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Why Economic Sanctions on North Korea Fail to Work?

    Imposed since 2006, the comprehensive multilateral economic sanctions against North Korea appear to have had little effect on the regime’s pursuance of nuclear programs. Under the increasingly strict measures, Pyongyang has been demonstrating ever greater resolves to stick to its way of nuclear buildup. This study explores the reasons behind the failed economic sanctions from the international community. It argues that economic sanctions usually follow a two-step working mechanism, which is informed by multiple causal pathways. Accordingly, the effectiveness of sanctions is largely subject to the dynamic contexts of the target, senders and international community. Considering the causal logic from different aspects, this article identifies several obstacles. The most important one is that owing to North Korea’s political structure and history, there is almost no constituency that may respond to the sanction pressure; on the contrary, economic sanctions seem to only increase domestic resistance against exogenous hostilities. In other words, it is not a regime that is likely to yield to coercive policies. Therefore, tougher sanctions may only generate pressure, but they can hardly change North Korea’s nuclear policy.