Sanctions and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

by Doug Hostetter
Pax Christi International UN Representative, New York

(The following was presented at the Global Peace Forum on Korea, Columbia University, September 29, 2018, New York City.)

When I was first asked to speak about sanctions and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Global Peace Forum on Korea, I thought that I would cite the experts on effect of the sanctions on the people of the  DPRK, like the recent United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report that indicated that 41% of people within the DPRK are undernourished, and 70% are vulnerable to food insecurity and child-stunting equals about 39.4% in all children in the DPRK[1].

I had planned that I would also mention the other ways in which sanctions are changing the country.  In addition to less nutrition, there is also less access to healthcare.  Many major humanitarian NGO’s have been forced to leave the DPRK, including the Global Fund, which over the past eight years gave more than 100 million dollars for life saving treatments of tuberculosis, AIDS, and malaria to patients in the DPRK[2]. I would point out that the sanctions have created banking obstacles so great that even serious UN efforts have been unable to provide banking channels for UN agencies and NGOs that do humanitarian programs in the DPRK.

I had intended to go into some detail about the absurdity of the sanctions on the DPRK. Security Council Resolution (s/RES/2397 -22 December 2017, paragraph 7) states:

“Decides that all Member States shall prohibit the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the DPRK … of all industrial machinery (HS codes 84 and 85), transportation vehicles (HS codes 86 through 89), and iron, steel, and other metals (HS codes 72 through 83).”[3]

The sanctions have even been interpreted to include fingernail clippers and simple water filters, which the Mennonite Central Committee has tried unsuccessfully to send to pediatric hospitals in the DPRK.  I had even considered pointing out that the UN sanctions on the DPRK could be considered collective punishment on the people of the DPRK, which, during time of war, is a war crime under the Hague Regulations of 1899 and subsequent Geneva Conventions, most recently, article 33 of the Geneva Conventions IV of 1949[4]. (This is another compelling reason to end the Korean War.)

On reflection, however, I decided that it would be simpler and more useful to look at the issue of efficacy, to see whether sanctions have actually been effective in achieving desired results, or if other measures might in fact be more successful in accomplishing those goals.

Security Council Resolution 1718[5] is quite clear that the goal of the sanctions was to discourage the DPRK from pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and to encourage the DPRK to return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

So, let us compare the accomplishment of the sanctions to the accomplishments of dialogue.

The UN Security Council significantly increased sanctions against the DPRK with Security Council Resolution 1718 on 14 October 2006, five days after the DPRK detonated its first nuclear explosion.  In the past 12 years, the UN Security Council has passed more than ten resolutions sanctioning the DPRK, each resolution more draconian than the previous one.  During those last 12 years of sanctions, the DPRK has detonated five additional nuclear tests, and has continued to improve the power of their missiles from intermediate range rockets in 2006, to intercontinental missiles today, capable of reaching the United States.

Now let us look at the accomplishments of persuasion in just the last nine months.  Chairman Kim Jong-Un, in his New Years speech on January 1, 2018 stated:

“We will open our doors to anyone from south Korea, including the ruling party and opposition parties, organizations and individual personages of all backgrounds, for dialogue, contact and travel, if they sincerely wish national concord and unity. . . As for the Winter Olympic Games to be held soon in South Korea, it will serve as a good occasion for demonstrating our nation’s prestige and we earnestly wish the Olympic Games a success. From this point of view we are willing to dispatch our delegation and adopt other necessary measures; with regard to this matter, the authorities of the north and the south may meet together soon. Since we are compatriots of the same blood as South Koreans, it is natural for us to share their pleasure over the auspicious event and help them.”[6]

Chairman Kim’s New Year’s statement was welcomed by President Moon Jae-in, who immediately invited the DPRK to send athletes from the north to join the Olympics, and even filed a joint women’s hockey team for the 2018 Olympic Games.  Since then, there have been numerous meetings at various levels between the DPRK and ROK, as well as a joint meeting in Singapore between President Trump and Chairman Kim on June 12th earlier this year.

Since January of 2018, the DPRK has suspended all nuclear testing and missile launches, demolished its only nuclear testing sight, and destroyed its rocket engine testing site.  The DPRK has also returned the remains of US military service personnel killed in during the Korean War.  The ROK and DPRK have worked together to establish a liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the DPRK, have established a program for reunifications of Korean families who were separated by the war, and just last week held another inter-Korean summit, the third this year, in Pyongyang. These are only a few of the major changes that have been initiated as the result of dialogue.  It is hard to remember that it was only one year ago, at the opening of the Seventy-Second General Assembly, that President Trump and Chairman Kim were threatening each other with nuclear annihilation.

Since the beginning of time people have been arguing which is stronger, hard power or soft power: the use of force, or the arts of dialogue. There is an ancient Greek fable which tells of an argument between the north wind and the sun as to who was the more powerful.  They argued for many days, each boasting of their superior strength and finally deciding to settle the argument by a contest.  A pilgrim was traveling below so they decided that each would try to remove his coat.  The north wind went first, blowing a gale force wind which nearly tore away the coat, but the pilgrim grabbed his cloak, and the harder the north wind blew, the more tightly the pilgrim wrapped his coat around himself.  When it was the sun’s turn, the wind and the clouds disappeared, and the sun beamed its kind warmth on the pilgrim, who immediately took off his coat.

In the past 12 years, we have witnessed the abject failure of the use of sanctions and military threats to get the DPRK to dismantle its programs for nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles.  It is now time for us to give support to dialogue, already begun by Chairman Kim, President Moon and President Trump, which has produced many positive results , but need to be continued to end the Korean War, lift the sanctions, normalize the relations between the US and the DPRK and establish a Korea Peninsula Nuclear Free Zone – a Korea Peninsula free of nuclear weapons and protected from threat of nuclear attack by international treaty[7].

____________

[1] UN Resident Coordinator for DPR Korea. “DPR Korea Needs and Priorities March 2018.” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, April 11, 2018. Accessed September 27, 2018. https://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-peoples-republic-korea/dpr-korea-needs-and-priorities-march-2018.
[2] Seung, Kwonjune J. “Why Is the Global Fund Pulling out of North Korea?” NK News – North Korea News. May 02, 2018. Accessed September 27, 2018. https://www.nknews.org/2018/05/why-is-the-global-fund-pulling-out-of-north-korea/.
[3] UN Security Council, Security Council resolution 2397 (2017) [on strengthening measures regarding the supply, sale, or transfer to the DPRK], 11 September 2017, S/RES/2397 (2017), available at: https://www.un.org/sc/suborg/en/s/res/2397-%282017%29 %5Baccessed 17 September 2018
[4] “Practice Relating to Rule 103. Collective Punishments.” Treaties, States Parties, and Commentaries – Geneva Convention, 1864 – 3 -. Accessed September 27, 2018. https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v2_rul_rule103
[5] [5] UN Security Council, Security Council resolution 1718  (2006) [on recalling its previous relevant resolutions], 14 October 2006, S/RES/1718 (2006), available at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1718%20%282006%29 %5Baccessed 17 September 2018
[6] “Kim Jong Un’s 2018 New Year’s Address.” NCNK. January 01, 2018. Accessed September 27, 2018. https://www.ncnk.org/node/1427.
[7] See also Pax Christi International’s statement of 12 June 2018: https://www.paxchristi.net/news/statement-todays-historic-meeting-between-donald-trump-and-kim-jong-un-key-points-be-included.

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