service that could contribute to North Korea's illicit nuclear arms and ballistic missile programs or the violation of Security Council resolutions. It requires that states not provide public financial support for trade with North Korea such as export credits or insurance if there is a link to North Korea's illicit programs or the violation of Security Council resolutions. It calls on states to prohibit the opening of North Korean bank branches on their territories and to prohibit their own financial institutions from opening offices in North Korea if there is such a link. It also extends the sanctions to bulk cash transfers, including through cash couriers (a common way that North Korea has moved illicit funds).

In addition to major strengthening of the financial sanctions, Resolution 2094 requires member states to inspect cargo on their territories, if the state has reasonable grounds to believe the cargo contains prohibited items (e.g., conventional arms, nuclear, or ballistic missile-related items, etc.) and to deny port access to any North Korean vessel that refuses to be inspected or any other vessel that has refused an inspection authorized by that vessel's flag state. The resolution does contain, however, a potential loophole for air shipments, containing only a voluntary call that states deny permission to any aircraft to take off, land in or overfly their territory if the aircraft is suspected of transporting prohibited items. Whether China in particular goes along with this call remains to be seen.

The resolution expands the scope of the existing asset freeze to cover the subsidiaries and front companies of entities that have already been designated for targeted sanctions. It also requires states to prohibit the travel of any individual determined to be working for a designated individual or entity or who is violating existing sanctions. If the individual is North Korean, then the states are required to expel that person back to North Korea.

Finally, in a move that is certain to upset the youthful dictator of North Korea Kim Jong-un, who likes his yachts, fancy cars and other privileges of the rich and famous, Resolution 2094 prohibits the transfer of luxury goods to North Korea, including certain kinds of jewelry and precious stones, yachts, luxury automobiles and racing cars.

The resolution also warns North Korea of more to come if it persists with further nuclear or ballistic missile tests.

Even before Resolution 2094 was passed, North Korea's leaders threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States. Ambassador Rice did not appear to be fazed by such threats. When asked to comment, she said:

North Korea will achieve nothing by continued threats and provocations. These will only further isolate the country and its people and undermine international efforts to promote peace and stability in Northeast Asia. We have urged the North Korean leadership repeatedly—and continue to do so—to heed President Obama’s call to choose a path of peace and to come into compliance with its international obligations. That is what North Korea ought to do.

When asked whether even this tough resolution will make any difference in breaking "the repeated pattern of sanction, provocation, sanction, provocation," Ambassador Rice responded that the answer "lies of course with the decisions that the North Korean leadership make." So far, there is little reason to hope for a break-through, unless of course former basketball star and Kim Jong-un's new best friend Dennis Rodman can pull off his own version of a diplomatic "fast break."

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