Nuclear proliferation expert Mark Hibbs has called for “a rigorous, top-down national government commitment to trade controls coming from all of North Korea’s trading partners” that he says “is essential to halt Pyongyang’s weapons trade.”
Hibbs, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote yesterday on the newly published 2012 Panel of Experts Report on the implementation of the UN sanctions imposed after North Korea’s nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. In it, the UN panel asserted that sanctions “have not caused the DPRK to halt its banned activities” but “appear to have slowed them and made illicit transactions significantly more difficult and expensive.”
According to Hibbs, the effectiveness of sanctions going forward will be dependent upon firm commitments from North Korea’s trading partners and resoluteness and unity within the international community.
China is the main cause for concern, Hibbs notes, calling the country’s approach to sanctions “minimalistic and informed by Beijing’s interest in maintaining something like the political status quo in Northeast Asia.”
Challenges in enforcing sanctions also arise from North Korea’s increasing involvement in foreign trade and ability to adapt to UN measures, although these do at least suggest that North Korea is beginning to engage in a greater degree of legitimate commercial interactions. The UNSC report states that “North Korea is expanding its port facilities, is setting up new joint ventures and free-trade areas, and has embarked on fresh bilateral trade development initiatives with China and Russia.”
This has led to increased surveillance of North Korea’s shipping fleets, which the UNSC’s panel of experts evaluates makes it marginally more difficult for North Korea to engage in its weapons trade.
However, Hibbs points out that the North Koreans are turning to other means of transport in reaction to this. North Korea “now relies on air cargo transport, the transshipment of goods using foreign-flagged carriers, brokers operating in third countries, and the use of legitimate commerce to hide nefarious transactions.”