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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Latest Panel of Experts Sanctions Report

by | June 26th, 2013 | 06:14 am
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This week the UN Security Council’s “Panel of Experts,” the technocrats tasked with supporting the Council’s implementation of North Korea-related sanctions, publicly released a status report.  The report, dated 11 June, covers actions to impede trade in prohibited military goods, the importation of prohibited luxury goods, subterfuges undertaken by North Korea and its counterparties to evade sanctions, and possible unintended consequences or collateral damage on the North Korean civilian population, as well as diplomatic missions in North Korea. It recommendations that the Security Council make additions to the list of prohibited military goods; expand the list of individuals and entities subject to sanctions; and improve member state implementation. It also reproduces considerable original source material.

The Panel concludes that “while the imposition of sanctions has not halted the development of nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, it has in all likelihood considerably delayed the timetable of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and, through the imposition of financial sanctions and the bans on the trade in weapons, has choked off significant funding which would have been channelled into its prohibited activities…the imposition of sanctions has hampered its arms sales and illicit weapon programmes.” However the report also highlights the “uneven implementation” of the sanction’s resolutions.

The group based their report on three sources of information: first-hand onsite observation; information submitted by member states, other entities, and private individuals; and open source documents.  For example, the group inspected debris from the December 2012 missile launch and was able to confirm allegations regarding the foreign origins of some of the components.

With regard to prohibited trade in military goods, the report documents a number of success stories which reveal ongoing cooperation with Syria and Iran (the Axis of Evil reborn!), the role of diplomats — particularly those working out of embassies in Vienna and Berlin — and the abuse of diplomatic privileges more generally, the roles of intermediaries including Kazakh and Ukrainian nationals and specific Chinese middleman firms, and the exploitation of weakly regulated financial systems in some African countries.

Michael Ranger makes an appearance, providing testimony as to how the North Koreans are sensitive to transport costs and would prefer to deal in volume: Ranger claims that among the items that the North Koreans were willing to sell were ballistic missiles with a range of up to 3,500 km. The unit price North Koreans demanded for those ballistic missiles was in excess of $100 million, and would be sold not less than three at a time, packaged as one long-range and two medium range missiles, or one medium range and two long-range missiles.

The North Koreans turn up looking for submarine parts, trying to buy the Mongolian air force, and seeking dual use technology in Taiwan and the United States.  Eritrea gets exonerated: turns out that cargo allegedly containing rockets or explosives seized in May 2011 was clean. Iraq gets a shout-out for denying its airspace to a suspicious plane bound for Syria.

The success stories are all on the export side. It is noticeable that we don’t have accounts of successful interdiction of missile or nuclear components bound for North Korea.

With respect to luxury goods, the report documents the ongoing usage of middleman firms in China to evade sanctions.  No word about Kim Jong-un’s yacht.

On the “unintended consequences” issue, the report drily observes that one problem with lack of access to North Korea is that it makes claims of collateral damage hard to investigate and concludes that “it is difficult for the Panel to link the implementation of the United Nations sanctions to any adverse effect on the civilian population.” It is, however, reviewing information submitted by member states on possible issues created by the sanctions for diplomatic operations in Pyongyang. With the tightening of financial sanctions in the recent resolutions, I would expect more attention to be devoted to financial issues in the future.

Finally on recommendations:

  • Expand the list of prohibited military goods,
  • Expand the list of sanctioned individuals and entities (now including non-North Koreans),
  • Take into account attempts to evade sanctions by altering or misspelling the names of individuals and entities on the sanctions list, And member states undertake a variety of reforms to improve the effectiveness of sanction implementation.

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