North Korea's missile tests: Are sanctions having any effect?

Despite increased sanctions, Pyongyang has continued to launch missiles in defiant response to the joint military efforts by the United Sates and South Korea.

Ahn Young-joon/AP
US Army armored vehicle participate in anannual exercise in Paju, South Korea, near its border with North Korea, on Friday, April 1, 2016, after North Korea fired a short-range missile into the sea.

Defying warnings from several states, North Korea launched yet another missile into the sea and warned that it would continue to retaliate against US efforts seeking to deter its activities, a day after the United States, South Korea, and Japan pledged to cooperate on preventing Pyongyang from advancing its nuclear and missile programs.

The missile is the latest in a series of launches and tests defying international sanctions, and conducted as a response to the ongoing military drills by the US and South Korea. North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, So Se Pyong, decried the US-South Korea efforts, claiming that they are intended to "decapitate" the supreme leadership of the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea), he told Reuters.

"If the United States continues, then we have to make the counter-measures also. So we have to develop, and we have to make more deterrence, nuclear deterrence," Mr. So said.

The United Nations imposed the toughest sanctions to date on North Korea last month, warning the country to curtail its nuclear and missile activities, and mandating Pyongyang allies including China to facilitate the sanctions' implementation. The sanctions, which included a ban on the sale of valuable minerals by Pyongyang, and a requirement for states to carry out inspection on all cargos going to and from North Korea, were intended to further slash North Korea's access to the international economy.

But North Korea has continued to be belligerent, underscoring various doubts that the sanctions wouldn't work. In the recent weeks, for instance, Pyongyang sentenced a US tourist to 15 years of hard labor, apparently for attempting to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel, and detained a Korean-American citizen who confessed to spying for South Korea.

"We are going against that resolution also because that is not fair and (not just),” So told Reuters, in response to a question about the expanded sanctions that were imposed last month.

Analysts say that the North has managed to circumvent previous sanctions, and pointing out that the UN Security Council doesn’t punish countries that aid North Korea’s illicit trade or that fail to put sanctions in effect.

"Sanctions and pressure will never work on the DPRK, which has been exposed to all kinds of sanctions and blockade for decades," North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency wrote in an editorial in February, according to The Associated Press. "Despite the enemies' ever-increasing threats and sanctions, the foundation of the Juche self-supporting economy of the DPRK has been further consolidated and its nuclear deterrence for defending the sovereignty has also been bolstered on a daily basis."

"Sanctions never stop bad things happening," writes columnist Simon Jenkins, in an opinion piece for The Guardian. "Rather they entrench dictators, build up siege economies and debilitate the urban middle class from which opposition to dictatorship grows."

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