Weekend Reading on Sanctions Implementation



“All nations must continue strong economic and diplomatic measures. In addition to implementing all existing UN sanctions, the international community must take additional measures to enhance maritime security, including the right to interdict maritime traffic transporting goods to and from the DPRK.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, statement “On the Latest North Korean Missile Launch,” November 28, 2017.

Shortly after the missile launch, and following a telephone call with Chinese president Xi Jinping, the US administration promised additional sanctions on North Korea. But sanctions enforcement is ultimately a retail business, and new designations and diplomatic efforts with weak jurisdictions will need to be front and center. Much of the game lies in enforcement of multilateral sanctions that are already in existence and full exploitation of powers under the September Executive Order. Secretary Tillerson has already suggested a new direction: securing authority or multilateral support for interdiction of North Korean trade. Here are a few resources as this issue once again heats up.

  • On Treasury designations, the interview by Bonnie Glaser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) with Anthony Ruggiero remains an excellent background to the Executive Order and what can still be done on the banking front. Josh Stanton takes apart the designations made last week, which included four Chinese companies, one Chinese individual, seven North Korean shipping or trading companies, two North Korean government agencies, and 20 North Korean ships. The latter is the most important move, and comports with Secretary Tillerson’s comments; the press release issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control even included smoking-gun photographs of ship-to-ship transfers that were nominally prohibited by United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2375 of September 11, 2017. The pictures were taken a month after the resolution and purport to show a designated vessel conducting a ship-to-ship transfer. A surprising conclusion drawn by both Ruggiero and Stanton: The Chinese reaction to these designations has been surprisingly muted, either because they have been caught red-handed or the information supplied is in fact news to Beijing.
  • Andrea Berger produced a major report for the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) over the summer on the implementation of multilateral sanctions. The findings are sobering: “not a single component of the UN sanctions regime against North Korea currently enjoys robust international implementation.” The problems range from self-interested collaboration with the North Koreans, but more importantly lack of political interest and capacity to clamp down on evasive practices that are continually morphing. This leaky sieve problem helps explain growing support for simple, binary solutions such as breaking diplomatic relations and simply prohibiting the presence of North Koreans altogether. Berger’s report is a must-read; it is outstanding and offers yet another reminder of how much is actually known from public sources.

Finally, sources on two important regional fronts. Sheena Greitens, a pioneer on North Korea’s illicit activities (see her latest iteration, Illicit) has done the service of summarizing the Southeast Asian weak link for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Southeast Asia and Oceania are important connections not only because of economic operations located there (see Kent Boydston on our blog) but because of diplomatic connections and in some countries even the ability to travel visa free. About a month ago, CNN also did a great exposé on the Mansudae construction projects in Africa. If you think these are small bore, think again; in addition to statues and monuments, projects built with North Korean labor include major public building contracts as well. The CNN project found that at a number of suspected sites, North Korean workers had in fact decamped. But they nonetheless managed to generate a list of no fewer than 13 countries with Mansudae contracts, including Angola, Benin, Botswana, the Republic of the Congo as well as and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, and Zimbabwe. This list shows more than anything the retail-level diplomacy needed to make sanctions effective.

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