In response to the fifth North Korean nuclear test conducted on 9 September 2016, the second one of 2016, the Security Council adopted UNSCR 2321 on 30 November 2016, significantly strengthening the increasingly comprehensive logic of the sanctions regime.
Drafted by the US and then negotiated with China, the unanimously adopted resolution broadened the existing sanctions by specifying new items, individuals, and entities subject to sanctions measures. It also introduced a cap on the coal exports from DPRK to address the rise of DPRK’s coal trade with China in 2016 and tasked the Sanctions Committee with tracking the total amount of coal exports and their monetary value, making the information publically available, and notifying the states when the overall limit was about to be reached.
To restrict the hard currency revenue of the DPRK regime, UNSCR 2321 imposed a ban on the export of copper, nickel, silver, and zinc, as well as statues from DPRK. In this respect, it also called on states to exercise vigilance over DPRK nationals working abroad and be alert to the risk of bulk cash being used to evade UN sanctions. In view of the frequent use of DPRK’s diplomatic and consular missions for sanctions evasion and revenue-generating activities, the resolution limited the number of bank accounts per diplomatic/consular staff and office and prohibited the use of DPRK owned or leased property for other than diplomatic/consular activity. Calling on states to reduce the number of staff at their diplomatic missions and consular posts in the country, it also authorized them to impose travel restrictions on DPRK state officials associated with prohibited activities and suspended scientific and technical cooperation with any group or individual representing or officially sponsored by DPRK.
UNSCR 2321 also expanded previous financial and transportation sector restrictions. In the financial sector, it prohibited any public or private financial support for trade with DPRK, imposed a closure of any existing representative office, subsidiaries, or bank accounts in DPRK, and authorized the expulsion and repatriation of any individual working on behalf of a DPRK bank or financial institution. In the transportation sector, UNSCR 2321 urged enhanced implementation of existing measures and imposed a ban on the import to DPRK of any new vessels or helicopters, procurement from DPRK of vessels and aircraft crewing services, ban on the insurance and re-insurance of DPRK vessels, as well as a mandatory de-registration of any DPRK vessels and ban on its subsequent registration by another state, and authorized the expansion of the provisions of asset freeze to vessels suspected of sanctions violation. With the view to improve the implementation of the existing sanctions, the resolution for the first time also directed the Sanctions Committee, with the assistance of the Panel of Experts, to hold special meetings on “important thematic and regional topics and Member States’ capacity challenges.”
DPRK continued to engage in proscribed activities. In December, it conducted artillery drills, reiterated its May 2016 claim that the UNSC acted outside of its mandate, and in his 1 January 2017 New Year’s address, Kim Jong-un declared that the country was in the “last stage” of preparing for a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. The following month, DPRK resumed ballistic missile launches (including a successful launch of a solid fuel-powered missile, which presented a technological breakthrough in DPRK’s ballistic missile program development) and the regime strengthened its domestic position vis-à-vis the reportedly increasingly dissatisfied elite. On 13 February 2017, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother was assassinated using a prohibited highly toxic nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur airport and on 27 February, five high ranking state officials were executed in DPRK. A 13 February 2017 Security Council press statement (SC/12716) condemned the 11 February ballistic missile launch (first since October 2016) and called on states to redouble their sanctions implementation efforts. The Panel of Experts report, released later in February, concluded that sanctions implementation remained “insufficient and highly inconsistent,” noting that DPRK was “flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods” and its evasion techniques were “increasing in scale, scope and sophistication.”
Amidst the heightened tensions with DPRK, the US and South Korea began the largest ever joint military exercises and started installing the THAAD anti-missile system, warning at the end of March 2017 that DPRK sixth nuclear test could happen “at any time.” On 17 March, the US Secretary of State Tillerson declared that the US policy of “strategic patience” with DPRK was over and a pre-emptive strike against DPRK remained “on the table” should the threat posed by the country reach a level that “requires action.” China, which in February announced suspension of coal imports from DPRK (after exceeding the 2016 limit and unilaterally already almost reaching the total coal exports limit from DPRK set for 2017), advocated for a two-track “suspension for suspension” approach – whereby the DPRK would cease its nuclear and missile activities, while the US and South Korea would simultaneously end major military exercises perceived by the DPRK as provocation – instead. Meanwhile, the increasingly tight DPRK sanctions regime drew criticism from UN agencies and international organizations operating in DPRK, holding the financial sector measures responsible for the disruption of humanitarian activities in the country, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in DPRK. While the new US administration continued to proclaim its resolve in confronting the DPRK regime and push for further sanctions measures against the country, rejecting the Chinese dual-suspension proposal, US President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson in April expressed their readiness to enter into negotiations with DPRK. On the Korean peninsula, tensions began to ease after the election of a pro-reconciliation candidate Moon Jae-in as President of South Korea in May 2017.
Following ten rounds of DPRK ballistic missile launches since the beginning of 2017, condemned in eight UN Security Council press statements, UNSCR 2356 (adopted on 2 June 2017) added new sanctions designees, followed by new US sanctions listings at the end of the month. On 4 July 2017, DPRK announced the conduct its first intercontinental ballistic missile launch. Its veracity was contested by Russia, which vetoed the proposed draft joint statement condemning the launch. Following the launch, the US announced a successful test of the THAAD anti-missile system, while South Korea proposed the re-opening of inter-Korean communication channels and a unified Korean representation at the Winter Olympic games to be held in South Korea in February 2018. DPRK conducted its second intercontinental ballistic missile test on 28 July 2017, prompting joint US-South Korean military exercises and a US push for further tightening of the UN sanctions.
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 – 53 individual designees, 46 entities). Additional vessels designated. Enforcement authorities specified.
DPRK continued to engage in proscribed activity (including the export of almost all prohibited commodities according to the 2018 Panel of Experts report) 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, achieving significant milestones, including the use of a solid fuel engine and conduct of the first intercontinental ballistic missile test.
UN sanctions presented the primary means through which the international community channeled its reactions to DPRK's continued violations. Other unilateral sanctions 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 and a possible fuel shortage in DPRK was reported in April 2017, DPRK continued to engage in proscribed activities, including trade in prohibited goods, and improve its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.
UN sanctions presented the primary instruments of constraint, with attempts at increasing the level of implementation and effectiveness and greater political will among member states remaining overall insufficient according to the February 2017 Panel of Experts report. 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; DPRK was increasingly stigmatized as an international pariah despite some Russian and Chinese calls for restraint on the part of the US.
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 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).