SEOUL, South Korea — Seven years of U.N. sanctions against North Korea have done nothing to derail Pyongyang’s drive for a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States. They might have even bolstered the Kim family by giving their propaganda maestros ammunition to whip up anti-U.S. sentiment and direct attention away from government failures.
In the wake of fresh U.N. sanctions leveled at North Korea on Thursday for its latest nuclear test, the question is: Will this time be different?
Since 2006, North Korea has launched long-range rockets, tested a variety of missiles and conducted three underground nuclear explosions, the most recent on Feb. 12. Through it all, Pyongyang was undeterred by a raft of sanctions — both multilateral penalties from the United Nations and national sanctions from Washington, Tokyo and others — meant to punish the government and sidetrack its nuclear ambitions.
A problem with the approach, analysts said, is that outsiders routinely underestimate North Korea’s knack for survival. The sanctions are intended to make life more difficult for a country that has crushing poverty, once suffered through a devastating famine and lost its Soviet backers long ago, but Pyongyang often manages to find some advantage.
While state media have not officially announced the new measures, North Korean citizens have been both defiant and dismissive about past sanctions.
“The sanctions are a trigger, a confrontation,” said Kim Myong Sim, a 36-year-old who works at Pyongyang Shoe Factory. “History has shown that Korea has never even thrown a stone at America, but the U.S. still continues to have a hostile policy toward my country.”
If North Koreans have “the respected general’s order, we will wipe Washington from the Earth,” she said, referring to leader Kim Jong Un.
She said North Koreans have “already suffered sanctions in the past, but we have found our own way and have become self-reliant.”
Sanctions “may be doing more to strengthen the regime than hasten its demise,” according to a 2011 essay by John Delury and Chung-in Moon, North Korea specialists at Yonsei University.