The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Punishing North Korea: A rundown on current sanctions

A North Korean man carries his country's national flag at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium. (Wong Maye-E/AP)

SEOUL — Kim Jong Un’s regime defied international warnings and conducted a fourth nuclear test last month — one it claimed was of a hydrogen bomb — and then launched a long-range rocket this month, widely viewed as part of its missile program.

The international community has condemned the moves as dangerous provocations and has declared that North Korea must pay for its actions. Some countries — including South Korea, Japan and the United States — have taken direct action while negotiations continue in the United Nations on a package of measures that could pass the Security Council, where China and Russia are veto-wielding permanent members. Many Western nations, together with South Korea and Japan, want tough sanctions, but China is concerned about destabilizing its neighbor and has previously insisted on watering down any measures against North Korea.

After nuclear test, Park has epiphanies on North Korea — and China

Here’s a rundown on the sanctions that are in place against North Korea, as of Feb. 19.


President Obama has enacted the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, which passed the House and Senate with almost unanimous support.

Daniel Wertz of the National Committee on North Korea has produced an excellent, readable summary of the legislation here.

Essentially, the law:

  • Requires the president to sanction entities found to have contributed to North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program, arms trade, human rights abuses or other illicit activities.
  • Imposes mandatory sanctions for entities that are involved in North Korea’s mineral or metal trade, which contribute to a large component of the country’s foreign export earnings.
  • Requires the Treasury Department to determine whether North Korea should be listed as a “primary money laundering concern,” which would trigger tough new financial restrictions, and
  • Imposes new sanctions authorities related to North Korean human rights abuses and violations of cybersecurity.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has repeatedly taken action since President George W. Bush signed an executive order in 2008 that declared the North Korean threat to the United States.

The sanctions have targeted specific North Korean institutions and people who are alleged to be involved in developing or financing the North’s weapons programs. They ban these companies and people from doing business in the United States and American companies and people from doing business with them.

The OFAC has produced a helpful summary of all its actions to date here.


The U.N. Security Council has passed four resolutions against North Korea since Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. The kind people at the Arms Control Association have compiled a comprehensive summary here. An even more succinct summary looks like this:

2006: Resolution 1718 banned North Korea from conducting further nuclear tests and prohibited supplying North Korea with technology and training related to nuclear weapons development.

2009: Resolution 1874, imposed after the second nuclear test, tightened sanctions on specific people and companies and expanded the crackdown on arms exports and imports. Member states were encouraged to inspect and destroy any cargo on ships suspected of violating the arms embargo.

January 2013: Resolution 2087, which followed a successful satellite launch, strengthened previous sanctions by clarifying a state’s right to seize and destroy material suspected of heading to or from North Korea for purposes of weapons development or research.

March 2013: Resolution 2094 came after North Korea’s third nuclear test. It imposed new financial sanctions aimed at hindering money transfers and shutting Pyongyang out of the international financial system.


South Korea imposed unilateral sanctions against North Korea following the 2010 attack on a Southern naval corvette, the Cheonan, that killed 46 sailors. These sanctions, known as the May 24 measures, included:

  • Banning North Korean ships from using shipping lanes in South Korean territory.
  • Suspending inter-Korean trade other than at the Kaesong industrial complex.
  • Prohibiting most cultural exchanges.

President Park Geun-hye has now ordered the Kaesong complex shut in retaliation for the January nuclear test and February rocket launch.


Japan had lifted some of its direct sanctions on North Korea as the two countries embarked on discussions about a decades-old abduction program run by North Korea. But as the talks stalled, Japan reimposed some of the measures and then added new ones after the recent provocations.

These are the latest measures, as reported by the Japan Times.

  • Banning remittances to North Korea, except those made for humanitarian purposes and less than $880 in value.
  • Renewing the ban on North Korean ships entering Japanese ports and extending it to include ships carrying other countries' flags that have called in North Korea.
  • Banning North Korean citizens coming to Japan.
  • Banning nuclear and missile-related engineers who have been to North Korea from coming to Japan.


The European Union has imposed rounds of sanctions on North Korea over the last decade. These include:

  • An embargo on arms and related materiel.
  • A ban on the export of certain goods and technology.
  • Banning the trade in gold, precious metals and diamonds with the North Korean government.
  • A ban on exports of luxury goods.
  • Prohibiting government-backed financial support for trade with North Korea that might contribute to its weapons of mass destruction-related programs.
  • Tighter inspections of and advance information requirement of cargoes to and from North Korea
  • Restrictions on access to E.U. airports for certain flights.

The full list can be viewed here.