Following the third North Korean nuclear test on 12 February 2013, the US and China jointly drafted UNSCR 2094 (7 March 2013). The resolution targeted North Korean financial institutions and overseas cash couriers, tightened inspection procedures for ships and air cargo, encouraged Member States to exercise enhanced vigilance over DPRK diplomatic personnel, and imposed a travel ban, and related expulsion and repatriation requirement for DPRK nations, on individuals assisting in sanctions evasion or violation. Drawing on provisions in the Iran sanctions regime, the resolution called on states to prohibit DPRK banks from operating on their territory and their own financial institutions from operating in the DPRK, if there was any reason to suspect they could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs. The resolution also added 3 individuals and 2 entities to the list, bringing the number of designees to 12 individuals and 19 corporate entities.
Significantly, the Bank of China severed its ties with Pyongyang and there were reports of substantial enforcement by China of the new restrictions on DPRK financial institutions. China tried to breathe life into the Six-Party Talks in September 2013, convening a commemorative ceremony marking the tenth anniversary of the launch of the talks in 2003. North Korea’s First Vice Minister called for a resumption of dialogue without preconditions and Pyongyang’s chief nuclear envoy made a trip to Beijing. However, North Korea restarted its Soviet-era nuclear reactor in Yongbyon in the fall of 2013 and formally announced the resumption of its normal operation in September 2015.
Despite signs of limited rapprochement (resumption of family reunions and the first DPRK-South Korea high-level meeting in 7 years), 2014 saw an escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula as DPRK continued to strengthen its nuclear capability. Over the year, DPRK increased its activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, launched an unprecedented number of missiles (at least 13 of them believed to be ballistic), and threatened a fourth nuclear test. Following three incidents of exchange of fire along the border in October, further DPRK-South Korean high-level talks were rejected by the DPRK and the annual joint US-South Korean military exercises and drills were repeatedly described by DPRK as provocative. In response to the suspected DPRK November 2014 cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, the US imposed sanctions on additional targets in January 2015.
The UNSC condemned the missile launches as violations of previously adopted resolutions on 27 March and 17 July 2014. It adjusted the list of prohibited items in April (SC/11353) and, later in July, the Committee designated an entity responsible for a prominent case of arms imports violation a year earlier (SC/11499). Further investigations by the Panel of Experts uncovered a complex network of companies and individuals involved in sanctions evasion and increasing use of multiple and tiered evasion techniques by DPRK. On 22 December 2014, the Security Council, for the first time, formally addressed the human rights situation in DPRK as separate from non-proliferation (February 2014 report of the Human Rights Council commission of inquiry concluded that DPRK committed crimes against humanity and urged a referral of the situation to the ICC). A follow-up meeting on the issue was held a year later, on 10 December 2015. A UN Human Rights Office monitoring the human rights situation in DPRK was opened in Seoul in June 2015. The February 2015 Panel of Experts report pointed out sanctions' direct negative impact on foreign diplomatic missions in DPRK, while the September 2015 Secretary-General's report to the General Assembly noted the indirect negative impact of both unilateral and UN sanctions on the UN's ability to raise funds for humanitarian operations and procure and transport essential supplies.
Throughout the episode, the Six-Party Talks remained stalled despite repeated calls for their resumption and South Korean efforts to restart them in track-two setting in early 2015. The minimal criteria for the resumption of talks agreed in February 2015 (not disclosed publicly) were rejected by DPRK in May 2015. In July 2015, DPRK refused any dialogue seeking unilateral denuclearization or Iran-style nuclear deal, offering to return to the Talks “without preconditions” instead. This position was reiterated in October, a week after the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea. The country’s nuclear status was enshrined in the constitution in 2012 and had since become an integral part of the official state ideology, with DPRK's leader Kim Jong-un increasingly unwilling to discuss the issue or stop engaging in the proscribed activities. To this end, DPRK proceeded with further missile launches throughout 2015, including a May 2015 test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
The substantial increase in proscribed activity culminated in the conduct of North Korea's fourth nuclear test, proclaimed by DPRK to present its first successful test of a hydrogen bomb, on 6 January 2016. The Security Council strongly condemned DPRK's actions as violations of the relevant UN resolutions and expressed its determination to impose “further significant measures” against DPRK. Despite clear warnings by a number of international actors, on 7 February 2016, DPRK proceeded with what it claimed was a satellite launch, but which used ballistic missile technology contributing to the development of its nuclear weapon delivery systems. The Security Council restated its intent to develop significant sanctions measures against DPRK. South Korea, after resuming its cross-border propaganda broadcasts in January, suspended the operation of a joint industrial park in the North, significantly reducing DPRK's legal revenue.
Coerce DPRK to cease nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, end WMD programs, retract NPT withdrawal, and return to Six-Party Talks.
Constrain DPRK access to military and proliferation technology.
Signal support for non-proliferation norms, specifically the NPT.
Maximum number of designees during the episode: 12 individuals and 20 entities.
UN sanctions can have some non-discriminating impact on the general population, since they include arms embargoes, diplomatic sanctions, and/or restrictions on the conduct of particular activities or the export of specific commodities.
Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts in place. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated. Enforcement authorities specified.
Despite occasional (and short-lived) diplomatic engagements, there was no progress on returning to the Six-Party Talks or evidence that the DPRK scaled back its proscribed activity. On the contrary, reports of resumed activity in its Yongbyon facility and Punggye-ri nuclear test site, as well as the conduct of a new nuclear test, continued ballistic missile launches, and official statements that the country would not denuclearize documented increasing intransigence of DPRK leadership on the issue and its strong commitment to secure recognition of DPRK's status as a nuclear state.
While UN sanctions presented an important tool in coercing the target, other unilateral sanctions (including for the first time from China), international pressure and diplomatic efforts were also significant to the outcome.
The episode witnessed DPRK's increased capacity to evade sanctions, continued engagement in proscribed activities (including an unprecedented number of missile launches starting in 2014), and improved and expanded nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. The February 2016 PoE report concluded that DPRK was “effective in evading sanctions,” found “no indications that the country intends to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes,” and raised “serious questions about the efficacy of the current United Nations sanctions regime.”
UN sanctions presented the primary instruments of multilateral constraint despite their reported low level of implementation (PoE 2016). Other sanctions also played an important role in constraining DPRK’s nuclear program.
Non-proliferation norm was clearly articulated in Security Council's responses that repeatedly condemned DPRK's nuclear and missile activities and increased involvement of China in sanctions implementation and the drafting of the UNSC resolutions signaled stronger DPRK stigmatization. Moderate increases in the number of targets designated were complemented by PoE investigations into DPRK's evasion networks.
UN sanctions were the primary means for signaling the non-proliferation norm, but diplomatic pressure also played an important role.
Increase in corruption and criminality, strengthening of authoritarian rule, increase in international regulatory capacity in different issue domains, increase in international enforcement capacity in different issue domains, resource diversion, significant burden on implementing states, other (impact on humanitarian aid, international organizations, and foreign diplomatic missions in DPRK).