Earlier this year, TV stations all over South Korea were ablaze with scenes of Pyongyang’s latest missile tests. It’s now clear that North Korea remains firmly resolute on pursuing a dangerous mission, even after nearly ten years of suffering the world’s disapproval on tests like this and on its human rights record. Yet, sanctions continue. The Obama Administration has issued newer, tougher sanctions, some of which have been approved by the U.N. Security Council.
Supporters of sanctions hold onto the conviction that there’s a “tipping point” for the North Korean government. When that tipping point is reached, they’ll be forced to negotiate with the U.N.
Nonetheless, there is no evidence which even hints North Korea will ever fold along these lines. The U.N. sanctions are a response to an entire decade of ongoing nuclear tests, starting in 2006. Both financial and humanitarian aid have been severely reduced but so far a satisfactory response has eluded those who imposed these sanctions.
Like an incorrigible juvenile delinquent, North Korea persists in barreling down a dangerous road, undeterred by threats, warnings, and small punishments. Knowing the track record of North Korea, those imposing the sanctions are creating little more than political bravado and provocation, when what we really need is skilled diplomacy.
But there’s a new danger with these latest sanctions: they effectively blacklist Kim Jong-un personally, freezing his assets along with those of his top officials. This is dangerous provocation, since from what we’ve seen so far in North Korea, all evidence points towards a stubborn, unwavering leadership who’s quick to respond militarily rather than diplomatically.
For example, with almost glee, North Korea announced at the beginning of this year that they’d conducted a hydrogen bomb test. There’s doubt it ever happened, but nevertheless, tougher sanctions soon followed. And what did North Korea do? I refer you back to the beginning of this article: two short-range ballistic missiles were fired into the East Sea… in defiant, teenager-like rebellion against UN Security Council resolutions imposed earlier.
In this context, it’s easy to argue that sanctions are doing more harm than good, actually pushing North Korea closer to actual military aggression rather than enticing them towards the round table of discussion. Indeed, the result is now even more grim than we’d hoped: last month, the United States and South Korea announced their decision to deploy an advanced missile system called THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), in direct response to North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats.
Sanctions against North Korea have not only failed to produce the intended results of slowing down their nuclear weapons program or convincing them to improve human rights in that country. They’re actually hindering humanitarian efforts.