Economic sanctions against North Korea can be dangerous

Economic sanctions against North Korea face definitely limitations to dissuade the nation from further development of its nuclear program. In spite of sanctions, North Korean authorities continue to lead its aggressive policy.

By imposing sanctions, the Security Council of the UN, expect from North Korea any at least partial withdrawal of their nuclear program. Meanwhile sanctions are also imposed with intentions to improve democracy performance. The reader understands clearly that the UN goals do not lie in the interests of the « bad » North Korean leadership. The North Korean leadership has no interest in stopping its nuclear programme, which is its « Life Insurance ». When Ukraine signed away its nuclear arsenal, the country was shortly later invaded by Russia. Therefore, the North Korean way of thinking is easy to determine.

If we deny North Korea any access to oil, sanctions increased the economic distress in the country and may lead to an internal revolution. Kim Jong-un is at the head of a nuclear state, therefore we may expect some kind of « angry responses » from Pyongyang, which would damage the prospects for any détente on the Korean Peninsula.

The most popular definition of sanction success adopted by the scholars considers sanctions to be successful, and thus effective, when the target government agree to com- ply with pressure and sanction demands, which would not be considered or even rejected if the sanctions were not imposed. In the case of North Korea, we do clearly understand that sanctions are not successfull, as North Korean authorities continue to implement with success their nuclear program.

Therefore, sanctions need to be modified. In my humble opinion, the Obama’s strategic patience » over North Korea is not over. By applying this strategy, meanwhile, another scenario regarding North Korea may be developed (such as a muti-countries intervention in North Korea under the guidance of China and the United States).

Following a war, if Kim Jong-un is defeated, a new « country » may be created, and be considered as a neutral country. This would satisfy the Chinese leadership, but in any case, the remaining populationof this new institutional entity.


  • In order to  measure effectiveness of economic sanctions, a longer timeframe needs to be used, and not a few months, asjournalists are doing.
  • Sanctions shall focus on how to block the export of sensitive technologies to dangerous countries. However, it requests the total cooperation of Chinese authorities.
  • Sanctions should be applied against concrete persons, and may imply any arrests of these individuals listed by the american Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Secondary sanctions should be implemented and easily controlled by neutral institutions.
  • Sanctions may jeopardize the internal balance of North Korea and provoke a war over the Korean Peninsula.
  • And finally why not dreaming? Sanctions shall be lifted, if North Korea accept to cooperate with the Security Council of the United Nations.

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Nicolas Levi

Analyst on North Korean issues

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