The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a US-drafted resolution to impose new sanctions on North Korea on Monday – a move that comes just one week after the rogue nation carried out its sixth and largest nuclear test.
The resolution is designed to accomplish six major goals: cap North Korea’s oil imports, ban textile exports, end additional overseas laborer contracts, suppress smuggling efforts, stop joint ventures with other nations and sanction designated North Korean government entities, according to a US official familiar with negotiations.
“Today, we are saying the world will never accept a nuclear armed North Korea, and today the Security Council is saying that if the North Korean regime does not halt its nuclear program, we will act to stop it ourselves,” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said following the vote Monday.
“We are done trying to prod the regime to do the right thing, we are now trying to stop it from having the ability to do the wrong thing,” she added.
Although the new sanctions are the harshest yet, they could have been a lot tougher. A full oil import ban and sanctions on Kim Jong Un himself were dropped at the last minute, in a possible attempt by the US to gain the support of Russia and China.
As of Tuesday afternoon in Pyongyang, most North Koreans had not been informed about the new sanctions, according to CNN’s Will Ripley, who is in the North Korean capital.
However, North Korean officials told CNN that increased pressure from the US could mean Washington faces “a very strong response, with unbearable consequences.”
“Hostile sanctions are like a delusion tantamount to expecting foolishly that the ocean would dry up,” one official told CNN, while emphasizing that the government had not yet released an official response.
“As long we have a very powerful nuclear arsenal, we can ensure the security and peace of the homeland and its people,” the official added.
The news came as South Korea conducted its latest live fire drills with the US military on Tuesday, in a display of military might featuring tanks and helicopters.
When the US first circulated a draft resolution it called for a full ban on exports of oil to North Korea and an asset freeze on leader Kim Jong Un, the Worker’s Party and the government of North Korea.
But later, the US put forward another draft that removed the full oil embargo, asset freeze, travel ban for Kim and softened the language on foreign workers and other issues.
Why North Korea wants nukes and missiles
- North Korea has long maintained it wants nuclear weapons and long-range missiles to deter the United States from attempting to overthrow the regime of Kim Jong Un.
- Pyongyang looks at states such as Iraq -- where Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the United States, and Libya -- its late leader, Moammar Gadhafi, gave up his nuclear ambitions for sanctions relief and aid, only to be toppled and killed after the United States intervened in his country's civil unrest -- and believes that only being able to threaten the US mainland with a retaliatory nuclear strike can stop American military intervention.
- Many experts say they believe North Korea would not use the weapons first. Kim values his regime's survival above all else and knows the use of a nuclear weapon would start a war he could not win, analysts say.
“These are by far the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea,” Haley said. “They give us a much better chance to halt the regime’s ability to fuel and finance its nuclear and missile programs, but we all know these steps only work if all nations implement them completely and aggressively.”
Russia and China both have veto power as permanent members of the Security Council and had expressed skepticism over the initial sanctions proposal. But China said after Monday’s vote it supported the resolution.
“China is consistently committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, to the peace and stability of the peninsula and to the solution of the issue through dialogue and consultation,” said Chinese Ambassador to the UN Liu Jieyi after the vote.
“The resolution adopted by the security council today reflects this principle of three commitments and demonstrates the unanimous position of the international community of opposing DPRK’s development of its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.”
Ahead of the vote, North Korea warned the United States that it would pay a “due price” if harsh sanctions were passed by the Security Council.
The sanctions were welcomed by Japan, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe telling local media Tuesday they impose “an unprecedented high level of pressure on North Korea.”
“It is up to the international community to see that these resolutions are implemented,” he warned.
In the wake of the sanctions’ passage, Peru’s foreign ministry said it had ordered North Korea’s ambassador to leave the country within five days, joining Mexico in ejecting Pyongyang’s representatives in recent weeks.
Oil imports, textile exports, smuggling and overseas workers
Specifically, this resolution will result in a 30% decrease in total oil imports by cutting off over 55% of refined petroleum products going to North Korea, the US official told CNN.
“Oil is the life blood of North Korea’s effort to build and fund a nuclear weapon,” Haley said.
It will also ban the export of all textiles, the official said, noting that in 2016, the North Korean regime earned $760 million through those sales – making it the largest economic sector that UN Security Council had not yet touched.
Additionally, the new measures will prevent overseas workers from earning wages that finance the North Korean regime – over $500 million each year – in addition to cutting off foreign investments, technology transfers and other economic cooperation, according to a statement from the US mission to the UN.
These additional measures were also included to limit North Korea’s ability to smuggle products like coal and iron – particularly on the high seas.
But despite the US assessment that these are the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea, some experts said that their impact will only be effective if paired with additional sanctions.
“These UN resolutions only work when complemented by robust US sanctions which is exactly what happened with Iran,” said Anthony Ruggiero, a former deputy director of the US Treasury Department and an expert in the use of targeted financial measures for Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“The difference here is we have wide-ranging UN sanctions that go beyond what we had on Iran,” he said. “We also have US sanctions that go beyond the UN sanctions. The Trump administration has already used US sanctions against China and Russia, and Washington should do more like fines against Chinese banks and targeting additional firms and individuals facilitating sanctions evasion.”
The restrictions are modeled on the previous restrictions on coal, in this area the US will have to build to a UN embargo, but remains unclear if Beijing will agree to one, according to Ruggiero.
“The textile ban, inspections paragraphs, and joint ventures language are strong,” he added.
“The other sectoral restrictions rely on China and Russia implementation, which has been a challenge. The US should continue to use US sanctions against China and Russia to ensure implementation,” Ruggiero told CNN.
French ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre stated his support for the US-drafted resolution ahead of Monday’s vote.
“Our deep belief is that only a firm reaction of the council can open the path towards a political solution to this crisis. Make no mistake about it, our firmness today is our best antidote to the risk of war, to the risk of confrontation, and our firmness today is our best tool for a political solution tomorrow,” he said.
After the vote Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia explained why his country supported the resolution: “Russia does not accept the claims of DPRK to become a nuclear state and has supported all of the security council resolutions demanding an end to the nuclear missile programs of Pyongyang in the interest of de-nuclearizing the Korean peninsula. Therefore, we supported and are supporting the sanctions contained in the resolutions aimed at compelling the DPRK to meet the demands of the Security Council.”
North Korea nuclear tests
The US and its allies have been calling for stern measures against North Korea since the September 3 nuclear test.
The test sent powerful tremors across the region, suggesting the device used was the most powerful the nation has ever tested. Pyongyang claims it tested a hydrogen bomb capable of sitting atop a ballistic missile.
Hydrogen bombs have a far larger yield than traditional weapons, meaning devices can be smaller while providing greater devastation.
Making them small enough to fit on a missile is a challenging task, and one that North Korea claims to have achieved. Experts are not so sure, but as long as Pyongyang claims to have the technology, the working assumption is that it’s true.
CNN’s Laura Ly and Ben Westcott contributed to this report. CNN’s Will Ripley contributed reporting from Pyongyang, North Korea.