Josh Stanton on Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sanctions



For those with an interest in engaging North Korea, the very title of this blog post is enough to send them running in the opposite direction. Stanton, the author of the One Free Korea blog, has been a dogged proponent of sanctions and was closely involved in drafting the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act or NKSPEA, which President Obama signed into law in February 2016. He has also been a strong advocate of a self-conscious strategy of regime change. But whatever you think about the utility of sanctions, Stanton is one of the few people who actually reads statutes and understands the torturous detail; I have gone to him on more than one occasion when I didn't understand something.

Recently, I suggested that he pull together all of the existing authorities and lo and behold he did. Simply put, it is an invaluable service. It includes all extant American and multilateral sanctions measures—UN Resolutions, legislation, executive orders and important arcana such as regulations and general licenses—into one, easy to use guide and reference source. It even includes a section that will hopefully evolve on third party sanctions. Stanton provides personal background on his fascination with sanctions here or you can go straight to the crisply-written background and subsequent substantive sections here. There are a smattering of additional authorities that are out there that might be added with respect to US policy: restraints related to state sponsorship of terrorism (voting at the international financial institutions); related with other illicit activities such as drugs; as status as a communist country. Looking forward to possibilities, statutes would have to be changed in the unlikely condition that OPIC were offering political risk insurance or the Ex-Im Bank were lending to North Korea.

But these are quibbles. I disagree with Stanton on exactly how sanctions are best combined with diplomacy. And as Marc Noland and I have repeatedly found in our sanctions work, it is extraordinarily difficult to predict the economic let alone political effect of any given sanction because of unintended consequences (pushing trade to China) and the various stratagems that target use to adjust (from illicit exports, to Chinese investment in mining, to offshore investment in labor-intensive activities at Rason and labor exports). But you can’t have a substantive disagreement unless you understand what the sanctions purportedly do, and this site is the place to start.  

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