Tighter sanctions only option against North Korea, say analysts

A man walks past a street monitor showing North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un in a news report about North Korea's nuclear test, in Tokyo, Japan, on Sept 3, 2017.
A man walks past a street monitor showing North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un in a news report about North Korea's nuclear test, in Tokyo, Japan, on Sept 3, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Stronger deterrent needed amid increasing frequency of tests and absence of dialogue

North Korea's latest nuclear test has underscored the need for the global community to tighten economic sanctions, as it is the only option against Pyongyang in the absence of dialogue, analysts say.

Analysts expect North Korea to continue to test bombs and missiles - and potentially at a faster rate. Yesterday's nuclear test was its sixth since 2006, including two tests last year.

Dr Cynthia Watson, professor of security at the National War College in Washington, noted the harsh war of words between North Korea and the United States, adding that the North feels it has no room to back down. She told The Straits Times: "The frequency of the testing has been accelerating as the rhetoric accelerates. They will test until they feel they have the capability to deter anyone, particularly the US, from acting."

US President Donald Trump was scheduled to meet his national security advisers to discuss the issue yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Earlier yesterday, after Pyongyang tested its largest nuclear device, Mr Trump tweeted: "North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success."

He also criticised South Korea for "their talk of appeasement with North Korea".

While Mr Trump said last week that "all options are on the table" after North Korea fired a missile over Japan, analysts said the latest test has underlined his lack of options.

  • S'pore condemns 'provocative act'

  • The following is a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday in response to North Korea's latest test blast:

    "Singapore strongly condemns the nuclear test conducted by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Sept 3, 2017.

    This provocative act severely threatens the peace and stability of the region and further raises tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

    The DPRK's latest belligerent actions, including its recent missile tests and two earlier nuclear tests last year, are clear violations of the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, and a blatant disregard of the grave concerns of the international community.

    We strongly urge the DPRK to desist from such actions, and reiterate our longstanding call for the DPRK to abide by its international obligations and commitments.

    Singapore intends to make its views known to the DPRK government through its ambassador in Singapore."

Mr Trump's "rhetoric has been mugged by reality", Emeritus Professor Carl Thayer at the Australian Defence Force Academy of the University of New South Wales in Canberra, told ST over e-mail.

"There is very little the US can do to prevent North Korea from continuing on its present course," he wrote. "President Trump's bluff of rhetorical bombast has been called by (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un. This is a major setback for Trump's foreign policy."

Warning against hysteria, Georgetown University Professor Balbina Hwang said: "I don't think North Korea has done anything today that profoundly changes the strategic calculation for anybody including the United States."

She told ST: "So far I think we will fall back on the default position - no military strike, and back to the United Nations. But it's pretty clear that won't deter North Korea."

Meanwhile, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox News yesterday that he planned to come up with a stronger sanctions package against Pyongyang, a month after the US helped the United Nations pass new sanctions. He said these will ban any country from doing business with the US if it also gives financial support to North Korea. "There's a lot we can do to cut them off economically, much more than we've done already," he said.


Dr Lee Sung Yoon, professor of Korean studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston, believed that sanctions represent the sole option. He told ST: "Sanctions are the only option, they have always been weak. A lot of people say sanctions don't work, but how do you know unless you try them."

South Korean analysts have urged international unity in enforcing sanctions, with some suggesting cutting off the regime's oil supply and a ban on imports.

But Dr Bong Young Shik of Yonsei University's Institute for North Korean Studies said Pyongyang may be accelerating its nuclear programme as it is "feeling the heat" of sanctions. "That gives more pressure on Kim Jong Un to shorten the timeline to complete the ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) and nuclear programme."

• Additional reporting by Chang May Choon in Seoul

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'Tighter sanctions only option, say analysts'. Print Edition | Subscribe