President Donald Trump’s executive order on North Korea is a strong message to the rogue regime and its international supporters.
The order imposes additional sanctions on Pyongyang and expands the authority of the Department of the Treasury and the Department of State to target any and all individuals and entities that trade with North Korea, as well as financial institutions that facilitate trade. “The new executive order will cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea’s efforts to develop” weapons of mass destruction, Trump explained at a press conference Thursday.
“For much too long,” he said, “North Korea has been allowed to abuse the international financial system to facilitate funding for its nuclear weapons and missile programs.”
The Trump administration is finally breaking away from the timid incrementalism of the Obama era and taking a step that leading experts suggest should have been taken years ago.
“There is a widespread misperception that North Korea is maxed out on sanctions and that there is nothing more we can do,” Bruce Klingner, former chief of the CIA’s Korea branch and a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, previously told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“The U.S. has a number of North Korean and Chinese entities that we could be sanctioning, but we have been pulling our punches,” he said.
Former President Barack Obama actually perpetuated the myth that North Korea is the most sanctioned country in the world, yet not only was North Korea under less pressure than some other countries, but the sanctions that were put in place were also poorly implemented.
“Nobody has ever full implemented the sanctions regime as it exists on paper,” Dr. James Carafano, Vice President of Foreign Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, explained to TheDCNF.
Andrea Berger, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, previously called the international sanctions on North Korea a “house without foundations,” claiming that “not a single component of the U.N. sanctions regime against North Korea currently enjoys robust international implementation.”
The United Nations Security Council recently approved the “strongest sanctions ever” against North Korea, cutting off 90 percent of all North Korean exports and restricting essential imports, such as fuel. It is now of the utmost importance that the U.S. make other countries follow through and implement sanctions against the North Korean regime, and that means upholding U.S. financial law.
“The people who play with North Korea should not be able to do business in the American dollar sphere,” Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt, an international security expert at the American Enterprise Institute, previously told TheDCNF. Illegal North Korean transactions have long been conducted through legitimate intermediaries in other countries, particularly China, that take advantage of America’s past hesitancy to punish countries in violation of the law.
The president’s new executive order makes it easier for the U.S. to use American laws to punish foreign entities that assist the North Korean regime. “U.S. restraint on imposing sanctions has come to an end,” Carafano said.
North Korea has an large arsenal of ballistic missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile that can strike the continental U.S., and a suspected hydrogen bomb with an explosive yield potentially in excess of 300 kilotons. These breakthroughs in weapons development were not byproducts of actions taken this year, but rather they are the products of decades of hard work.
Former President Bill Clinton offered billions of dollars in aid in exchange for a nuclear freeze, but North Korea operated in bad faith, secretly enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. During the Bush administration, the North declared itself a nuclear power and tested a low-yield nuclear device, and during the Obama administration, North Korea conducted four more nuclear tests.
Obama was hesitant to really pressure the Chinese the way the current administration is, fearing a deterioration in Chinese-American relations. Trump’s new executive order puts foreign companies and firms — especially those in China and Russia — in the crosshairs.
The Trump administration doesn’t “mind antagonizing the Chinese and the Russians,” Carafano explained to TheDCNF. “What they’ve done is adopted a strategy of graduated pressure,” not necessarily on North Korea, but on the countries aiding the regime.
“It is an outrage that some countries would not only trade with such a regime but would arm, supply, and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict,” Trump said at the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday, emphasizing the need for action against those countries — like China and Russia — that have aided the regime in the past.
“The Obama administration gained nothing from eight years of looking not to antagonize the Chinese. They went out of their way not to antagonize the Chinese, and whether it’s on North Korea’s missile developments or the aggressive attitude of China in the South China Sea or the Indian Ocean, China used that space not to cooperate with the United States but to accelerate their aggressive activities,” the president said.
Ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons are decades-old technology, so there is a chance that North Korea would have eventually gotten to where it is today regardless, but taking action earlier might have slowed the country’s progress, offering time for a resolution.
“The slower pace of their development would have been better. It’s right to criticize the [Obama] administration for not taking the practical step,” Carafano explained.
Congress actually had to pass legislation to force the Obama administration’s hand, which led to sanctions against Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. Ltd. late last year, just before Obama left office. The Trump administration has demonstrated a willingness to hammer Chinese firms and financial institutions.
“What were we doing for those eight years?” asked Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and an expert in targeted financial measures with nearly two decades of experience in the U.S. government, at a recent seminar on the North Korea threat. “The Trump administration has finally gone after Chinese banks. They have six separate actions against Chinese entities.”
Sanctions alone are not likely to fix the problem though, especially not now.
“Sanctions are not to get North Korea to come back to the negotiating table because they aren’t going to negotiate their nuclear weapons, and that’s the only thing we’re really interested in negotiating,” Carafano said. “It’s not about getting them to the table. It’s also not about preventing them from developing capability.”
“What it’s really about is limiting the regime’s ability to build up and arsenal of any significance,” he said, “You can have an ICBM and a nuclear weapon, but there is a big difference between having a handful of those with a limited capability and a really substantial capability. If you interdict the supply chain, you really can significantly limit the ability of the North Koreans to actually produce a militarily-significant arsenal.”
Sanctions also only make sense as part of an integrated policy and strategy. “It is sanctions, plus the nuclear deterrent, missile defense, and the conventional deterrence through the alliance with South Korea and Japan — all those together significantly limit the capacity of Kim to threaten anybody,” Carafano stressed to TheDCNF, emphasizing a point that Klingner has also previously argued.
The new executive order, as Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said recently, puts the world “on notice” in hopes of uniting the world against North Korea.
But, if these actions fail, the Trump administration has made it very clear that all options are on the table, including the military option. “The United States is a nation of great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” the president said Tuesday at the U.N., adding that he hopes that such action “will not be necessary.”