US’ Sanctions Fail To Halt North Korea’s Accelerating Nuclear Programs


Washington: Economic sanctions, the primary means the United States has used for years to try to exert pressure on North Korea, have abjectly failed to halt its nuclear and missile programs or to bring the reclusive northeast Asian state back to the negotiating table.

Instead, North Korea’s ballistic missile program has become stronger and it has carried out a record-breaking testing regime of multiple types of weapons this year – including of intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the U.S. mainland. Expectations are that it may soon end a self-imposed five-year moratorium on nuclear bomb testing.

Now, U.S. policy makers and their predecessors can do little more than pick through the wreckage and seek to determine what went wrong, and who might be to blame.

“We’ve had a policy failure. It’s a generational policy failure,” said Joseph DeThomas, a former U.S. diplomat who worked on North Korea and Iran sanctions and served in the administrations of Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

“An entire generation of people worked on this. It’s failed … so alright, now we have to go to the next step, figure out what we do about it.”

Biden administration officials concede that sanctions have failed to stop North Korea’s weapons programs – but they maintain they have at least been effective in slowing North Korea’s nuclear program.

“I would disagree with the idea that sanctions have failed. Sanctions have failed to stop their programs – that’s absolutely true,” a senior administration official told Reuters. “But I think that if the sanctions didn’t exist, (North Korea) would be much, much further along, and much more of a threat to its neighbors to the region and to the world.”

In response to a request for comment, a State Department spokesperson said, in apparent reference to China and Russia: “The U.N. Security Council has passed multiple resolutions to establish a robust sanctions regime intended to impede these unlawful weapons programs. It is incumbent upon all member states to fully implement these resolutions, and we will continue to call upon them to do so.”

Former officials and experts say sanctions were never imposed and enforced robustly enough for long enough and blame faltering U.S. overtures to North Korea as well as pressures like Russia’s war in Ukraine and U.S-China tensions over Taiwan for making them ineffective and easy for North Korea to circumvent.

North Korea has long been forbidden to conduct nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by the U.N. Security Council.

The Security Council has imposed sanctions on North Korea since 2006 to choke off funding for it nuclear and ballistic missile programs. They now include exports bans coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

However U.N. experts regularly report that North Korea is evading sanctions and continuing to develop its programs.

Russia and China backed toughened sanctions after North Korea’s last nuclear test in 2017, but it is not clear what U.N action – if any – they might agree to if Pyongyang conducts another nuclear test.