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Flip Side of the Denuclearization CoinMaking Sense of UN Sanctions on North Korea

In contrast to the fast pace of nuclear weapon and long-range missile tests conducted by North Korea the previous year, 2018 has seen a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at ending the country’s isolation. The primary focus of U.S. attention has been on whether or not North Korea will agree to verifiably dismantle nuclear and missile programs in exchange for security guarantees and diplomatic normalization, but implicit in this is if, when, and how to roll back multilateral sanctions that have stifled North Korea’s economy.

The interactive below outlines the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council on North Korea over the past twelve years, on top of earlier sanctions. It allows the reader to navigate by resolution or by type of sanction, and to see the cumulative effect at any point in time. The purpose is to help users understand what is currently required of UN members with regard to economic engagement with the North, how pressure on Pyongyang has built up over time, and what active measures can be taken if countries want to trade sanctions relief for steps to reduce—and ultimately eliminate—the North Korean nuclear threat.

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About the Authors

James L. Schoff is a senior fellow in the Carnegie Asia Program. His research focuses on U.S.-Japan relations and regional engagement, Japanese politics and security, and the private sector’s role in Japanese policymaking. He previously served as senior adviser for East Asia policy at the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense and as director of Asia Pacific Studies at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis (IFPA).

At the Department of Defense, Schoff was responsible for strategic planning and policy development for relations with Japan and the Republic of Korea. He also spearheaded trilateral initiatives and regional security cooperation issues, including North Korea and missile defense, disaster relief, and maritime security.

Feng Lin is a James C. Gaither junior fellow in Carnegie’s Asia Program. His work focuses on the Chinese economy and Japanese politics.

About this Interactive

The UN Security Council has layered on ten rounds of increasingly stringent sanctions on North Korea in response to prohibited nuclear weapon and missile tests, and now cumulatively targets nearly 100 percent of North Korean exports and significantly restricts imports of oil, luxury goods, and all industrial machinery. North Korean ships are subject to inspection wherever they go in the world, and tens of thousands of North Korean laborers abroad are required to return home, denying the Kim regime of an alternate source of foreign currency. North Korean access to the international financial system is strictly limited.

U.S. and South Korean diplomats have already had to seek certain exemptions to UN-authorized sanctions in 2018 just to hold various leadership summits and preparatory meetings, and U.S. President Donald Trump suggested after his meeting with North Korean Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol that economic aid could flow to North Korea relatively soon in return for progress in denuclearization, raising questions about how and under what authority this could be done. The interactive can help inform a wider public discussion regarding various options and the pros and cons of pursuing them.

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