U.S. Renews Sanctions on North Korea Amid High Tensions

The DPRK flag in the village of Gijungdong, as seen from the demilitarized zone separating the two Korean nations.

Unsurprisingly, The Obama administration renewed U.S. sanctions against North Korea earlier this week, as it has done each year. The U.S. has had an embargo on North Korea since the beginning of the Korean War in 1950, banning all imports and exports from the country, and has only added more financial sanctions over the years in an attempt to curb illicit and dangerous activity. The U.N. Security Council had also previously tightened its sanctions on North Korea, in response to the DPRK’s failed missile launch in April.

The renewal announcement came amid rising tensions in U.S.-DPRK relations over a joint military drill being conducted off the coast of the Korean peninsula. According to Senior Research Fellow Park Chang Kwoun, the military drill – which will feature a number of naval vessels and focus on reconnaissance, search and seizure, and rescue missions – will work to boost cooperation between the three allies (Japan, South Korea, and the U.S.). This would mark significant progress, according to Park, as military operations between South Korea and Japan have traditionally not been “conducted very smoothly,” due to “historical issues,” including the brutal 30 year Japanese occupation of Korea.

The DPRK, on the other hand, views this as provocation and further evidence of U.S. “imperialism” and South Korean “warmongering.” In an official statement by the KCNA, the sole news organization of North Korea, the military exercises are “a prelude to a regional war” which will “threaten the peace and security of the region.”

Furthermore, it seems that the sanctions, embargoes, and criticisms have done little to hamper the DPRK’s will to develop nuclear weapons technology. The North, as usual, is using the event as another opportunity to portray the U.S. and ROK as hostile aggressors in order to publicly rationalize their attempts at self-defense through military development. According to the KCNA, the North will continue to “increase its self-defense capabilities” in order to “protect [the] sovereignty and dignity” of the nation:

The U.S. and the [ROK President] Lee group are sadly mistaken if they think such mean sanctions would help shake the faith and will of the Korean people and break the single-minded unity. Neither sanctions nor pressures can hold in check the dynamic advance of the DPRK along the road of independence, Songun [i.e., military-first politics] and socialism.

So far the sanctions, while completely justified, have done little to hinder the North’s military development and hostile rhetoric, and it is difficult to see what measures will lead to reduced military development, a balanced economy, and decent standards of living in North Korea.

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