North Korea’s Sanctions-Busting Gets More Sophisticated—and More Lucrative

North Korea’s Sanctions-Busting Gets More Sophisticated—and More Lucrative
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, watches the test firing of a missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea, Aug. 24, 2019 (Korea Central News Agency photo via AP Images).

As a United Nations report revealed earlier this month, North Korea continues to dodge international sanctions and raise money for its nuclear weapons program, despite attempts to bar it from the global financial system. The report from the panel of experts charged by the U.N. Security Council with overseeing enforcement of U.N. sanctions on North Korea conclusively shows how Pyongyang capitalizes on an old method of sanctions-busting—smuggling—and a much newer one: hacking. In both cases, its tactics are getting more innovative.

When it comes to smuggling, North Korea’s use of ship-to-ship transfers continues to circumvent sanctions “unabated,” including through previously unreported methods. North Korea has been so successful in importing refined petroleum that the U.N. report said there are no current shortages of gasoline or diesel fuel within the country. Meanwhile, Pyongyang has used increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks “to steal funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges,” the report warned, allowing it “to evade financial sanctions and generate income in ways that are harder to trace.” In both cases, North Korea relies on jurisdictions that lack either the will or the ability to stop it.

Despite the Trump administration’s claims of a stringent, international campaign of “maximum pressure” on North Korea, Kim Jong Un’s regime can still shield itself thanks to Russia and China. Both major powers objected to some details in the U.N. report, in part out of fear that it would implicate Russian and Chinese nationals in helping North Korea evade sanctions. North Korea, in a demonstration of what is at stake, launched two projectiles into the sea a week after the report’s release.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.