Backgrounder: UN Sanctions Against the DPRK

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DPRK nuclear and missile testing

The United Nations “Security Council Report” lists 20 resolutions related to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. What measures has the UN taken, and why? This article explains.


The United Nations committee in charge of UN sanctions against the DRPK says the Security Council has adopted 10 major resolutions that imposed “robust” sanctions to discourage Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

DPRK shocked the world with its first nuclear test on Oct. 9, 2006. Pyongyang carried out an underground nuclear test. Seismic measurements from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing estimated the yield to be around 0.48 kiloton, or roughly 500 tons of TNT. U.S. scientists published similar findings. The explosion was so much smaller than the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan to end WWII that some analysts concluded the DPRK test was a failure. Nevertheless, the UN Security Council considered the detonation “clear threat to international peace and security” and unanimously imposed sanctions with resolution 1718.

Every Security Council resolution since then has condemned the DPRK’s nuclear and missile activities. The resolutions call on the DPRK to suspend all ballistic missile activities, and return to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Resolution 1718 called for the DPRK’s return to the Six Party Talks. The talks – organized by China, the U.S., DPRK, South Korea, Russia and Japan – took place from 2003 to 2009. Their goal was the same as the Singapore summit—removing nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. China has called for a resumption of the Six Party Talks, as has the UN. In 2016, a DPRK official reportedly declared the talks “dead.”


The UN has prohibited member states from the “direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer” to the DPRK of nuclear weapons technology, missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction. DPRK government officials involved in WMD activities were banned from travelling to other UN member states. Resolution 1718 also banned trade in luxury goods. This measure appeared to target DPRK’s “dear leader” Kim Jong Il—criticized for his extravagant tastes in a time of famine. John Bolton, then U.S. ambassador to the UN, said: “The North Korean population’s been losing average height and weight over the years, and maybe this will be a little diet for Kim Jong Il.”

As of 2018, the UN Security Council website lists more than 20 different sanctions measures taken against the DRPK:

• Arms and related materiel embargo
• Non-proliferation
• Proliferation networks
• Interdiction and transportation
• Provision of bunkering services
• Assets freeze
• Disposal of seized items
• Travel ban
• Financial measures
• Specialized teaching and training
• Scientific and Technical Cooperation
• Coal, Minerals and Sectoral bans
• Ban on exports of condensates and natural gas ban to the DPRK
• Ban on all refined petroleum products
• Restriction on the supply, sell, or transfer of crude oil
• Seafood ban
• Ban on export of textiles from the DPRK
• Ban on DPRK workers abroad
• Fuel ban
• Other bans: Statues, New Helicopters and Vessels
• Luxury goods ban

The sanctions list also names around 80 “Individuals” and more than 70 “Entities and other groups” as of April, 2018. The UN also set up a special Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts to support the committee. The eight experts are based in New York City. The latest UNSC Resolution, 2407, extended their mandate until April 24, 2019.


All UN member states are required to implement resolutions. Some countries like the United States passed additional sanctions.
On Feb. 23, 2018, the U.S. levied new sanctions against the DPRK: “We imposed today the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before,” said U.S. President Donald Trump. The latest U.S. sanctions target 56 vessels, shipping companies, and trade businesses. They are part of Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign the against DPRK’s nuclear and missile activities.