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Will sanctions on North Korea bite?

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North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un is seen during the inspection of a potato flour factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on 6 December, 2017. KCNA/via Reuters

The UN Security Council will vote on Friday evening on a US-drafted resolution tightening sanctions on North Korea. The measure is expected to be passed, and would be the third raft of sanctions imposed on the country this year. But with North Korea continuing its nuclear programme despite the sanctions already passed, what can a new round achieve?


These sanctions cover some new ground. For example, they will cap crude oil supplies and order all North Korean nationals working abroad to go home within the next year. Many of these workers are sent abroad to provide money for the North Korean government.

"Will these sanctions be enough to force North Korea to denuclearise? Clearly not," says Antoine Bondaz, North Korea expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.

But the "strategy of the United States and its allies is aimed not at denuclearising North Korea in the short term but rather at forcing the DPRK [North Korea] to come back to the negotiating table."

Limitations of sanctions

But some experts doubt that further sanctions would do much even to encourage the North Koreans to talk.

The DPRK has "a short border with Russia and a long one with China, and that's been hitherto pretty porous [...] A lot of Chinese companies benefit from dealing with North Korea directly, there's a lot of Chinese investment in North Korea."

As for Russia, "Putin has indicated directly that he didn't think sanctions were sensible, and there's evidence that Russia is not actually implementing them despite UN resolutions."