Trump's North Korea Sanctions Are Failing as Kim Jong Un Does Business With Dozens of Countries

Almost 50 countries are violating international sanctions against North Korea at a time when the U.S. is trying to isolate the rogue regime of Kim Jong Un, according to a new report by the Institute for Science and International Security.

The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against North Korea in recent years to apply pressure on the hermit kingdom to abandon the development of its nuclear weapons program. But the North Korean regime became adept at avoiding sanctions and finding countries that are willing to do business with it, the report noted.

“In its efforts to further its nuclear, missile and conventional military programs, North Korea seeks to undermine international sanctions and the export control laws of other countries. It has long attempted to find sympathetic governments or countries with weak or nonexistent export controls that will supply these programs or be more conducive to military and commercial cooperation,” the report’s authors wrote.

“North Korea also targets states that are otherwise strong enforcers of export controls and uses deceptive methods, such as front companies or actors, to bypass these countries’ export control laws,” they continued. 

Bellicose rhetoric between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reached a fever pitch in recent months, especially as North Korea flexed its military muscles and claimed it had an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching anywhere in the United States.

In response, new sanctions were levied against North Korea’s fuel and textile sectors in September. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called on all countries to “cut off trade with the regime by stopping all imports and exports,” and expel all North Korean workers.

But Tuesday’s report showed there were many countries still willing to do business with North Korea.

At least 13 governments were discovered to have violated sanctions against North Korea in military-related cases, including exporting military equipment to North Korea. Angola, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Syria and Uganda were just a few of the countries included on the list. 

Nineteen countries were involved in nonmilitary cases of sanctions violations that involved doing business with North Korea or facilitating financial transactions. European countries such as Bulgaria, Germany, Poland and Romania were included in this list, as was Russia.

Meanwhile, 18 countries, including large economies like India and China, imported sanctioned goods and minerals from North Korea. The large volume of business showed how quickly the North Korean regime managed to develop sophisticated new ways to thwart the sanctions, experts said.

“North Korea's overseas trading networks have developed sophisticated methods for sanctions evasion, often relying on foreign front companies or operating in jurisdictions with weak export control or anti-money laundering laws. Additionally, in past years, many countries have lacked either the interest or the technical capacity to fully comply with U.N. sanctions, leading to uneven enforcement at a global level,” Daniel Wertz, associate director of the National Committee on North Korea, told Newsweek.

“The U.S. has recently put more diplomatic pressure on countries to fully comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions and has been increasingly willing to implement unilateral sanctions on third-country entities that have facilitated North Korean sanctions violations,” Wertz continued. “This may lead to greater international compliance with the U.N. sanctions regime, but I think it is very likely that North Korea's overseas networks are now making their best effort to adapt to the changed circumstances and to figure out new or alternative ways to evade sanctions.”

For now, it appears there is not much the international community can do except lobby countries to comply with sanctions.

“It’s difficult enough to get all members to sign onto the sanctions, but getting them to implement the sanctions is even more complicated,” Mark Goldberg, an expert on the U.N., told Newsweek.

“In theory, they are all obligated by international law to enforce the sanctions. It’s up to the U.S. to press countries bilaterally to live up to their international obligations."

Join the Discussion