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February 2nd, 2018 

Summary

On February 23rd, in the final minutes of an 80-minute speech, President Trump offhandedly mentioned a new set of sanctions against North Korea. What Trump called the “heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before” targeted 27 entities and 28 vessels in North Korea, China, and Singapore accused of helping the North Korean government fund its weapons program. They specifically target sea trade, which has been exploited thus far as a difficult to trace source of income. Trump ominously threatened that a failure of the sanctions to solve the North Korean crisis would trigger “phase 2” which may be “ very, very unfortunate for the world”. While the increase in sanctions pushes us closer to a full economic blockade, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin clarified that we would petition China and other countries to inspect suspicious vessels rather than involving the US military.

Analysis

The Trump administration’s hope is that by blocking trade they can starve the North Korean government, forcing them to end their nuclear program. Thus far North Korea has been able to skirt many of these restrictions. Recorded Future, a private digital intelligence firm, estimated that the country has earned somewhere between $15 and $200 million through cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The Institute for Science and International Security reported in December that 49 countries have violated UN resolutions regarding North Korean trade restrictions. North Korea also evades restrictions by changing the names of ships. Chinese banks are another major source of income to the country. Many have been accused of laundering money to help fund North Korea’s nuclear program, yet they have been largely avoided by sanctions.

The world witnessed allusions towards a potential for peace during the Winter Olympics, but the Trump administration seem to be failing to share the enthusiasm. The White House only agreed to pursue talks with North Korea after pressure from South Korean President Moon Jae-in. President Moon’s administration, which began this year and has taken a more friendly approach towards North Korea, has caused strain between South Korea and the United States. Trump doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to surround himself with much expertise in the region, considering over a year into his presidency he has yet to appoint an ambassador to South Korea. His previous pick, Victor Cha, was withdrawn after expressing disapproval towards the Trump administration’s suggestion of attacking North Korea before they can attack us. After the news broke Cha published an op-ed decrying this prospect. This is part of a longstanding approach by the Trump administration, preferring hard-nosed militarism and aggression over diplomacy, cooperation, proficiency, and judgment.

Engagement Resources

  • Read a USResist Summary of the Trump Administration’s Use of Sanctions: Here is the full summary, which covers sanctions against Iran, Syria, and North Korea.
  • Support the International Peace Bureau: The IPB is a peace federation founded in 1981 with the expressed priorities of disarmament and reallocation of military expenditure. Consisting of 300 member organizations across 70 countries, the IPB is building an international movement to reduce unnecessary conflict among states. You can support by donating or applying to become a member.

This brief was compiled by Colin Shanley. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact colin@usresistnews.org.


 

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