March 22, 2018 | Policy Brief

United Nations Report Highlights North Korea Sanctions Violations

March 22, 2018 | Policy Brief

United Nations Report Highlights North Korea Sanctions Violations

Last week, the UN Panel of Experts released its latest report on sanctions violations by North Korea and its enablers. The contents of the report indicate that the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign is working, yet there remains much to be done to ensure that Western pressure on North Korea is truly at a maximum.

The Panel’s new report uncovered North Korea’s illicit military cooperation with countries across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Particularly disturbing is the “substantial new evidence” regarding Pyongyang’s support for the development of Syria’s chemical weapons program. North Korean support for the production of Syrian WMD also serves as an apt reminder of Pyongyang’s role in building a nuclear reactor in Syria that Israel destroyed in 2007.

The UN also highlighted North Korea’s cyber operations against South Korean shipbuilding companies, such as Daewoo Ship Building & Marine Engineering Co. Ltd, to steal confidential information about warships, submarines, and other naval technologies. Such information would be invaluable for North Korean weapons developers. Specifically, the panel noted that North Korea stole information on “cold launch” technology it could use for its submarine-launched ballistic missile program.

The new report also provided a thorough analysis of the deceptive shipping practices that enable North Korea to continue trading sanctioned commodities and resources, primarily coal and petroleum products. Last month, the Trump administration sanctioned 56 targets, including shipping and trading companies as well as vessels, in order to prevent such violations. The administration also issued a global shipping advisory that defined North Korea’s evasion tactics on the high seas. The Panel’s report builds upon this U.S. action by sharing several examples of vessels engaged in illicit activities. Unfortunately, the UN Security Council has not yet sanctioned most of these vessels. At the UN, China has often delayed or objected to U.S. proposals to sanction ships. The report’s finding should be used as leverage to overcome Beijing’s obstructionism.

The good news is that in 2017, over 20 countries curbed or ended their diplomatic or business ties with North Korea. There has been a clear downward trend of trade in prohibited goods, but it has not reached zero. For example, India decided on May 1, 2017 to cut all trade with Pyongyang, with exceptions for food and medicine. At the time, New Delhi was Pyongyang’s third largest trade partner. But the Panel found that India continued to import hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of North Korean iron, steel, and cooper, which are now sanctioned goods pursuant to UN Resolution 2371.

Overall, the UN Panel of Experts’ reports are vital for their penetrating and in-depth analysis of North Korea’s sanctions evasion schemes. Yet it is unfortunate that the UN Security Council does not consider all of the Panel’s policy recommendations or, more importantly, that member states choose not to enforce UN Security Council resolution sanctions. To overcome the UN’s limitations, the U.S. and a coalition of like-minded states should coordinate sanctions enforcement and increase vessel interdictions and diplomatic efforts to isolate North Korea for its unacceptable actions.

Mathew Ha is a research associate at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, focused on North Korea. Follow him on Twitter @MatJunsuk.

Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


North Korea