Comment: Where does North Korea get the resources to test missiles and buy weapons?

SEOUL: North Korea has continued an aggressive missile testing schedule this year – seven rounds of launches in less than a month. He also alluded to the resumption of nuclear weapons testing. All of this violates UN sanctions against the country.

Between 2006 and 2017, the UN Security Council passed nine resolutions imposing import and export restrictions on Pyongyang to curb its weapons of mass destruction programs.

Every resolution was unanimous, including votes – not abstentions – from China and Russia. As there are 15 members in the Security Council, nine unanimous resolutions is a powerful statement of international consensus that Pyongyang should stop.

Beginning in 2016, sanctions went beyond targeting specific companies and individuals associated with North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, to shutting down entire sectors of the North Korean economy. These “sectoral sanctions” have increasingly cut North Korea off from the global economy.

Almost all major transfers of goods in or out of the country are now illegal. Yet the North continues to test missiles and show off its ammunition, raising the question of where it gets the resources despite the UN blockade.


North Korea also regularly faces food insecurity and malnutrition. It made this problem worse by closing its border with China for two years to inhibit the spread of COVID-19.

Since the mid-1990s, North Korea has regularly appealed to the international community for food aid. The country’s agriculture is notoriously inefficient and corruption has been rampant as the country has fallen into poverty since Soviet aid ceased in the 1990s.

NGOs and UN agencies working in North Korea regularly estimate the number of “food insecure” people at around 40-50% of the population.

North Korea has tentatively experimented with private agriculture to alleviate these problems, but it fears fully liberalizing the economy. This would shift significant economic power into the hands of private farmers.

Instead, he turned a blind eye for years to private gardens and the food trade across the border with China. But COVID-19 has disrupted this latter strategy. Most analysts believe this is why North Korean leaders have recently spoken of “belt-tightening” and “tough times” ahead.

North Korea has isolated itself from the global economy by insisting on sanctioned weapons testing and has also cut itself off from its gray market relationship with China. This returns North Korea to its own resources – insufficient for a socialist economy to meet its needs.