On March 2, 2016, the United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 to adopt Resolution 2270, which imposes new sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear and ballistic missile activities. This is the fifth resolution on the DPRK the Security Council has passed since 2006 and is the culmination of nearly two months of negotiations. In the immediate aftermath of the most recent North Korean nuclear and missile tests, several countries also imposed unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang.

Q1: What are the goals of these sanctions against North Korea now?

A1: In the nearly two months since North Korea tested what it called a “hydrogen bomb,” UN Security Council members have debated imposing new sanctions. The big question is whether additional sanctions will bring North Korea back to the negotiating table, a stated objective of key parties. For example, both China and Russia emphasized in their Security Council statements that isolating Pyongyang was not a long-term solution. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power also underscored that the “ultimate goal” is bringing North Korea to the negotiating table. This new round of sanctions, however, is more likely to isolate North Korea as it seeks to cut off funding and supply avenues, as well as degrade North Korea’s military operational readiness.

For example, Resolution 2270 seeks to restrict any and all ways in which North Korea can earn hard currency, for example through exports of natural resources (including gold) and small arms. Requirements for cargo inspections and the expansion of “black lists” of individuals and entities seek to restrict avenues of supply for military-related goods, while the transfers of fuel, including rocket fuel, or any other military-related items to Pyongyang are also banned. Some observers have questioned whether North Korea may be prompted to respond militarily.

Q2: What is new about this round of U.N. sanctions?

A2: For the first time, according to reports, the United States and China worked closely to negotiate the sanctions provisions. Diplomatically, this is a significant signal to North Korea and one that may have made Russia a little nervous. China’s willingness to impose more stringent sanctions may signal waning tolerance of North Korea’s provocations, but only active compliance with the new measures will demonstrate real resolve. Russia’s last-minute delay of the vote and several modifications (including exempting from the blacklist a North Korean mining representative in Russia and allowing shipments of Russian coal through a North Korean port) did not prevent its support of the final text.

Q3: How effective will this new round of sanctions be?

A3: The effectiveness depends in large part on the cooperation of all countries in implementing the agreed-upon measures. In the past, North Korea has ignored U.N. resolutions and managed to find alternative ways to build their nuclear and missile programs despite significant sanctions. They have found partners (including Angola, Myanmar, Syria, Libya, and Cuba) willing to risk international ire by purchasing DPRK munitions—and subsequently providing Pyongyang with much needed cash—or by selling banned items to North Korea and allowing the country to circumvent existing sanctions. The complicated routes the equipment and payments traveled, involving shell companies and unscheduled port stops, illustrate the difficulty of identifying and intercepting illicit trade. Resolution 2270 specifically mentioned North Korea’s use of gold to circumvent banking restrictions. By making the prohibitions more explicit and by increasing states’ authority to implement them, the new resolution could make it more difficult for other states to hide behind diplomatic vagaries to circumvent the restrictions. China’s demonstrated support and cooperation in tightening trade with North Korea could significantly tip the balance in the effectiveness of sanctions.

Sharon Squassoni is a senior fellow and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Amelia Armitage is an intern with the Proliferation Prevention Program at CSIS.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2016 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Sharon Squassoni

Amelia Armitage