(News Focus) U.S. sanctions on N.K. leader unlikely to have meaningful effects on Pyongyang's behavior: U.S. experts
By Chang Jae-soon
WASHINGTON, July 6 (Yonhap) -- The unprecedented U.S. sanctions on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for human rights violations are highly symbolic, but unlikely to have any meaningful effects on Pyongyang's behavior, U.S. experts said Wednesday.
The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Kim and other top officials and state agencies for their roles in the North's human rights abuses. The department was acting on a State Department report recommending sanctions against 23 officials and entities.
It was the first time the U.S. has imposed direct sanctions on the North's leader and the designation also marked the first-ever U.S. sanctions on Pyongyang over its human rights abuses. That shows the U.S. is committed to ratcheting up pressure on Pyongyang.
U.S. experts, however, expressed doubts about the effects the sanctions will have on Pyongyang's treatment of its people or on its nuclear and missile programs.
"It makes us feel as if we are doing something when in reality the actions we take will likely have very little impact on the regime and the actions it takes against its people," said Ken Gause, a senior North Korea analyst at CNA Corp. in Washington.
"The actions North Korea takes in this regard are tied to a calculus based on internal security and regime maintenance. Against such considerations external pressure to punish for general human rights violations has little impact," he said.
North Korea, which tolerates no criticism of its leader, is expected to react angrily to the designation and could undertake provocations in protest, such as missile tests, further escalating the already-high tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
"The sanctions will harden North Korea's relations with the United States. If the intention of the sanctions is to get North Korea to stop abusing its citizens, the United States and South Korea need to fundamentally rethink their policies toward Pyongyang," Gause said.
Only through a mix of engagement and pressure can the international community build up the leverage necessary to force a change in the North's behavior, he said, adding that pressure alone will embarrass the regime in Pyongyang, but won't make them change their ways.
"Engagement and confidence building measures will allow the regime to relax its crackdown on the population and the infusion of aid will likely improve the daily lives of the general populace," he said.
U.S. officials also acknowledge that the latest sanctions won't bring about any dramatic change.
"What this report does is it sends a message to people within the North Korean regime, particularly the lower to midlevels, that if you become involved in abuses like running concentration camps, or hunting down defectors, we will know who you are, and you will end up on the blacklist that leaves you at a significant disadvantage in the future," a senior State Department official said in a press conference call.
"We have no illusions that this is going to bring some sort of dramatic change in and of itself to North Korea, but simply lifting the anonymity of these functionaries may make them think twice time to time when they consider a particular act of cruelty or repression," he said.
The designation is the latest in a series of measures the U.S. is taking to increase pressure on the North.
The U.S. has led the U.N. Security Council to adopt the toughest sanctions ever on Pyongyang while enacting its own unilateral sanctions on the communist nation in the wake of the North's fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch the following month.
Last month, the Treasury Department also designated the North as a "primary money laundering concern," a powerful sanction designed to cut off the rogue regime from the international banking system, for defiantly pursuing nuclear and missile development.
Wednesday's designation calls for freezing assets of and banning American transactions with those blacklisted, but they are expected to be largely symbolic as North Korean officials have no assets in the U.S. and do not engage in transactions with Americans.
"The symbolic listing of Kim and senior colleagues is unlikely to have any impact on North Korea's nuclear program or relations with the United States. North Korea is already viewed as one of, if not 'the,' most repressive regimes in the world, so its moral standing will not change," said Alan Romberg, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center.
Romberg said that what's important is whether the new U.N. Security Council sanctions or unilateral U.S. financial sanctions will be implemented "in a way that will change North Korea's calculus about the costs and benefits of its nuclear program."
Another North Korea expert said the human rights sanctions only "make us feel good."
"Everyone knows the North is guilty of serious human rights violations. The issue is what is the U.S. strategy for dealing with that problem as well as the continued development of nuclear weapons and delivery systems," the expert said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"It's one thing to take steps that make us feel good, another to have a real game plan," he said.