Lifting US Sanctions Key to NK’s Economic Revival

Korea Times

To understand what is at stake, we need to look back at key events in the past that led to North Korea’s isolation in the global economy.

U.S. economic sanctions against North Korea began on June 28, 1950, only three days after North Korea invaded South Korea, when the United States invoked a total embargo on exports to North Korea. Over the years, many more U.S. sanctions have been imposed against North Korea, and North Korean companies. Three of these sanctions have had a significant impact.

The first was the suspension of the Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status, imposed on September 1, 1951. This sanction, which is still in effect, made it impossible for North Korea to even consider exporting its products to the United States.

The second is the placement of North Korea on the list of countries that support international terrorism. This sanction, imposed on January 20, 1988, followed North Korea’s blowing up of Korea Air Lines 858 on November 29, 1987, off the waters of Thailand.

This sanction has entailed many restrictions, including denial of North Korea’s ability to borrow money from international financial institutions.

The third measure is not a single action, but has taken the form of a tightening grip around the financial network used to fund North Korea’s illicit financial activities.

Although the ultimate target is North Korea, the threat of actual sanctions has been targeted against banks, including Banco Delta Asia, which deal with North Korea’s accounts. These financial sanctions involving Banco Delta Asia have been the focus of recent overt and covert negotiations between North Korea and the United States.

On September 17, 1999, President Clinton agreed to the first significant easing of economic sanctions against North Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953.

The U.S. easing of sanctions against North Korea, announced on June 19, 2000, may have been too little to persuade the leaders of North Korea to give up their prized long-range missile technology. North Korea carried out a nuclear test on October 9, 2006, and the United Nations passed Resolution 1718, further tightening North Korean economy.

There is no doubt that all these sanctions are having an impact on the North Korean economy. For instance, the North Korea’s annual trade deficit has averaged between $800 million and $1 billion in recent years, depending on whether deficits against South Korea are included.

The huge trade deficit is not sustainable, and it will eventually lead to a decrease in North Korea’s trade and gross domestic product. Studies indicate that the entire trade deficit appears to have been financed by weapons sales, illicit activities, and funds flowing from South Korea through joint projects. With the two UN resolutions adopted during 2006 and the tightening of North Korea’s financial transactions that began in 2005, North Korea should find it increasingly more difficult to pay for its trade deficit.

The key issue is not whether North Korea deserves the lifting of all the sanctions imposed against the country on the basis of its behavior since 1950, but how to bring about a peaceful resolution of pending security and humanitarian issues without military confrontation. This brings us to the importance of the upcoming summit between President Roh and North Korean leader Kim.

My assessment is that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 led to an important change in the approach of North Korean leaders toward a better calculation of costs and benefits.


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