Following the 29 November 2017 intercontinental ballistic missile launch by DPRK, the Security Council adopted UNSCR 2397 on 22 December 2017, significantly expanding the existing sanctions regime by an unprecedented number and scope of restrictions. Continuing a process that began in 2016, it effectively rendered the DPRK sanctions regime comprehensive.
The unanimously adopted resolution broadened the existing sanctions by specifying new individuals and entities subject to sanctions measures and tightening the caps on the imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products to DPRK. In order to further restrict DPRK sources of revenue, UNSCR 2397 imposed a mandatory repatriation requirement on all DPRK nationals working abroad and the DPRK government safety oversight attachés monitoring them (to be implemented within 2 years) and banned the export of food and agricultural products, earth and stone, wood, machinery, electrical equipment, and vessels from DPRK. In an effort to restrict the import of items and materials with the potential to be used for prohibited activities, the resolution also banned the import to DPRK of iron, steel, other metals, industrial machinery, transportation vehicles, and used vessels (the procurement of new vessels and helicopters was banned by UNSCR 2321). Specifying the Harmonized System (HS) commodity codes for each banned item to facilitate uniform implementation, as per 2018 Panel of Expert report recommendation, the resolution significantly expanded the number of DPRK sectors affected by UN sanctions. The resolution also extended conditional sanctions measures against DPRK vessels to vessels suspected of sanctions violations and authorized states to seize, inspect, and impound any such vessel in their territorial waters.
After an unprecedented expansion of international sanctions, DPRK nuclear and ballistic activity, as well as military tensions throughout 2016 and 2017, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during his 2018 New Year’s address declared the North Korean nuclear program complete and signaled his interest in improving inter-Korean relations (their communication channel had been largely suspended since early 2016). US and South Korea subsequently agreed to postpone their joint military exercises until after the conclusion of the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea in mid-March and DPRK entered into an intense period of bilateral diplomatic activity with South Korea, leading to a de facto détente on the Korean peninsula. A high-level DPRK delegation participated in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the two countries marched under a unified flag and fielded a joint ice hockey team, and several high level meetings on a number of issues were held throughout the period, culminating in the joint Kim-Moon summit on 27 April 2018, during which the two leaders pledged a “new history” for the two countries. Kim Jong-un also conducted three visits to China in early 2018 and expressed an interest in holding a summit with US President Donald Trump, despite stricter Chinese implementation of UN sanctions against North Korea and ongoing broadening of US unilateral sanctions against the country. While both countries engaged in talks with DPRK, they continued to emphasize the importance of enforcement of the existing sanctions.
On 21 April 2018, DPRK announced the suspension of all nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests and closure of its only nuclear test site. A Chinese study, released shortly after the announcement, reported that the Punggye-ri test side had collapsed following the last DPRK nuclear test on 3 September 2017, effectively precluding further nuclear tests. The site had been dismantled on 24 May 2018 in a series of controlled explosions.
Despite temporary setbacks caused by US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s remarks that DPRK denuclearization process could follow the “Libya model” (Gadhafi, who agreed to give up nuclear weapons in 2003 in exchange for sanctions relief and reintegration into the international community, was toppled by a national uprising and NATO intervention in 2011), the Kim-Trump summit, facilitated with the help of South Korea, was held in Singapore on 12 June 2018. It resulted in DPRK reaffirmation of its April 2018 commitment to work towards “complete denuclearization” and US suspension of large-scale joint military exercises with South Korea, thus effectively resembling a “suspension-for-suspension” process proposed by China since early 2017. However, the agreement lacked any concrete commitments, making it a de facto continuation of the policy pursued by the two countries since January 2018. Although China and Russia called for the review of UN sanctions following the Trump-Kim summit, they subsequently agreed to keep the existing sanctions in place for the time being.
Despite the general decrease in tensions, spur of diplomatic activity, and some unilateral DPRK concessions, the leaked August 2018 Panel of Experts mid-term report concluded that the country “has not stopped its nuclear and missile programmes and continued to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, as well as through transfers of coal at sea during 2018.” The report also stressed the ongoing ineffectiveness of the UN financial sanctions measures, including due to the role of DPRK diplomats in sanctions evasion, and attempts to supply arms to Libya, Yemen, and Sudan by DPRK in violation of the UN arms embargo. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in DPRK has continued to worsen, with over 40 percent of the population requiring humanitarian assistance according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
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.
Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts in place. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated (maximum number of designees during the episode – 80 individual designees, 75 entities). Additional vessels designated. Enforcement authorities specified.
Although refusing to return to the NPT or the Six-Party Talks and continuing its nuclear and missile programs, DPRK participated in bilateral negotiations, expressed commitment to work towards “complete denuclearization,” and unilaterally announced its decision to suspend further nuclear tests and dismantle its only nuclear test site.
Although UN sanctions continued to present important means through which the international community tried to coerce DPRK to stop engaging in proscribed activities, US bilateral negotiations with DPRK played an increasingly important role in influencing DPRK behavior. While acknowledged by the actor, other unilateral sanctions, US willingness to engage in negotiations and suspend military exercises, as well as the collapse of the only DPRK nuclear test site also contributed to DPRK's decision to offer limited concessions and engage in diplomatic efforts.
DPRK suspended its nuclear tests and long-range ballistic missile launches but its nuclear and ballistic missile development, as well as its sanctions evasion practices, continued.
UN sanctions presented the primary instruments of constraint. Other sanctions, threats of military use of force, and the collapse of the only DPRK nuclear test site also played an important role in constraining DPRK’s nuclear program.
Non-proliferation norm was clearly articulated by the Security Council but DPRK’s strong international stigmatization somewhat decreased as a result of the diplomatic efforts to re-engage the country in the process of denuclearization and normalization of relations.
Sanctions remained an important means for signaling the non-proliferation norm, but diplomatic re-engagement with DPRK on denuclearization also contributed to the signal.
Increase in corruption and criminality, strengthening of authoritarian rule, increase in human rights violations, 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, humanitarian consequences, other (impact on humanitarian aid, international organizations, and foreign diplomatic missions in DPRK).