One of the international community’s largest grievances made its most significant gesture in recent months on Saturday Sept. 10. North Korea successfully constructed and then tested its most powerful nuclear weapon to date, which is a clear violation of United Nations sanctions placed on the state and a push in the wrong direction for a stable Korean peninsula. In terms of the weapon’s destructive capability, this one is unmatched. According to CNN, it is the fifth nuclear weapon North Korea has tested and had an estimated 10 kilotons of force. Connect this with the statement that North Korean officials made months ago—stating their capability to attach these weapons onto ballistic missiles—and the result is not only a pressured South Korea and Japan, but also a tense international community.
The U.N. Security Council responded with a denouncement of the test and emphasized its ongoing economic sanctions against North Korea. These sanctions include a strict ban on all natural resource exports, mandated investigations on all planes and ships leaving the country and illegalization of all sales of small arms to the authoritarian regime.
None of these sanctions are new, however, and those who are remotely concerned with the rogue state ask ourselves how effective these statements and sanctions are. It is easy to be pessimistic and even frustrated with the U.N. when their immediate response to this controversy is the statement that “this is a clear threat to international peace and security.” As an individual who does not want to live through a nuclear incident, hearing this statement each time a relentless dictator progresses war-like actions is exasperating.
The sanctions regarding trade with North Korea are as pointless as they are ineffective. The Index of Economic Freedom labels the state as a “hermit kingdom” with complete isolation from the global economy. Putting economic pressure on a state that readily pressures its own citizens and is disconnected from the global market is simply futile.
According to the 2013 CIA World Fact Book, however, North Korea’s biggest trading partner is China—the country imported 67 percent of North Korea’s exports in 2011. Simple—and vastly more effective—U.N. economic sanctions then should come between the two nations’ trade deals. The most efficient way to cripple North Korea’s state-run economy is to weaken its economic relationship with China, not to threaten nearly nonexistent relations with international trade.
Within the realms of military or humanitarian ideals, North Korea is a nightmare. The state openly threatens both the United States and our ally South Korea. Adding new economic sanctions isn’t enough to curb its threats.
The most meaningful way to deal with these aggressors is through quick, forceful responses. Perhaps not full-scale war—but if history has taught us anything, it is that appeasing aggressive leaders and waiting idly produces nothing more than escalating conflict.