U.S. leaders are congratulating themselves for convincing China and Russia to go along on a UN Security Council resolution imposing economic sanctions on North Korea.
Even when sanctions are imposed on a comprehensive multilateral basis, they have a mixed record at best. North Korea is an unpromising candidate for a successful campaign of economic coercion because it is already economically isolated, and it is hard to see how additional pressure is likely to succeed where it has failed in the past.
Kim Jong-Il's government is a vampire regime. It will suck whatever resources it needs from the North Korean people to pursue its objectives. Although Kim must ultimately be held responsible for the policies of his government, and while his wanton disregard for the well-being of his people is extreme even among dictators, it is typical of economic sanctions that they hurt the most vulnerable members of society.
Indeed, this fatally undermines the effectiveness of sanctions. On the one hand, they are intended to inflict pain and suffering on a target population to the point where the target country capitulates to the demands of the sanctioning powers. On the other hand, the sanctioning powers are troubled by the moral implications of their policies, and they employ other measures for getting food and needed supplies to the neediest people.
Malnutrition and famine are already pervasive. The government-run system for distributing food provides, on average, 250 grams per person per day – 40 percent of the minimum calorie intake recommended by international food aid experts. The UN's World Food Program reports that a survey taken in October 2004 "found 37 percent of young children to be chronically malnourished, and one-third of mothers both malnourished and anemic."
Neither China nor South Korea is willing to support broad-based sanctions. The Chinese and the South Koreans also worry about a collapse of the North Korean state, which would unleash hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees across their borders.
[Excerpt of a commentary by Christopher Preble and Ted Galen Carpenter in the Houston Chronicle]