Internationally, sanctions are part and parcel of diplomacy which are usually used for coercing target governments into particular avenues of response as required by the sender state or international organization, like former the League of Nations or the United Nations today. In theory and practice, sanctions require the sender state’s willingness to interfere in the decision-making process of another sovereign state, but in a measured way that supplements diplomatic leverage without immediately using force. Even though it is legally accepted by the international society, it must be admitted that sanctions work less effectively in foreign affairs.
So far, the United States is one of few, if not only, countries in the world which is most frequently and even provocatively using the sanctions against one country or another. The reasons are different, but as Gary Hufbauer put it, demonstration of resolve has often been the driving force behind the imposition of sanctions from the United States. As the only superpower of the world today, the United States has consistently aimed to deploy the sanctions to assert its leadership in the world affairs. Equally Washington is willing or compelled to demonstrate moral courage and reassure its alliances that it will stand by its treaties’ commitments.
Yet to that end, the United States has also frequently demonizing the target countries’ misdeed, even when the likelihood of changing their behaviour is remote. In light of this, the article likes to discuss the case study of the U.S. sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) from three aspects as follows.
First, North Korea has steadily worked on its own nuclear plan since 1993 when it withdrew from the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT). Since then, the United Nations has passed several resolutions to impose economic sanctions against the decisions of North Korea. But due to the diverse interests of the major powers on this issue, the sanctions are not effective as expected. China and Russia, while supporting the UN-endorsed resolutions, have stressed that any positive engagement with Pyongyang serves to soften what North Koreans perceive as existential threat to their security and core interests; and in so doing slow down the progress of its nuclear program at its root, like the case of the Iran nuclear deal which was struck in Vienna following two-year intensive talks orchestrated by the Obama administration and finally was signed by Iran and six other nations in 2015. It stipulated that in return for its compliance, all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted in early 2016 with reconnecting the country’s stagnating economy with international markets. Yet, in 2018 President Trump just walked away from the Iran nuclear deal, breaking with allies in Europe and leaving the future of the agreement in doubt. The consequences are self-evident to all the countries, in particular North Korea.
Second, under such circumstances, North Korea has sped up its efforts in enhancing its nuclear capability. From 2016-2018 Pyongyang repeatedly demonstrated its resolve and ability to test more than six nuclear and hydrogen bomb test alongside its projecting technology. Understandably the United States and its allies Japan and Republic of Korea (South Korea) have showed their strong denial to the DPRK’s nuclear tests, as U.S. national security council announced that Washington and its allies would have more military cooperation and deployment in the region because North Korea’s tests were seriously viewed as a provocation which would initiate the next arms race in East Asia. As always, China and Russia called on all sides concerned to preserve the maximum restraint. This call led to the detente between the United States and North Korea, such as the summits between Trump and Kim.
Third, frankly speaking, Pyongyang’ tensions with Washington has escalated sharply since the Trump administration adopted a much sterner policy towards North Korea and his unwise decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal later. Following the exit from the nuclear deal, the U.S. returned the sanctions, mainly on North Korea and Iran’s energy and financial sectors, which had previously been removed under the agreement (JCPOA). As a reaction to Washington’s hostility and in particular its subsequent sanctions, North Korea and Iran have taken the necessary measures to deal with the United States and other major powers, arguing that the U.S. can sanction every man, woman, and child but we will never submit to bullying and threats. Given this, the U.S. should abandon its failed policies and return to negotiations with the two countries involved.
For sure, in the reality of international affairs, sanctions do not often succeed in changing or even coercing the behavior of target countries. First, the sanctions imposed may simply be inadequate for the task to the countries, for example, like DPRK or Iran. The goals may be clear enough, but the means in their use are elusive, such as cooperation from other major powers, though needed badly, are often too tepid. In addition, Iran and North Korea have strong support from one or another or two major powers. And they have had their industrial systems backed up by a relatively strong technology and manufacturing capacities. It tells us that either North Korea or Iran is able to find commercial and industrial alternatives.
Second, China and Russia have supported only the U.N.-endorsed sanctions against North Korea, and thus they have opposed to any attempt on the part of the United States and its allies to change the regime of the target countries regardless of the dire consequences. As the close neighbor of North Korea, China or Russia has vowed their determination not allow the chaos occurred in the Korean peninsula. Given this, Pyongyang has substantially the room to negotiation with the United States and its brotherly counterpart South Korea. In addition, China and Russia have provided North Korea the huge and necessary humanitarian aid. As history reveals that in fact economic sanctions often prompt wealthy and powerful allies or friendly neighbors of the target country to “assume the role of ‘black knights’, whose help can largely offset whatever deprivation results from sanctions themselves.”
Finally, it is true that sometimes the errant aim of the sender countries would have wounded target country and its national feelings and even their own domestic businesses. It means if economic sanctions are existent too long, it is possible to alienate allies abroad and business interests at home as well. In the case of North Korea, South Korea does not support all kinds of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Japan, though they are the allies, on their own brothers and sisters in the north.
In light of what has been discussed above, it is sure that economic sanctions against North Korea are doomed to fail. Actually, since last year when Kim travelled to China in meetings with his Chinese counterpart–President Xi, Pyongyang has dedicated most efforts to economic reconstructions at home and to hold talks with the United States and South Korea, involving all the talks on pulling all guard posts and heavy weapons out of the DMZ, possible denuclearization and all missile programs, and inter-Korean economic cooperation. Despite some obstacles ahead, it is a reasonable requirement to resolve the legitimate security concerns of DPRK. Therefore, it is politically and morally righteous to achieve the final end of the denuclearization through diplomacy rather than any sanctions. That is exactly China’s proposed “dual-track approach”—the realization of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a peaceful mechanism on the Korean Peninsula.
Holding on to Uncle Sam: US-Taiwan Relations
The bilateral ties between the United States of America and Taiwan or the Republic of China (ROC) have developed through a peculiar and complex course. The relationship, however ambiguous, continues to form a crucial aspect of security relations in East Asia.
When the Communist forces led by Mao Zedong expelled Chiang Kai shek’s Nationalist regime, who fled to the isle of Taiwan in 1949, US President Harry Truman decided to accept the inevitability of the Communist victory in China and even planned to work out a bilateral relationship with the newly established People’s Republic of China without heeding much to the plight of his former ally Chiang. It was the eruption of the Korean War (1950-1953), which displayed the strength and danger of a Communist alliance between the Soviet Union, China and North Korea, that made President Truman realise the importance of supporting the staunchly anti-Communist regime of Chiang’s Kuomintang (KMT) as a bulwark against what became apparently the rising tide of Communism in the third world nations of Asia. The raison d’être of Chiang’s regime was to overthrow the Communist Party rule in Beijing and “reunify” Taiwan and Mainland China, an act that both the KMT and CCP believed would restore China’s historical rights over the island snatched away by the Japanese and would redeem the historical injustices it faced at the hands of the colonial powers. Chiang constantly insisted for the United States to help him in waging a war against Mao to achieve this objective. However, Washington was not ready to support another war in the region.
Chiang finally succeeded in framing Mao’s maritime offensive acts during the early 1950s as a growing threat and pursued the Eisenhower administration to sign with him the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty which promised military protection for his regime. The United States abdided by Chiang’s One China policy under which it recognised that Chiang’s Republic of China was the sole legitimate representative government of the one China that exists on the face of the earth.
It was by utilising Washington’s vast diplomatic clout that Chiang did not just earn non-socialist allies but also found place in the United Nations Security Council as a Permanent Member.
However, the golden days couldn’t last long. The growing differences between China and the Soviet Union became more apparent by the 1970s and gave way to clear enmity as border clashes and ideological tensions ensued. The United States saw this development as an opportunity to crack the socialist international alliance and decided to turn the dynamics of the security triangle between itself, Moscow and Beijing in its favour by recognising the People’s Republic of China. US President Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972 and the Shanghai Communiqué that followed stated that ‘Chinese on both sides of the border believe that there is but one China’ and that ‘Taiwan is a part of China’. Washington left it to the CCP and KMT to decide which one represented the “One China” and promised not to intervene. In 1979, came a decisive shift as the United States established official ties with the PRC. Following Beijing’s non-negotiable One China Policy, Washington broke away all official ties with the ROC and officially recognised the PRC as the sole legitimate representative of the one China.
This came as a major setback for Chiang not just as a great betrayal but also as following Washington, several non-socialist allies like Canada shifted to recognise Beijing. Chiang refused to budge on his One China policy and broke away all ties with any country who recognised Beijing which costed him much of his diplomatic standing.
A major shock came when the issue of the permanent seat at the UNSC was raised. Washington asked Chiang to accept simultaneous representation of both ROC and PRC but the latter refused it and as UNSC Resolution 2758 was raised at the 26th United Nations General Assembly to oust ROC, Chiang staged a walkout thus leaving the space for the PRC to gain. What followed was a period of diplomatic isolation as by 1980s, the ROC was ousted from most major international organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as space was created for the PRC to be accomodated.
The only positive development for the Republic of China was the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 by the US Congress as a response to the government’s decision to establish official ties with Beijing. Thanks to an active Taiwan lobby, many Senators opposed the government’s decision and claimed that Washington must retain unofficial ties with Taiwan. Under the TRA, Washington not only maintains robust socioeconomic and cultural relations with Taiwan which function through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US which function in more or less the same way as the embassy but also maintains that any resolution to the Taiwan issue in a way other than a peaceful measure would be considered by Washington as a threat on the Western Pacific, implying its security perceptions of an expanse covering the concerns of the United States of America.
Democracy hues: Reunification to Independence
While the TRA brought some respite, Chiang Kai shek’s son Chiang Ching kuo, who took over the reins of governance after his father, realised the importance of democratisation in order to not just enhance Taiwan’s soft power among the liberal West but to also make it appeal to the Mainland Chinese who had presented the demand for civil freedom and democratic rights in the Tiananmen Square Movement of 1984. Hence, in 1987, the martial law was removed. Chiang’s successor, Lee Teng hui declared a unilateral end to the Chinese Civil war in 1991 thus, establishing socioeconomic and cultural ties with the Mainland and breaking away from the old KMT tradition of No Contact, No Negotiation and No Compromise with Communist China.
While the rhetoric of abiding by the “One China Policy” was maintained, Taiwan inched closer to an independent status, thanks to the democratisation process which made it important for the regime to reflect on the popular opinion which turned heavily anti-unification. With a proliferation of governmental and indigenous non-governmental organisations such as civil societies and political parties; deregulation of media and educational reforms among other changes led to the emergence of a new islander Taiwanese identity as distinct from Chinese ethnicity. For instance, in the 1994 White Paper Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan dissociated Republic of China from One China for the first time while maintaining the rhetoric of abiding by the policy. Such sentiments further developed as the leader of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) (which calls for Taiwan’s independence from the Mainland), Chen Shui bian, became the first non-KMT President in Taiwanese history. The growing strength of such sentiments is reflected in the eruption of the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan against President Ma Ying-jeou’s “viable diplomacy” with Mainland China which the protestors saw as making Taiwan increasingly economically dependent on Beijing which hampered the prospects for its independence as well as in the election victory of DPP’s Presidential candidate Tsai Ing wen who remains a major pro-Independence figure.
Thus, during the Cold War itself, Taiwan’s Foreign policy has changed from pressing the United States to recognise it as the One China to the one of being recognised as an independent sovereign nation which historically developed distinctly from that of China. Ever since the fall of the USSR in 1991 and the end of the Cold War which made Washington the undisputed hegemon in the international order, the United States has shifted its focus away from Taiwan to other regions such as Afghanistan where it finds its national interests served best. Taiwanese foreign policy in such a scenario has been to hold onto the United States as much as it can so as to ensure regime survival.
Is Taiwan still important to the United States?
While the dilution of ideological politics and increased communication with China since its Reform and Opening up (改革开放) in 1978 and the fall of the USSR has decreased Taiwan’s relevance for the United States, it still remains important.
First and foremost is the strategic reason as access to Taiwan presents a wide maritime defense depth for launching both offensive and counteroffensive measures.
Second, Taiwan is a region rich in natural resources particularly coal, oil and gas.
Third, as a democracy which has remained favourable to it since the very beginning, the United States does not just feel obligated to protect Taiwan for ideological reasons but also Taiwan’s presence as a flourishing democracy poses a major domestic political challenge to the CCP led PRC where the regime has taught its people that Western style democracy is unfit to Chinese culture and civilisational history.
Fourth and most importantly, the United States’ hegemony rests on its control of the Asia-Pacific region and though it might seem to be reducing its expanse, leaving China to take over Taiwan and the vast strategic importance it holds would be the last nail in the coffin of the era of US hegemony. The US hence, would fight till the last to maintain its relevance in the region by keeping Taiwan independent.
Is it important enough to go to war?
Though Taiwan is important to Washington, it puzzles many analysts if it would go to war with China in case Beijing tries to take over the island.
While the nuclear nature of both the nations is a huge deterrent which would, if at all, lead to a pyrrhic victory; the vastly enmeshed Sino-American economic relations is also a major reason where any hard blow on the Chinese economy would also hit Washington’s. If the United States loses the war, it would not just be immensely destroyed but would exit the world stage with a bang rather than a whimper making it harder to stand back as a world leader. Moreover, even if the United States wins, there would be no guarantee that China would not recuperate its forces and try another time to occupy the territory leading to more hostility and instability.
At the turn of the century, the United States realised China’s rise as an indisputable fact which meant that whether Washington liked it or not, it would constantly find Beijing on its way at every juncture. While such a development does not always mean confrontation or ensure cooperation, it shows the importance of dialogue and compromise in order to maintain stability which is mutually beneficial. Hence, while the United States would not sit back and watch Beijing take over Taiwan, it is also true that it would not rush to wage a war. Even though Beijing has stepped up its rhetoric of absorbing Taiwan with force if necessary, it realises that such a move would not be a cakewalk and hence is likely to consider other options before using force. The hard part of such developments is that it has reduced the central focus of Taiwan’s Foreign policy to holding onto the United States and by putting all its eggs in the American basket, Taiwan can hardly do anything substantial rather than wait for the two superpowers to decide on its future.
U.S. Violates Its Promises to China; Asserts Authority Over Taiwan
As Werner Rügemer headlined on 28 November 2021 and truthfully summarized the relevant history, “Taiwan: US deployment area against mainland China — since 1945”. However, despite that fact, America did officially issue a “Joint Communique” with China recognizing and acknowledging not only that Taiwan is a province of China but that for America or its allies or any other nation to challenge that historical fact would be unethical.
The U.S. regime hides this crucial historical fact, in order to hoodwink its masses of suckers into assuming to the exact contrary — that Taiwan isn’t a Chinese province. Here is how they do this:
The CIA-edited and written Wikipedia, which blacklists (blocks from linking to) sites that aren’t CIA-approved, is the first source for most people who become interested in what is officially known as the Shanghai Communique of 1972, or the 27 February 1972 “JOINT COMMUNIQUE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA”. That article, avoids presenting the Communique’s 1,921-word text, but instead provides, in its “Document” section, a mere 428-word very selective, and sometimes misleading, summary of some of the document’s less-important statements, and also fails to provide any link to the document itself, which they are hiding from readers.
The U.S. regime’s Wilson Center does have an article “JOINT COMMUNIQUE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA”, at which only the document’s opening 286 words are shown, while the rest is veiled and the reader must then do additional clicks in order to get to it.
The U.S. State Department’s history site, does provide the entire 1,921-word document, but under a different title, one that plays down the document’s actual importance, “Joint Statement Following Discussions With Leaders of the People’s Republic of China”. (If it’s a “Joint Statement,” then whom are the “Leaders of the People’s Republic of China” “jointly” issuing it with — that title for it is not only false, it is plain stupid, not even referring to the U.S, at all.) Consequently, anyone who seeks to find the document under its official and correct title won’t get to see it at the U.S. State Department’s site.
Here are some of the important statements in this document (as shown below that stupid title for it at the State Department’s site):
With these principles of international relations in mind the two sides stated that:
—progress toward the normalization of relations between China and the United States is in the interests of all countries;
—both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict;
—neither should seek hegemony in the Asia–Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony; and
—neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any third party or to enter into agreements or understandings with the other directed at other states.
Both sides are of the view that it would be against the interests of the peoples of the world for any major country to collude with another against other countries, or for major countries to divide up the world into spheres of interest. …
The U.S. side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.
The Wikipedia article’s 428-word summary of the “Document” did include parts of the paragraph which started “The U.S. side declared,” but the summary closed by alleging that the document “did not explicitly endorse the People’s Republic of China as the whole of China. Kissinger described the move as ‘constructive ambiguity,’ which would continue to hinder efforts for complete normalization.” How that passage — or especially the entire document — could have been stated with less “ambiguity” regarding “the People’s Republic of China as the whole of China” wasn’t addressed. In fact, the statement that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China” includes asserting that the Taiwanese people “maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.” So: the U.S. did agree with that, even signed to it in 1972. If the U.S. refuses to agree with it now, then what was the U.S. agreeing to in that Communique, and under what circumstances does the Communique become null and void for either of the two agreeing Parties to it? When does it stop being binding? Perhaps the document should have added something like “The U.S. Government will never try to break off pieces of China.” But maybe if that were to have been added to it, then the U.S. regime wouldn’t have signed to anything with China. Is the U.S. regime really that Hitlerian? Is this what is ‘ambiguous’ about the document?
In fact, the affirmation that, “The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan.” is now routinely being violated by the U.S. regime. Here’s an example:
One of the leading U.S. billionaires-funded think tanks, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), was co-founded by Kurt Campbell, who is Joe Biden’s “Asia co-ordinator” or “Asia Tsar” with the official title of “National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific.” The other co-founder is Michèle Flournoy, who also co-founded with the current Secretary of State Antony Blinken, WestExec Advisors, which firm’s client-list is secret but generally assumed to be top investors in firms such as Lockheed Martin. That advisory firm’s activities are also secret.
Perhaps nothing is more profitable than trading on inside information regarding corporations whose main, if not only, sales are to the U.S. Government and its allied governments. Trading on inside information needs to be secret in order to be non-prosecutable. The clients of WestExec Advisors might be extraordinarily successful investors, because they’ve hired people who have ‘the right’ contacts in the federal bureaucracy and so know where your ‘national security’ tax-dollars are likeliest to be spent next.
CNAS issued, in October 2021, “The Poison Frog Strategy: Preventing a Chinese Fait Accompli Against Taiwanese Islands”. It was written as-if the Shanghai Communique hadn’t prohibited this. The presumption there was instead that America and Taiwan would have so much raised the heat against China’s not being picked apart, so as for China to have militarily responded in order to hold itself together; and, then, a stage, “MOVE 2,” would be reached, in which:
The Taiwan and U.S. teams engaged in more direct communication, which aided the U.S. team in framing the crisis. By Move 2, the U.S. team had accepted that using military force to retake Dongsha would be too escalatory and might disrupt the formation of any counter-China coalition. Accordingly, the team reframed the takeover of Dongsha as an opportunity to expose Chinese belligerence and to encourage states to join together to balance against China’s aggressive behavior. The U.S. team’s decision to place U.S. military forces on Taiwan during Move 1 became a key driver for the rest of the game.
By Move 3, both the U.S. and Taiwan teams were in difficult positions. The U.S. team did not want to let Chinese aggression go unpunished, both for the sake of Taiwan and within the context of the broader regional competition. At the same time, the U.S. team wanted to show its partners and allies that it was a responsible power capable of negotiating and avoiding all-out war. The Taiwan team was caught in an escalating great-power crisis that threatened to pull Taiwan into a war that it was trying to avoid. The Taiwan team had to balance its relationships and policies with the United States and China while simultaneously spearheading de-escalation. And in the early part of the game, before communication between the United States and Taiwan teams improved, the Taiwan team had, unbeknownst to the U.S. team, set up a back channel with the China team. At the same time the back-channel negotiations were ongoing, the U.S. team was still, in fact, considering additional escalatory action against the China team. …
Toward the end of the game, the U.S. and Taiwan teams’ main strategy was to isolate China diplomatically and economically and garner enough international backing among allies and partners to make that isolation painful. To this end, the Taiwan team focused on pulling in some of its regional partners, such as Japan, while the U.S. team reached out to its NATO allies.9 To avoid unwanted escalation or permanent effects, the U.S. and Taiwan teams limited their offensive military operations to non-kinetic and reversible actions such as cyberattacks and electronic warfare.
Under “Key Takeaways and Policy Recommendations” is:
Given the inherent difficulty of defending small, distant offshore islands like Dongsha, Taiwan and the United States should strive to turn them into what the players called “poison frogs.” This approach would make Chinese attempts to seize these islands so militarily, economically, and politically painful from the outset that the costs of coercion or aggression would be greater than the benefits.
The U.S. regime’s having in 1972 committed itself to there being only “a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves” has somehow now become a license for the U.S. regime to provoke “Chinese attempts to seize these islands” and yet to cause — by America’s constant further provocations and lying — this to be “so militarily, economically, and politically painful from the outset that the costs of coercion or aggression would be greater than the benefits.”
In other words: the U.S. regime expects to portray China as being the aggressor, and the U.S. regime as being the defender — but, actually, of what? It would be the defender of breaking off a piece of China to add it to the U.S. regime’s allies, against an ‘aggressive’ China that opposes America’s violating its own, and China’s, 1972 Joint Shanghai Communique — which prohibits that.
On May 19th, The Hill, one of the U.S. regime’s many propaganda-mouthpieces, headlined “China warns of dangerous situation developing ahead of Biden Asia trip”, and opened:
China warned the U.S. that President Biden’s visit to East Asia this week could put their relations in “serious jeopardy” if officials play the “Taiwan card” during the trip.
In a phone call with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi warned the U.S. against speaking out on the independent sovereignty of Taiwan, a self-ruling democratic island in the Indo-Pacific that China claims is historically part of the mainland and should be under Beijing’s control.
China doesn’t claim that Taiwan “is historically part of the mainland and should be under Beijing’s control,” but that, just like Hawaii is NOT a part of “the mainland” but IS “under U.S. control,” and NOT “a self-ruling” nation, Taiwan is NOT a part of “the mainland” but IS (not ‘should be’, but IS) under China’s control, and NOT “a self-ruling” nation. Just as there is no “independent sovereignty of Hawaii,” there also is no “independent sovereignty of Taiwan.” How many lies were in that opening? (And this doesn’t even bring in the fact that whereas Hawaii is way offshore of America’s mainland, Taiwan is very close to China’s mainland.)
And how long will the U.S. regime’s constant lying continue to be treated as if that’s acceptable to anything other than yet another dangerously tyrannical regime — a U.S. ally, perhaps?
When Will They Learn: Dealing with North Korea
On May 11, 2022, the United States called out China and Russia for opposing further action against North Korea in the backdrop of its growing nuclear ambitions. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, warned that the Security Council “cannot stay silent any longer” as Pyongyang is said to be preparing for its seventh nuclear test which, according to US intelligence, could be conducted as early as this month. The US Ambassador, in her remarks, condemned the two Security Council members stating that their silence in dealing with North Korea had only provided Pyongyang with tacit permission to continue its nuclear proliferation programme. Thomas-Greenfield stressed on the need for employing stricter measures stating that it was high time to encourage restraint in order to pressurise North Korea to stop escalating further and instead come to the negotiating table. Meanwhile both China and Russia have long been against such a policy, instead pushing for the Security Council to ease such measures on North Korea on humanitarian grounds.
The issue of dealing with North Korea has, for the longest time, troubled the International community and the various stakeholders in the Northeast Asian region. Although the United States continues to push for a policy based on retaliation and coercion, it is important to assess the viability of such an approach.
The Case for Sanctions
North Korea is one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world today. These sanctions date back to the Korean War (1950-53) but were further enforced after North Korea’s nuclear proliferation programme came to the fore. Implementation of sanctions is argued as a means of coercing the North Korean regime to dismantle its nuclear proliferation programme. Article 41 of the United Nations Charter lays down the provision for sanctions to apply pressure on a state to behave in accordance with the interests of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). As an alternative to using force, the UNSC can implement sanctions to compel compliance for states. It is argued that the economic stress that a state ladened with sanctions is bound to face will eventually lead to a change in its policies, giving way to favourable outcomes. In the case of North Korea, the possibilities of extracting favourable outcomes through sanctions have been explored time and again under various administrations, however this policy has not led to any concrete results so far. While it is true that the various sanctions have placed North Korea in a tough economic state even slowing down its nuclear ambitions, these measures have not led to the dismantling of its nuclear weapons programme. The closed nature of the country means that there is little pressure on the political elite of North Korea to implement economic reforms or dismantle its nuclear programme to gain economic concessions from the international community. Furthermore, considering that North Korea established its nuclear programme to ensure state survival at a time of turbulence which continues to this day given the high security threat posed by the US-South Korea military alliance, the North Korean regime has strong incentive to develop its nuclear weapons programme which has so far ensured regime survival through deterrence.
Inadequacy of monitoring and implementation mechanisms have further contributed to the failure of the sanctions regime. An Institute for Science and International Security report noted that currently 56 countries are evading existing sanctions to supply North Korea with necessary goods along its borders with Russia and China. The evasion of the current UNSC sanctions undermines the overall effectiveness of the sanctions programme.
The Problem with Retaliation
Dealing with an adversary can take the route of retaliation or reconciliation. Retaliation involves the use of coercive diplomacy and strict measures to coerce an adversary into falling in line, hence extracting favourable outcomes. On the other hand, reconciliation involves indulging in diplomatic advances with an adversary to churn out possibilities of peaceful and harmonious relations. The United States has, for long, preferred the route of retaliation in dealing with North Korea. This approach started with the stationing of nuclear weapons and troops in South Korea by the Eisenhower administration at the end of the Korean War and continued as a bipartisan measure under the successive regimes. The Agreed Framework achieved under the Clinton administration in 1994 marked the first diplomatic effort at dismantling the North Korean nuclear weapons programme in its early stages. However, the Framework was abandoned by the Bush administration as both North Korea and the United States failed to follow up on the commitments made under the agreement. In his 2002 State of Union Address, President Bush included North Korea under the infamous axis of evil further aggravating relations between the two nations. The succeeding Obama administration followed a policy of strategic patience, distancing itself from engaging with North Korea while maintaining pressure through sanctions. In a major shift, the Trump administration pursued a policy of engaging with North Korea which, while leading to a series of nuclear threats exchanged between the two countries, culminated in the Hanoi Summit of 2019. The current Biden administration has made its intentions clear of pursuing a policy favouring a “calibrated, practical approach” without necessarily prescribing to the strategic patience of the Obama administration or the “grand bargain” of the Trump era. Over the years, the nature of retaliatory policies has changed, from considering military intervention on the Korean Peninsula to economic sanctions on North Korea, but even in their evolution they have failed to bring any change in the status quo. Although the United States did encourage diplomatic advances under various administrations over the years, like the Six Party Talks of 2003 or the recent Hanoi Summit in 2019, retaliation has been an underlying feature of all negotiations as almost all of them have broken down and fallen prey to mistrust and lack of commitment in the preliminary stages. The failure of such coercive policies can be noted from the fact that North Korea’s nuclear proliferation programme is not only intact to this day but continues to grow at a remarkable pace in the face of economic and military sanctions.
Whether due to the nature of the North Korean state, lack of compliance by the international community or the failure of the UN sanctions regime, the policy of sanctioning North Korea into compliance has failed thus far and the prospects of it succeeding in the future seem very bleak.
A Viable Alternative
The United States has often argued that such retaliatory policies are put in place to bring North Korea to the negotiation table. An assessment of nearly seven decades of dealing with North Korea shows that retaliation has never contributed to bringing about successful negotiations. The highest points in relations with North Korea have all come under administrations that have favoured a policy of reconciliation as opposed to retaliation. The closest North Korea has reached to an agreement on dismantling its nuclear proliferation programme has been through the channels of diplomacy. The Sunshine Policy (1998) and the reconciliatory policies under the administration of former South Korean President Moon Jae-in are a testament that peaceful arrangements on the Korean Peninsula are possible if reconciliation and dialogue are made the norm instead of mistrust and coercion.
In her statement, the US Ambassador has stressed on the urgency of implementing measures in dealing with North Korea. Her concerns are not unfounded. With the appointment of President Yoon Suk-yeol and the conservatives in South Korea, who have favoured a hardliner policy towards the North, it is obvious that North Korea will indulge in nuclear brinkmanship in the coming months which can even go to the extent of a nuclear test as early as this month. Although the urgency is imperative, the measures must be rooted in reconciliation. The United States has to, much like the administrations of former South Korean Presidents Kim Dae Jung and Moon Jae-in, indulge in confidence building measures to achieve sustainable relations with North Korea. Although the diplomatic efforts have so far faced setbacks, they have not been implemented in a spirit of cooperation and mutual trust. To overcome the decades of animosity between the two nations, the United States has to abandon coercion and make way for cooperation as a viable alternative. The failure of retaliatory policies thus far shows that further entertaining such assessments will not lead to any breakthroughs and might well push North Korea to further develop its nuclear weapons programme. Meanwhile, both Sunshine and ‘Moonshine’ policies have shown that North Korea will be willing to cooperate if its primary concerns of security and economic needs are met. Although reaching agreement from the current state of affairs can be a long-drawn process, reconciliation is the only way the emerging threat from North Korea’s nuclear arsenal can be resolved.
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