In response to the fourth North Korean nuclear test on 6 January 2016 (claimed by DPRK to be a miniaturized hydrogen bomb) and DPRK's 7 February 2016 satellite launch using ballistic missile technology, the Security Council adopted UNSCR 2270 (2 March 2016), significantly broadening the DPRK sanctions regime and beginning to shift it towards a more comprehensive logic of undermining the functional operation of the state.
The resolution, jointly drafted by the US and China, expanded the existing restrictions and imposed new financial sector, commodity, transportation, and interdiction measures to target DPRK's sources of revenue and diversion efforts, undercut its coping and evasion strategies, and increase the overall sanctions implementation. With regards to the existing sanctions, the resolution virtually doubled the number of designees by adding 16 individuals and 12 entities (as well as specific vessels) to the sanctions list and expanded the arms imports ban by adding small arms and light weapons, resulting in a complete arms imports and exports embargo on DPRK. New sanctions measures introduced financial restrictions on the opening and operation of DPRK banks abroad and foreign financial institutions in the DPRK, including provisions for the closure of the existing offices of DPRK banks and termination of joint ventures and banking relations, and new commodity sanctions prohibiting the exports of gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore, rare earth elements, coal, iron, and iron ore from DPRK and the import of aviation fuel to DPRK. New transportation sanctions on DPRK included a general ban on the use and servicing of DPRK registered or flagged vessels and a ban on leasing or chartering of vessels and aircraft, as well as the related provision of crew services, to DPRK. In order to improve sanctions implementation, the resolution also imposed amandatory inspection requirement on all cargo to and from DPRK, required post-inspection reporting, and authorized states to seize and dispose of prohibited items discovered during inspection.
UNSCR 2270 also authorized a number of additional provisions conditional upon their contribution to proscribed activities or sanctions violation, widening the scope of the existing sanctions measures and vesting states with substantial discretionary power to designate additional targets and adjust the UN measures unilaterally. Specifically, it prohibited specialized teaching or training of DPRK nationals and public or private support for trade with DPRK when it could contribute to the county's nuclear, or other prohibited, activities. It also authorized, upon state discretion, the expansion of arms and proliferation sensitive goods and technology bans of any item that could contribute to proscribed activities, sanctions evasion, or to the development of operational capabilities of armed forces of DPRK or of another state as a result of DPRK exports. It similarly enabled the expansion of criteria for expulsion and repatriation of DPRK nationals for sanctions violations to DPRK diplomats and official representatives and for asset freeze for association with proscribed activities to the Government of DPRK and the ruling Workers' People Party. The resolution also included provisions for the imposition of an aviation ban, closure of foreign financial institutions in DPRK, and the expansion of existing vessels’ port entry ban following inspection refusal if states had reasonable suspicion of sanctions violations or contribution to proscribed activities.
DPRK denounced the legitimacy of the newest round of UN sanctions measures through official statements. In 4 March 2016 letter to the UN Secretary-General, DPRK called the UNSCR 2270 "the most outrageous provocation against the DPRK" and "the most undisguised and the most hideous international crime aimed to isolate and stifle an independent and righteous sovereign State under unjustified pretexts" (S/2016/214). The country also responded with an increase in proscribed activities. After the resolution’s passage, DPRK proceeded with at least one ballistic missile launch per month, including a successful submarine launch in April 2016 and the first successful launch of a Musudan intermediate-range missile on 21 June 2016, a stepping stone towards the development of a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching targets in the US. The Security Council reacted through press statements, condemning DPRK’s ongoing missile launches as grave violations of the relevant UNSC resolutions and urging member states to redouble their efforts to implement UN sanctions measures, while expressing its commitment to a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the situation through dialogue.
In response to DPRK’s activities, US and Japan imposed new unilateral sanctions in February 2016, while China announced its own sanctions measures in April 2016. Joint meetings, promising firm and united opposition to DPRK provocations, followed. The US also engaged in annual joint military operations with South Korea in March 2016 and the first joint missile-tracking drill with Japan and South Korea in June 2016. On 6 July 2016, US imposed economic sanctions on Kim Jong-un and ten other high government officials of DPRK and five entities for their role in human rights abuses and censorship in North Korea, backed by a US State Department report on the issue. DPRK called the measures “an open declaration of war” and proceeded to cut off diplomatic contact with the US. On 8 July 2016, US and South Korea announced an agreement to install a battery of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea by the end of 2017. The announcement was followed by reservations from China and Russia due to the partial intrusion of the proposed system into their territory. DPRK reacted with further ballistic missile launches between July to October, bringing the total number of launches in 2016 to 24. In August, DPRK confirmed that it had resumed plutonium production and, on 9 September, it proceeded with the conduct of its fifth nuclear test, the second one in 2016. The Security Council condemned the test in a same day Press Statement and explicitly threatened further sanctions by expressing its intent to “begin to work immediately on appropriate measures under Article 41” (SC/12513).
Coerce DPRK to cease nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, end WMD programs, retract Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) withdrawal, and return to the stalled Six-Party Talks to engage in negotiations, including about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Constrain DPRK's nuclear proliferation and access to nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional weapons and their delivery systems related technology.
Signal support for non-proliferation norms, specifically the NPT.
Maximum number of designees during the episode: 28 individuals and 32 entities.
UN sanctions are likely to have significant impacts on the general population, since they include restrictions on the import of widely used commodities (such as oil), major commodity exports, and/or the transportation or financial sectors that affect the entire economy.
Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts in place. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated. Additional vessels designated. Enforcement authorities specified.
DPRK continued to engage in proscribed activity, including ballistic missile launches and another nuclear test, and showed no intention of returning to the NPT or Six-Party Talks, nor a willingness to negotiate denuclearization, transformation of its WMD program into peaceful use of atomic energy, or easing of the various sanctions measures. Instead, it reacted to perceived provocations with an acceleration of its nuclear and ballistic programs development.
UN sanctions presented the primary means through which the international community channeled its reactions to DPRK's continued violations. Other unilateral sanctions (including by China) and threat of military use of force also contributed to DPRK's continued engagement in proscribed activities.
While sanctions increased the difficulty in procuring prohibited goods and technology, the episode witnessed continued DPRK engagement in proscribed activities and improved nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.
UN sanctions presented the primary instruments of constraint, with a renewed attempt at increasing their level of implementation and effectiveness and greater political will among member states to enforce sanctions following DPRK’s fifth nuclear test in September 2016. Other sanctions and threat of military use of force also played an important role in constraining DPRK’s nuclear program.
Non-proliferation norm was clearly articulated in Security Council's official statements that repeatedly condemned DPRK's nuclear and missile activities and DPRK was increasingly stigmatized as an international pariah.
Sanctions remained the primary means for signaling the non-proliferation norm, as acknowledged also in public statements by the target.
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).