Robert Einhorn, the U.S. State Department's special adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, on Monday said fresh sanctions against North Korea will choke off the international network of front companies and banks that fund its nuclear weapons program and the lifestyle of its ruling class. Einhorn explained to South Korean officials that the U.S. will implement a new executive order to block North Korea's trafficking of weapons, counterfeit money and luxury items, strengthening UN Security Council Resolution 1874 and Executive Order 13382, which went into effect in 2005.
"Our hope is that these measures will be effective, that they will provide strong incentives for North Korea’s leaders to abide by their international obligations... not to pursue any provocative activities and to fulfill completely their commitments to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Einhorn said.
U.S. officials believe North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is preparing to hand over power to his third son Jong-un and is in desperate need of money to win the loyalty of military, communist party and government officials. Washington seems to believe that North Korea will return to the six party talks and stop its belligerent behavior if its sources of overseas funding are cut off.
But the success or failure of the sanctions depends on China. North Korea's major financial activities go through China, which is also the only country capable of preventing the North from engaging in provocations. But Beijing supported North Korea after the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan and strongly protested against naval exercises by the U.S. and South Korea. As long as China maintains that stance, sanctions against North Korea cannot succeed.
North Korea has often countered increasing pressure with a bigger provocation. The Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of North Korea's Workers Party, said Monday, "As declared already, we will strongly counter with a retaliatory sacred war of our own based on the nuclear deterrent."
The U.S. sanctions are meant as a response to North Korea's sinking of the Cheonan and to get North Korea to return to the stalled six-party talks. But for South Korea, the more pressing concern is to find a resolution to the Cheonan incident and ensure that the North does not do such things again. The two allies must make sure that additional sanctions do not trigger further provocations. The best way to do this is to bolster South Korea's military strength and demonstrate a firm resolve to any further provocations.
North Korea must return to the six party talks if the nuclear stalemate is to be dealt with, but unless the Cheonan sinking is resolved beforehand, Pyongyang could end up getting the wrong message, which could fatally damage the negotiations.