The US and others are sanctioning North Korea economically due to their nuclear advancements.

But such sanctions hurt the people and country as a whole. Less jobs, more poverty, reduced standard of living. It obviously will not (or will it??) hurt the rich and totalitarian leader(s) of the country who make the decisions, and who, by the looks of it, do not seem overly interested in the wellbeing of their people.

What is the point of these sanctions according to official statements by the sanctioning governments? They hurt innocent people, but are they really likely to hurt Kim Jong Un?

  • 5
    Similar: Do sanctions really serve their purpose?
    – Panda
    Aug 6, 2017 at 14:23
  • 2
    Possible duplicate of Do sanctions really serve their purpose? Aug 6, 2017 at 18:13
  • 3
    I think the North Korean context here differentitates it from the possible duplicate. North Korea is not a typical member of the international community.
    – James K
    Aug 6, 2017 at 19:22
  • 1
    I do not understand why this question was closed. It sounds perfectly legitimate to me. What exactly does western government try to pursure with such "sanctions" ? This is a fact-based question and leaves little room for opinions (at least not more than any other politics-related question, which are always by nature prone to opinions). This question is in fact more focused and less opinion based than the previous question which was linked to in the comments and which was not closed.
    – Bregalad
    Aug 8, 2017 at 6:16
  • To make the question less opinion-based and speculative I modified it to ask specifically for official government statements. That should protect us from conspiracy theory answers.
    – Philipp
    Aug 8, 2017 at 13:52

2 Answers 2


No, the sanctions are not going to personally hurt Kim Jong Un or any of his subordinates. Such attempts would be childish, and politicians, in general, are quite rational (it's a very competitive market, only the best, in terms of efficiency, can rise up to the top).

However, such sanctions are very effective in keeping the regime technologically backward. They have very limited access to modern technologies, and very limited possibilities to purchase them. The only source is actually China, but China is also not interested in letting North Korea achieve technological edge.

It's unlikely anybody wants the Regime to fail. The consequences would be too severe, including all their weapons landing on black market. It's better to keep Regime stable, but diminish their military potential by undermining their economy.


Collective punishment of nations is the norm in international diplomacy. It is commonplace to hold everyone in a country responsible for the actions of their government.

For example, a declaration of war is usually directed at a country, rather than at particular individuals, even though many people in the country upon which war is declared have nothing to do with the policy or even actively oppose it, and someone who is a citizen of a country upon which your country has declared war is legally an "enemy" even if they did nothing personally to you.

The use of collective punishment largely reflects respect for the institution of sovereignty and the practical reality that the state imposing the sanctions doesn't usually have the practical ability to target the effect of sanctions to specific people in another sovereign state. It also reflects the belief that the leaders of a sovereign state upon which sanctions are imposed care enough about their citizens to be motivated to take actions that will relieve their country of the sanctions.

In short, sanctions directed at a country rather than at an individual are an imperfect solution for an imperfect world that have been used frequently historically when political actors in the sanctioning states decide that it is appropriate to do so.

In the case of the penultimate sanctions passed by Congress against North Korea which became law on February 18, 2016, Section 2 of H.R. 757 which was incorporated in an omnibus sanctions bill ultimately adopted sets forth the official purposes of the sanctions as set forth below.

In the most recent sanctions bill, which became law August 2, 2017 was H.R. 3364, sanctions against North Korea are contained in Title III of the law. Subtitle A seeks to "Enforce And Implement United Nations Security Council Sanctions Against North Korea" and Subtitle B seeks to address human rights abuses by the government of North Korea. The purposes set forth below from H.R. 757 carry over to the most recent bill because the most recent bill simply amends H.R. 757 while retaining the same findings and purposes set forth in Section 2 of H.R. 757.

As is generally the case, the goal is to change the government policies of the sanctioned country, not the punish a particular leader or group of leaders of that country.


(a) Findings.--Congress finds the following:
        (1) The Government of North Korea--
                (A) has repeatedly violated its commitments to the 
            complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of 
            its nuclear weapons programs; and
                (B) has willfully violated multiple United Nations 
            Security Council resolutions calling for North Korea to 
            cease development, testing, and production of weapons of 
            mass destruction.
        (2) Based on its past actions, including the transfer of 
    sensitive nuclear and missile technology to state sponsors of 
    terrorism, North Korea poses a grave risk for the proliferation 
    of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
        (3) The Government of North Korea has been implicated 
    repeatedly in money laundering and other illicit activities, 
                (A) prohibited arms sales;
                (B) narcotics trafficking;
                (C) the counterfeiting of United States currency;
                (D) significant activities undermining 
            cybersecurity; and
                (E) the counterfeiting of intellectual property of 
            United States persons.
        (4) North Korea has--
                (A) unilaterally withdrawn from the Agreement 
            Concerning a Military Armistice in Korea, signed at 
            Panmunjom July 27, 1953 (commonly referred to as the 
            ``Korean War Armistice Agreement''); and
                (B) committed provocations against South Korea--
                      (i) by sinking the warship Cheonan and killing 
                  46 of her crew on March 26, 2010;
                      (ii) by shelling Yeonpyeong Island and killing 
                  4 South Korean civilians on November 23, 2010;
                      (iii) by its involvement in the ``DarkSeoul'' 
                  cyberattacks against the financial and 
                  communications interests of South Korea on March 
                  20, 2013; and
                      (iv) by planting land mines near a guard post 
                  in the South Korean portion of the demilitarized 
                  zone that maimed 2 South Korean soldiers on August 
                  4, 2015.
        (5) North Korea maintains a system of brutal political 
    prison camps that contain as many as 200,000 men, women, and 
    children, who are--
                (A) kept in atrocious living conditions with 
            insufficient food, clothing, and medical care; and
                (B) under constant fear of torture or arbitrary 
        (6) North Korea has prioritized weapons programs and the 
    procurement of luxury goods--
                (A) in defiance of United Nations Security Council 
            Resolutions 1695 (2006), 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 
            (2013), and 2094 (2013); and
                (B) in gross disregard of the needs of the people of 
            North Korea.
        (7) Persons, including financial institutions, who engage in 
    transactions with, or provide financial services to, the 
    Government of North Korea and its financial institutions without 
    establishing sufficient financial safeguards against North 
    Korea's use of such transactions to promote proliferation, 
    weapons trafficking, human rights violations, illicit activity, 
    and the purchase of luxury goods--
                (A) aid and abet North Korea's misuse of the 
            international financial system; and
                (B) violate the intent of the United Nations 
            Security Council resolutions referred to in paragraph 
        (8) The Government of North Korea has provided technical 
    support and conducted destructive and coercive cyberattacks, 
    including against Sony Pictures Entertainment and other United 
    States persons.
        (9) The conduct of the Government of North Korea poses an 
    imminent threat to--
                (A) the security of the United States and its 
                (B) the global economy;
                (C) the safety of members of the United States Armed 
                (D) the integrity of the global financial system;
                (E) the integrity of global nonproliferation 
            programs; and
                (F) the people of North Korea.
        (10) The Government of North Korea has sponsored acts of 
    international terrorism, including--
                (A) attempts to assassinate defectors and human 
            rights activists; and
                (B) the shipment of weapons to terrorists and state 
            sponsors of terrorism.

(b) Purposes.--The purposes of this Act are--
        (1) to use nonmilitary means to address the crisis described 
    in subsection (a);
        (2) to provide diplomatic leverage to negotiate necessary 
    changes in the conduct of the Government of North Korea;
        (3) to ease the suffering of the people of North Korea; and
        (4) to reaffirm the purposes set forth in section 4 of the 
    North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (22 U.S.C. 7802).

You must log in to answer this question.