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The Peninsula

February 23 Sanctions Announcement: Maximizing Maximum Pressure

Published February 23, 2018
Author: Mark Tokola
Category: North Korea

By Mark Tokola

The Trump Administration announced a new set of economic sanctions against North Korea on February 23, which senior administration officials have described as the “largest ever tranche.”  Rather than being a grab bag of measures, they are tightly focused on cracking down on North Korean maritime activities that the regime is attempting to use to evade existing UN resolutions, particularly illicit shipments of coal and steel.

The new sanctions target 27 shipping and trading companies, 28 vessels, and name one individual.  The named companies are not only North Korean, but operate out of China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tanzania, and other countries.  The Administration will seek UN as well as U.S. designation of these companies.

Along with the sanctions announcement, the Administration will issue and widely distribute a shipping advisory that will inform global shipping companies, registries, and insurers of the methods by which North Korea attempts to disguise and hide vessels (some as simple as painting over the names of ships); assistance on how they avoid the risk of inadvertently dealing with sanctions evasion; and penalties they could face if they caught assisting North Korean illicit shipping activity.

Administration officials are emphasizing international cooperation on sanctions enforcement.  The new U.S. measures rely upon the earlier UN resolutions, and were developed in cooperation with South Korea, Japan, and other allies.  Part of the effort will involve capacity building to help countries and companies with less experience understand their responsibilities and obligations– and how to detect illicit activity.

The long history of international economic sanctions shows that countries under sanction seek ways to evade them.  Being unable to carry out international trade legally because of the increasingly tough UN and U.S. sanctions, North Korea has looked for ways to carry out trade illegally, through illicit shipping activities including ship-to-ship transfers on the high seas.  Even when such cheating has been successful, it has entailed a higher cost to North Korea and a greater risk to countries and companies that have facilitated the illicit shipping.  The new measures increase both those costs and risks.  North Korean evasive actions, and the new sanctions that counter them, indicate that the campaign of ‘maximum pressure’ is a cat and mouse game in which both mouse, and the cat, are actively engaged.  It looks like it’s working.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Cycling Man’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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