WASHINGTON — In an attempt to further stifle North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear ambitions, the U.S. House introduced a bill on Monday that would apply new financial sanctions to North Korea and call for stricter enforcement of existing sanctions.
Though the North Korea Sanction Enforcement Act has been “in the works for a while,” according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the legislation was fast-tracked after the hermit nation allegedly tested a hydrogen bomb last Wednesday.
The proposed sanctions aim to further limit North Korea’s access to hard currency by blocking virtually all the country’s financial transactions with the outside world. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Ca., said that disrupting the flow of funds will crack down on the country’s nuclear program, the luxurious lifestyle of its leaders and its policy of crimes against humanity that a U.N. report says “hold no parallel in the contemporary world.”
Last Wednesday’s test appears to represent the fourth time North Korea violated the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions against detonating nuclear weapons. This has led many in Congress to believe that more stringent sanctions are required to prevent the nuclear program from growing any further.
The bill’s supporters expressed concern over the extent to which North Korea’s nuclear program has already developed. Royce noted that the country’s nuclear scientists are working to miniaturize nuclear warheads so they can fit on more accurate missiles. Others worried about the country’s nuclear submarines, which are capable of striking not only South Korea and Japan but the United States.
In the past, financial penalties have proven effective in hindering North Korean operations. In 2005, the U.S. placed sanctions on Banco Delta Asia, a Macao-based bank where the Kim regime was laundering money and counterfeiting foreign currency. After the decision, the Delta Asia not only cut off North Korea, but other institutions began to cut their ties with the country. This led Kim to withhold pay from many of his generals, causing unrest in the regime.
“When the option is out there that you can either bank with North Korea or bank with the United States and the rest of the world,” Royce said, “it’s an easy choice.”
This sentiment was widely shared among the bill’s supporters.
Though the legislation received bipartisan support, Republicans chided the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience” as too weak and ineffective. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said that if swift and decisive actions were not taken now, “we’ll be right back here, debating what to do in the future.”
Richard Bush III, a director at the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies, agreed that financial sanctions represent an effective deterrent, “raising the cost” of North Korea’s current behavior. However, he noted it’s crucial that the United Nations first become unified behind this policy.
“You need to implement well the sanctions that already exist.” Bush says. “The sanction implementation has been inconsistent, and North Korea has not been feeling the pain.”