UN Security Council Passes New Resolution 2094 on North Korea

In response to North Korea's third nuclear test conducted on February 12, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a new resolution on March 7 to impose additional sanctions on the country. Resolution 2094 is the fifth UNSCR against North Korea since 2006 for the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities in violation of previous Security Council resolutions 1695, 1718, 1874, and 2087. Susan E. Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, stated that Resolution 2094 is designed to “significantly impede North Korea's ability to develop further its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as well as its proliferation activities.”

The new measure’s passage proceeded smoothly and quickly even in the face of North Korea’s aggressive and more provocative statements. Earlier this week, North Korea declared the 1953 armistice accord that ended the Korean War null and void. Hours before the announcement of the sanctions, North Korea increased its hostility with threats of war and by warning of a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States and South Korea.

Q1: What’s in the new resolution? What is the significance of these new sanctions compared to the previous ones?

A1: One major aspect of the new resolution is that it has tightened financial sanctions by making some of the existing measures mandatory. Under the new resolution, 193 member states are now required to “freeze or block” any financial transactions or monetary transfers if such activities are deemed to help North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Financial support for trade with North Korea that could assist its illicit programs is also prohibited. The new financial measures are aimed at cracking down on bulk cash transfers and also restricting the financial network of North Korean banks involved in the country’s illicit activities. In addition, interdiction and inspection of all suspicious ships and cargos also became mandatory, a notable development since China and Russia had opposed to making such measures mandatory in the past. For the first time, the Security Council expanded the scope of its target to include North Korean diplomats in order to monitor their involvement in illegal activities. The Security Council also blacklisted two additional entities and three more individuals for travel bans and asset freezes.

Q2: Was this the harshest resolution that could be imposed on North Korea?

A2: No. Resolution 2094 and other previous resolutions (1718, 1874, and 2087) were passed under Chapter 7, Article 41 of the UN Charter under which measures are limited to those without use of armed forces. Such measures include economic and financial sanctions, restriction and prohibition of travel and other communication methods, and the severance of diplomatic relations. A more serious and harsher resolution would have been for the UNSC to invoke Chapter 7, Article 42 under which UN member countries are allowed to use air, sea, or land forces to enforce sanctions.

Q3: Does China’s support of the new sanctions means a growing shift in its North Korea’s policy?

A3: Still unclear. China has supported previous UNSCRs in the wake of North Korea’s two nuclear tests. Although China clearly opposes North Korea’s nuclear tests, maintaining the status quo remains its main priority. All parties seem to be content with the resolution but partly because we have been socialized into expecting so little from China that there’s excitment when China shows even a bit of sternness. The real test of China’s commitment will be in the follow-through. Will it not just sign on to sanctions, but will it enforce them with vigor? In the past, China-DPRK trade has increased in the aftermath of UN sanctions. One hopes that this will not be the case again.

Q4: What is North Korea’s likely response?

A4: Expect a North Korean provocation in the coming weeks. First, the country has already threatened suspension of the 1953 Korean War armistice, including severing its military hotline with the United States and suspending the activities of its representative office at Panmunjom. Second, its rhetoric is at a fever pitch with threats of preemptive nuclear attacks against the United States. Third, North Korea has blasted ongoing annual U.S.-South Korea military exercises, including the start of Key Resolve beginning Monday, March 11. Fourth, it has declared no-sail, no-fly zones in the East Sea and Yellow Sea, which are telltale signs of more missile tests. Finally, our research at CSIS shows that the North does a military provocation of some form within weeks of every South Korean presidential inauguration dating back to 1992 (South Korean president Park Guen-hye was inaugurated into office on February 25). Not a good prospect at all.

Q5: Are North Korean threats of nuclear preemptive attacks credible?

A5: So far, North Korea has neither demonstrated nor deployed a nuclear weapons-capable ICBM that could reach the United States. However, its latest missile test (December 2012) and nuclear test (February 2013) appear to demonstrate significant advancements in technology that show the regime is well on the way to developing such a capability, possibly within the term of the current American president. They already possess hundreds of deployed Nodong missiles that could hit U.S. bases in Japan and South Korea. North Korea also has a record of selling their weapons technology to Libya, Syria, Iran, and Pakistan. Given these factors, any national security expert takes no comfort in the hope that these threats could be empty.

Victor Cha holds the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Ellen Kim is assistant director of the Korea Chair at CSIS, where she is also a fellow.

Critical Questions isproduced 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).

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Victor Cha
Senior Vice President for Asia and Korea Chair

Ellen Kim