The United States has won new sanctions against the North Korean government following six nuclear tests by the latter. But, in order to make the sanctions palatable to China and Russia – permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – they were first weakened, making it less likely that they will have the intended effect of forcing behavioral changes in Pyongyang.
Among the additional sanctions that the United States did not win was a ban on oil exports to North Korea, instead diplomats were only able to negotiate a cap on the amount of oil that can flow. Also sought, and not won, was a provision allowing force against non-complying ships. The inspections of those ships can take place, but no force was permitted by the resolution for those not complying. A travel ban and asset freeze directly imposed upon Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s leader, was also sought and not won by the United States.
The agreement illustrates the difficulties in ever successfully resolving the decades long division and security crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Most countries are unwilling to take measures that are so harsh they could cause the collapse of the North Korean regime and create unpredictable instability. But, the North Korean regime itself cares for little beyond its own survival.
While the United States could militarily defeat North Korea, it would not likely do so until Seoul had sustained massive amounts of damage and missiles are potentially launched that could strike Japan and the West Coast of the United States.
While the Trump Administration is not hopeful that the new sanctions will, on their own, alter the situation in North Korea, it seems likely that they are preparing to embark on a strategy similar to the one the Obama Administration used in dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. That strategy would involve expanding United States sanctions on individuals, primarily Chinese citizens, who do business with the country.
For now, most regional experts expect North Korean missile and nuclear tests to continue.