Trading with Pariahs: International Trade and North Korean Sanctions
50 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2022
Date Written: April 3, 2021
For decades, the international community has targeted North Korea with economic sanctions, seeking not only to keep the nuclear bomb out of North Korean hands but also to potentially bring about regime change and weaken its military. However, many in the academic and policy communities have labeled the North Korean sanctions regime a failure as none of these goals have been achieved. Why has North Korea been able to evade the pressure of international sanctions more effectively than other targets, such as Iran and Myanmar? Recent scholarship argues that the answer is largely that North Korean elites are insulated from domestic pressures brought on by economic sanctions. We argue that the failure of North Korean sanctions is the result of North Korea’s network of trading partners that prevents the West from weaponizing its interdependence. In this study, we explore trade and sanctions-busting trends using UN COMTRADE sectoral data from 1990 to the present to show how this network of trade has allowed North Korea to evade the pain of economic sanctions. We argue that economic sanctions limit the ability of the US and its allies from incorporating North Korea into their trade networks and in doing so, undermine the coercive power of economic sanctions.
Keywords: economic sanctions, North Korea, network analysis, weaponized interdependence
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