US sanctions 5 North Koreans following recent missile tests

The targets allegedly helped supply WMD programs from China and Russia.
US sanctions 5 North Koreans following recent missile tests A North Korean missile test is shown in a photo taken on Jan. 11, 2022 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Jan. 12, 2022.

The US Treasury Department on Wednesday announced sanctions on five North Korean nationals living abroad for allegedly helping to supply the country’s ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs.

The move follows Tuesday’s launch by Pyongyang of a hypersonic missile, the second launch in less than a week and one of six tests carried out by North Korea since last year in defiance of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The new sanctions target North Korea’s “continued use of overseas representatives to illegally procure goods for weapons,” Brian E. Nelson, under secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement Wednesday.

“The DPRK’s latest missile launches are further evidence that it continues to advance prohibited programs despite the international community’s calls for diplomacy and denuclearization,” Nelson said.

Named in the sanctions announced on Wednesday were Russia-based North Korean national Choe Myong Hyon and four North Koreans living in China: Sim Kwang Sok, Kim Song Hun, Kang Chol Hak, and Pyon Kwang Chol.

“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the individuals and entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC,” the Treasury Department said, referring to the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Foreign financial institutions or individuals facilitating or engaging in prohibited transactions with the designated individuals may themselves face U.S. action, the Treasury Department said.

Desperate for relief from international sanctions over its nuclear and weapons programs, Pyongyang has been stepping up pressure on Washington and South Korea over denuclearization talks that have stalled since the failed Hanoi Summit between leaders of the U.S. and North Korea in February 2019.

North Korea’s fragile economy has been laid low by border closures and the suspension of trade with China since January 2020 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Pyongyang also faces strict trade sanctions imposed by the U.S. as well as the U.N. Security Council over its multiple nuclear and missile tests.

Sanctions' effectiveness questioned

Speaking to RFA, Bruce W. Bennett — an adjunct international/defense researcher at the RAND Corporation — said that North Korea is clearly receiving support for its missile and weapons programs from outside the country.

“And part of the way it gets that assistance is by having some of its people operating overseas and acquiring technology from companies that are more interested in profit than in national loyalty and following the rules," Bennett said.

"And so as a result, the course of action the U.S. has to take is to sanction those individuals, and to try to reduce the potential of that kind of thing continuing.”

The question now is how successful these sanctions are likely to be, Bennett said.

“And that’s very difficult to predict,” he said. “It’s a little hard to try to get this kind of activity under control.”

Ken Gause, a North Korea expert at the Center for Naval Analyses, agreed. "There's nothing really you can do to hold [North Korea] accountable. We put up about as much pressure as we can," he said.

"China's not playing ball, Russia's not playing ball. As long as they're not playing ball any sanctions are really going to fall flat."

"But if you were going to want to actually try something that may get you a different answer than just lobbing on more pressure, it's to do something very different, which is to figure out a way that you can entice North Korea into freezing their program," Gause said.

"And that means some sort of carrots, not just sanctions."

Written by Richard Finney with additional reporting by Hye Jun Seo of RFA’s Korean Service.


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