“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
North Korea warned of retaliation if the United Nations Security Council approves a U.S. proposal for harsher sanctions after Pyongyang conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.
Kim Jong Un’s regime “is closely following the moves of the U.S. with vigilance,” its state-run Korean Central News Agency said Monday, citing a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “In case the U.S. eventually does rig up the illegal and unlawful ‘resolution’ on harsher sanctions, the DPRK shall make absolutely sure that the U.S. pays a due price,” it said, using its formal country name.
“The forthcoming measures to be taken by the DPRK will cause the U.S. the greatest pain and suffering it had ever gone through in its entire history,” KCNA reported.
The warning came as the U.S. called for a vote on Monday on a draft resolution to tighten sanctions on North Korea, which has repeatedly tested bombs and missiles as it seeks the ability to target the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. Kim threw a banquet over the weekend to reward the scientists and engineers behind the Sept. 3 test, which North Korea said was a hydrogen bomb.
In response, the U.S., South Korea and Japan want the Security Council to implement stronger measures against North Korea, including bans on oil imports, exports of textiles and employment of its guest workers by other countries. They also want to freeze Kim’s assets.
The U.S.-drafted resolution is said to drop a proposed oil embargo and instead cap shipments of refined petroleum products at 2 million barrels a year and limit crude oil exports to North Korea to current levels, Reuters reported Monday, citing unidentified diplomats. The draft won’t propose blacklisting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, nor will it seek an asset freeze on the military-controlled national airline Air Koryo, Reuters said.
The Trump administration is planning to unveil another round of sanctions on Friday designed to punish the government of Venezuela, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The measures would be the latest in a U.S. campaign to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The people who described the move did so on condition of anonymity and declined to provide details on the sanctions that would be imposed.
One move that has been under consideration by the U.S. would block trades of Venezuelan-held dollar-denominated notes sold by the government and Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state-run oil company, according to a third person familiar with the discussions, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
President Donald Trump’s administration has been escalating sanctions on Venezuelan officials and others connected to Maduro as the socialist government moves to increase its authority amid a crippling recession and months of violent protests. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has labeled Maduro a dictator for arresting opposition leaders and seeking to revise the constitution.
The measures to be announced on Friday would come days after Vice President Mike Pence met with Venezuelan exiles in Florida.
The unanimous vote comes after Pyongyang tested a long-range rocket over the weekend.
South Koreans watch news of North Korea’s long-rang rocket launch on television in Seoul on Monday.
The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a fresh set of sanctions to punish North Korea just days after its launch of a long-range rocket.
The bill, which passed on a 96-0 vote, was similar to one passed by the House last month after Pyongyang tested a nuclear device. It received overwhelming bipartisan support from a Congress that has criticized the Obama administration for not doing enough to reprimand North Korea.
Both actions violate U.N. sanctions against the isolated regime of dictator Kim Jong Un, who has consistently flouted international efforts to curb his country’s nuclear activities. The U.S. already sanctions North Korea, but the legislation places new punishment on the regime to target individuals involved in its nuclear program and its human rights abuses.
The Failure of Western Restrictions Against Russia
After Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, the Obama administration responded with what has become the go-to foreign policy tool these days: targeted sanctions. The United States placed asset freezes and travel bans on more than one hundred people, mostly cronies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the EU targeted almost a hundred more. The amounts involved have been massive: Bank Rossiya, the Kremlin’s preferred bank, had $572 million frozen in the months after the sanctions were rolled out. Then, in July 2014, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine allegedly by Russian-backed forces, Washington responded with more severe sanctions aimed at key sectors of the Russian economy, including arms manufacturers, banks, and state firms. In an effort to hit the Kremlin where it hurts, the measures inhibit financing and technology transfers to Russian oil and gas companies, which supply over half of state revenues.
Considering the dire state of Russia’s economy, these sanctions might appear to be working. The value of the ruble has fallen by 76 percent against the dollar since the restrictions were imposed, and inflation for consumer goods hit 16 percent in 2015. That same year, the International Monetary Fund estimated, Russia’s GDP was to shrink by more than three percent.
In fact, however, Western policymakers got lucky: the sanctions coincided with the collapse of global oil prices, worsening, but not causing, Russia’s economic decline. The ruble’s exchange rate has tracked global oil prices more closely than any new sanctions, and many of the actions taken by the Russian government, including the slashing of the state budget, are similar to those it took when oil prices fell during the 2008 financial crisis. The sanctions have inhibited access to Western financing, forcing Russian banks to turn to the government for help. This has run down the Kremlin’s foreign reserves and led the government to engage in various unorthodox financial maneuvers, such as allowing the state-owned oil company Rosneft to recapitalize itself from state coffers. Yet the Russian government has been able to weather the crisis by providing emergency capital to wobbling banks, allowing the ruble to float freely, and making targeted cuts to the state budget while providing fiscal stimulus through increased spending on pensions. Even with continued low oil prices, the International Monetary Fund expects that growth will return to the Russian economy in 2016, albeit at a sluggish 1.5 percent.
Nor are the sanctions inflicting much pain on Russia’s elites. Although Prada and Tiffany are doing less business in Moscow, the luxury housing market is anemic, and travel bans rule out weekend jaunts to Manhattan, these restrictions are hardly unbearable. One target, the close Putin adviser Vladislav Surkov, has dismissed them as harmless. “The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock,” he said. “I don’t need a visa to access their work.”
And when the sanctions are judged by the most relevant metric—whether they are producing a policy change—they have been an outright failure. Since the United States imposed the sanctions, Russia has not backed down in Ukraine, and there is no reason to believe that they will force it to do so anytime soon. In the meantime, however, the sanctions are harming U.S. economic and geopolitical interests. If Western leaders want to resolve the Ukraine crisis and meaningfully constrain Russia’s bad behavior, they should abandon their failed sanctions-centric policy and focus on other measures instead, such as efforts to aid Ukraine economically, obstruct Russia’s military modernization, and increase European energy independence.