The United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed to dramatically tighten sanctions on North Korea today as the international community aims to punish Pyongyang for a recent nuclear test and a missile launch.
Not only does the resolution take aim at North Korea’s ability to build up its nuclear and rocket programs, but it also attacks the one-party state’s conventional forces, its supply lines as well as its leaders’ ability to buy luxury items like expensive watches and fancy snowmobiles.
"Nearly all North Korean resources are channeled into its reckless nuclear program," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power told the council after the vote. "The government of North Korea would rather grow its nuclear program than grow its own children."
President Obama hailed the resolution as "a firm, united, and appropriate response" by the international community.
"Today, the international community, speaking with one voice, has sent Pyongyang a simple message: North Korea must abandon these dangerous programs and choose a better path for its people," Obama said in a statement.
North Korea carried out its fourth nuclear test on January 6, which was followed by the launch on February 7 of a satellite-bearing rocket that the world viewed as a disguised ballistic missile test.
Wednesday's vote comes after seven weeks of negotiations between the U.S. and China which is North Korea’s staunchest ally.
“This resolution demonstrates the seriousness of the international community,” said Chinese Ambassador to the U.N. Liu Jieyi after the vote.
On Wednesday, North Korean officials said that the South is not the intended target for its nuclear weapons as So Se Pyong, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, took the floor at the Conference on Disarmament to rail against the United States.
"We have already made clear that the [Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea's] nuclear deterrent is not directed to harm the fellow countryman but to protect peace on the Korean Peninsula and security in the region from the U.S.vicious nuclear war scenario," So said, according to an AFP report.
In New York, South Korean U.N. Ambassador Oh Joon accused the North of paranoia.
“Why would the strongest military power in the world threaten a small country far across the Pacific?” he said. “There is no threat. It is a figment of your imagination.”
He urged North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons for the sake of all Koreans.
“The only people who will suffer from what you are doing are your own people, and they are also my people and our people as well,” he said. “So please wake up. Open your eyes. Look out at what is happening in the world. Give up the nukes. Join the rest of us in the world.”
While the resolution requires United Nations members to prevent the transfer of any item that could contribute to North Korea’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs and updates a list of banned chemical and biological weapons materials, it also subjects North Korea to a full arms embargo including small arms and light weapons.
The ban covers the transfer to North Korea of any item that could directly contribute to the operational capabilities of the country’s armed forces, such as trucks that could be modified for military purposes.
Cargo inspection mandate
In an unprecedented move the resolution requires the inspection of all cargo to and from North Korea and bars vessels suspected of carrying illegal goods to and from North Korean ports.
The new cargo inspection requirement closes a loophole that North Korea has been using to sail a bulk-container ship through, as it can be difficult to track ocean shipping and some countries refuse to uphold U.S. sanctions unless the targeted company has also broken local laws.
Most goods heading to North Korea do so by sea as they come through Southeast Asian transshipment hubs. Cargo lists are not publicly available, and inspections are generally conducted only when there is intelligence to suggest a breach of international sanctions.
In an annex to the resolution, the Security Council singles out Ocean Maritime Management by blacklisting the North Korean shipping company’s ships from any port.
The measure provides for a ban on exports of coal, iron and iron ore from North Korea, except if that revenue is used for "livelihood purposes" and not to fund Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
It also ban sales of gold, titanium and rare earth minerals from North Korea and would prohibit the supply of aviation fuel including rocket fuel to the reclusive country.
Banking restrictions are tightened and governments would be required to ban flights of any plane suspected of carrying contraband destined for North Korea.
The resolution adds 16 individuals and 12 entities to the UN sanctions blacklist including North Korea's NADA space agency and its intelligence agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau.
Even though the sanctions are the toughest levied, there are still questions about their ability to stop the North Korean nuclear program.
The resolution carries no effective sanctions preventing the booming trade across the relatively porous 870-mile border between North Korea and its biggest trading partner China. While trade between the two nations is a lifeline not only for the impoverished North Korean people, it is also a source of cash for Pyongyang. It also lacks a requirement to cut of oil exports to North Korea.
The resolutions also does nothing about the tens of thousands of North Korean workers in factories, construction sites and logging camps in China, Russia, Africa and the Middle East who send home $200 million to $300 million a year, most of which human rights groups contend ends up in the hands of North’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
An estimated 75 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade, including almost all of its oil imports, is with China, providing Beijing with unique economic leverage. The two-way trade amounted to $5.5 billion last year, according to figures from Chinese customs authorities.
While Beijing reportedly balked at trade sanctions that affect only its relationship with North Korea, the Chinese decision to negotiate a deal marks a change.
That doesn’t mean that Beijing doesn’t have concerns as the Chinese envoy Liu Jieyi expressed his country’s concern over the possible deployment of the U.S.-made THAAD anti-missile system.
Deployment of the THAAD “will seriously undermine the effort of the international community to see the political solution to the question of the Korean peninsula,” he said.
While there has been much debate over the sanctions, Liu Jieyi cautioned that the vote was unlikely to end North Korea’s program.
“Sanctions are not an end in themselves,” he said. “Today’s resolution should be a new starting point and a paving stone for a political settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula.”