Why UN sanctions against DPRK may backfire on US

"Kindness effects more than severity."

The US is trying to compel North Korea to denuclearize. As if the threat of war-time level multinational mobilization naval and air drills at North Korea’s doorstep were not enough, a variety of punitive sanctions have been passed by the United States, and also by the United Nations. It is the nature of these sanctions and other actions that are feeding the narrative that the Trump Administration has fallen in love with war—and so perhaps has the United Nations (UN).

According to Foreign Policy magazine, within eight months of assuming office in 2017, Trump has bombed every country which former President Barack Obama had. In fact in only nine months, more than 26,172 bombs were dropped which is more than the record in 2016.

Staffed with advisors from the Pentagon, few doubt that the Trump Cabinet intends to resolve the North Korean conflict peacefully. Instead, they have laid on diplomatic, economic, and military pressure through a series sanctions whether unilaterally by the U.S. or multilaterally through the United Nations.


Wikipedia‘s list of United Nations Security Council resolutions indicates how seriously matters are escalating. Between 1950 to 1990 there were only 4 resolutions which pertained to condemnation of North Korea in the Korean War conflict. Between 1991 to 2010 there were 7 resolutions, at least 3 of which involved inspections of North Korean nuclear facilities. Since 2011, there have been 14 resolutions, 8 of which were passed since 2016. And in 2017 alone five resolutions have passed including severe restrictions on trade. Chart 1 depicts the growing number of punitive resolutions.

A lot more sanctions against DPRK since 2015

Chart 1. Number of UN punitive resolutions against North Korea (compiled from data shown at Wikipedia, and Arms Control Association)

While the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson supports diplomatic talks, President Trump mostly denies that possibility to put it mildly. Speaking through US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, or U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley the official line continues to mostly be “all options are on the table.” Meaning the Administration presumes that the time for talk is over; the only option is for North Korea to abandon its surreptitious nuclear research and development program, and denuclearize.

What makes the situation terrifying is that the last thing North Korea (DPRK) intends to do at this point is capitulate. On the other hand, according to reports from Centre for Research on Globalization, the DPRK has shown a willingness to support U.N. proposals for denuclearization. In December 2016, they voted a tentative “yes” in support of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (NBT).  In October 2017, DPRK Ambassodor Kim In Ryong again signaled support for the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, essentially laying the blame on not being able to because of threats of annihilation by the U.S.:

The DPRK consistently supports the total elimination of nuclear weapons and the efforts for denuclearization of the entire world. However, as long as the U.S. which constantly threatens and blackmails the DPRK with nuclear weapons rejects the NBT, the DPRK is not in position to accede to the treaty.

According to the Kim, it is the United States who is in flagrant violation of nuclear proliferation, and it should lead by example by acceding to the PTNW. However, to date, none of the nuclear powers, least of all the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have willingly acknowledged the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, passed in July 2017.

On October 16, 2017 after U.N. Resolution 2375 passed, North Korean Ambassador Kim in Ryong spoke defensively:

In 1957 the U.S. deployed nuclear weapons to south Korea and since the 1970’s it has been carrying out large scale military exercises every year involving the nuclear assets. In this March and April, the U.S. staged the largest-scale joint military exercise, aimed at mounting a preemptive nuclear strike against the DPRK, with participation of over 300,000 troops and all sorts of strategic assets including aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines…What is more dangerous is that the U.S. dared to formulate a plan and stage the exercise of decapitation operation and secret operation aimed at the removal of our supreme leadership. No country in the world has been subjected to such an extreme and direct nuclear threat from the U.S. for such a long time and experienced a nuclear war exercise in front of its own gate which is essentially most vicious and brutal in its scale, form and purpose….The possession of nuclear weapons and inter-continental ballistic rockets is the righteous self-defensive measure of the DPRK against the evident and practical nuclear threat of the U.S.

Although not in the majority, a number of foreign policy experts and former diplomats question the wave of punitive actions.

For instance, Katy Oh, a senior Asia specialist at the Institute for Defense Analysis believes that while Kim is provocative and aggressive, he is only doing what he must to protect his country from foreign attack and the unstated U.S. objective of regime change. Oh stated:

His motivation is clear. To sustain the Kim family in power forever and sustaining North Korea as it is.

“Kim wants protection against going the way of Gaddafi,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Americas office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Unlike his father or grandfather, Kim Jong Un is under no illusions with regard to the decapitation squads or other ill-designs, accounting for the sharp rise in the number of missile tests since 2015.


What most Americans born after 1950 don’t realize is how different the fundamental nature of Cold War II is from Cold War I. The United States really had reason to be worried after World War I because revolutionary communist movements were sweeping the globe, from Russia to China to Cuba. Even war-wearied Europe relied on socialist political support in countries such as France, England, and Germany.

Observing the self-styled totalitarian communist dictators such as Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and other emerging revolutionary leaders, there was a legitimacy to the Red Scare that swept across the U.S. in the 1950s. American newspapers, magazines, and radio shows bombarded the listening public outright with denunciations of “Commies” and “Reds.” The targeting, blacklists, arrests functioned as side-shows–and created job turnovers at factories.

According to Curt Gentry, author of J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets, the legendary FBI Director well knew how to work the press to his favor. There were controls for keeping out articles critical of the F.B.I., and instead planting favorable editorials. Favorable articles were ghostwritten by special agents and printed in the Reader’s Digest, American Magazine, and U.S. News & World Report.

The F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover also contributed as guest columnist at U.S. News & World Report. For instance, “55,000 Communists” (May 26, 1950) in which Hoover warns how traitors have infiltrated into all facets of American life was published however inflammatory the rhetoric against the “double-dealing, double-minded, double-tongued and double-faced” “termites”:

Wherever they may be, they have in common one diabolic ambition: to weaken and eventually destroy American democracy by stealth and cunning.

Even Newsgram provided syndicated features tucked into publications whose items were blatantly right-wing. Thus amid the burgeoning health and suburban glory of middle-class America were sowed the seeds of suspicion and fear that helped bolster institutional bigotry and blacklists. Such views invariably provided fodder for the future condemnations and military actions sought by Republicans against communist countries.

Today, in contrast, the forces against communism have transmogrified into the “War on Terror” even when most Americans understand that corporations are having their cake and eating it too. Goods manufactured overseas under slavish conditions allowing corporate citizens to rake in record profits while hiding their profits. Trump’s America First conveys the notion that absent a Marshall Plan or US-AID programs, global spectrum dominance will largely benefit the monied classes because of planned austerity pogroms.

Independent geopolitical analysts are also worried another Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Yemen-like failed state is in the offing.

Author and investigative journalist Peter Koenig credits the “hermit kingdom”:

North Korea has done no harm to any other nation. Indeed, North Korea does not intend to start a war with anyone. North Korea has had the courage and strength to rebuild as a socialist nation in almost full isolation from a 1953 US-devastated country with the loss from then 30% of the population, about 3 million people. Does anyone wonder why North Korea has opted to defend herself – come what may?

Koenig questions why no U.N. sanctions against countries such as Israel, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Belgium, and the Netherlands are applied:

Turkey has five times more nuclear weapons than North Korea at its Incirlik base, Belgium and the Netherlands have together four times more nuclear weapons than the DPRK.

And in the aftermath of Cold War I, the U.S., Russia, and China remain with the nuclear capability for total life extinction.


Whether it is regime change or containment, the current course taken by the United States, abetted by the United Nations, is aggressive and suicidal. There are no good outcomes whether the creation of a new failed state, or extreme militarization of a traditionally peaceful region.

The Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) has observed that increasingly the United Nations is becoming an “amoral” and “accessory to crime” by its deadly sanctions against North Korea. If not condoning genocide, a crime against humanity, it is condoning insurrection within the DPRK as well as premeditated murder. The constant barrage of naval exercises, military drills, and aerial fly-bys near the 38th parallel are nothing if not provocative and cause for incitement. Coupled with financial and economic sanctions the world demonizing and robbery of North Korea is openly approved by the United Nations as just and fair.

Small wonder that independent journalists question the credibility and neutrality of the United Nations, as well as its impartiality in the face of orchestrating this new humanitarian disaster. There are no “unintended consequences” when in fact the goal is to punish the leader of the DPRK through innocent victims, whether they are children, elderly, students, factory workers, or farmers. Observes Carla Stea, UN reporter for CRG:

This humanitarian disaster is neither accidental nor coincidental. All this information was publicly available to all 15 members of the Security Council prior to December 22, when they inflicted even more deadly sanctions on the people of North Korea. The Security Council is an accessory to these crimes. Though they boast, irresponsibly, that the sanctions contain “humanitarian exemption,” how do they explain the alarming failure to implement these “humanitarian exemptions,” and the fact that the tragic victims of these criminal and fatal sanctions are the majority of the people of North Korea?

Contrast this with the stated one-world goal and peace on Earth as envisioned by the first Secretary General of the United Nations in June 1950. The message delivered by the first Secretary General of the United Nations, Trygve Lie, in an interview with U.S. News and World Report (June 30, 1950), was an elegant presentation of his 10-Point Peace Program. Asked by the interviewer whether the Cold War situation required the services of a mediator–an intermediary who can bring proposals to the warring parties, Trygve Lie emphasized both his proposed 10-points program, as well as the need for direct conversations between the adversaries:

Mediation would help, but there must be direct conversations between the persons in authority in all governments. That is the best way to reach agreement…

First UNSG Trygve Lie also stated:

Honest negotiation is hard work—it takes a long time and immense patience—but there’s no substitute for it.

The first UNSG 10-Point Peace Program included:

* A new attempt to make progress toward establishing an international control system for atomic energy that will be effective in preventing its use for war and promoting its use for peaceful purposes.

* A new approach to the problem of bringing the armaments race under control, not only in the field of atomic weapons, but in other weapons of mass destruction and in conventional armaments.

* Acceptance and application of the principle that it is wise and right to proceed as rapidly as possible towards universality of membership.

* Vigorous and continued development of the work of the United Nations for wider observance and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world.

* Use of the United Nations to promote by peaceful means instead of by force, the advancement of dependent, colonial or semicolonial peoples towards a place of equality in the world.

Unfortunately this is in marked contrast with today’s U.N. Security Council and General Assembly, who may be in the grip of financial dependency  upon the United States. As the likelihood for war mounts, famed Canadian author Michel Chossukovsky warns of the complacency with regard to low-level nuclear warfare. He compares the prevailing fear back in the 50s of Mutual Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) with today’s re-categorization of “mini-nukes” as “harmless”:

The tactical nuclear weapons, which are – have been re-categorized by the U.S. Senate as ‘conventional weapons’ can go from one-third to six times a Hiroshima bomb and the latest version, the B61-12 could go up to twelve times a Hiroshima bomb. But they call them ‘mini-nukes’ and scientific opinion on contract to the Pentagon says, “that they are harmless to the surrounding civilian population because the explosion is underground.” These are ‘bunker-buster bombs. They have a different delivery system to the so-called ‘strategic’ nuclear weapons, but they’re thermonuclear bombs and they’re pretty much the same nuclear bombs with different yields that – yields mean explosive capacity. So, The situation is tremendously dangerous.


Considering that the obvious goal of warfare is to kill or maim as many people as possible in order to subjugate them as quickly as possible, it is unlikely that tactical nuclear bombs will be limited to use underground—or that fall-out will not harm the millions of people and animals dependent on natural resources.

Already the economic and financial sanctions are a de-facto declaration of war for there are no unintended consequences nor unintended collateral damage as Stea writes:

These disastrous humanitarian consequences are indeed intended, with the aim of breaking the morale, the will and the spirit of a heroic people, and
humiliating, degrading and forcing them to subjugate themselves to the
will of a hostile and exploitative adversary. The sanctions are a weapon of war, in the words of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ‘a blunt instrument which hurts large numbers of people who are, ostensibly, not their primary target.’

If the United Nations role becomes nothing more than a foil for the United States, how can it claim to adhere to its founding principles of peacekeeping and defending human rights. To make matters worse, the Trump administration has not only decreased the State Department staff, but pared down the USAID program, and it is trying to eliminate up to $1 billion in funding for UN Peacekeeping operations and other UN aid programs.

Is the United Nations buckling under financial arm-twisting by the United States?

One thing is for certain, the pleas, speeches, and letters by North Korean ambassadors in recent months have been ignored and dismissed as out of hand, even as global peace organization Reaching Critical Will stresses that diplomatic talks, not more sanctions, is the path towards true freedom and goodwill:

Coercion, military rhetoric, and global politicking has not worked. More of the same will not work. And for sure, there can be no military solution that will work.


Image from Aesop’s fable “The Wind and the Sun” or “Kindness effects more than severity.”