The U.S., Japan, and South Korea revealed new sanctions to punish North Korea for an unprecedented series of missile tests, as they struggle to pressure Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table.
The U.S. unveiled measures against three individuals for their connection to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, while Japan targeted three groups and one individual. South Korea added eight individuals and seven institutions it said were connected with North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development program.
The allies are grappling for new ways to ramp up pressure against North Korea, which is already under comprehensive U.S. and United Nations sanctions. The existing sanctions regime includes a cap on fuel imports and limits on foreign income.
Russia and China, two long-time partners of North Korea, have veto power at the UN Security Council and have shown no intent to punish leader Kim Jong Un with extra sanctions. They played a critical role in passing such measures five years ago after Kim’s last atomic test.
North Korea has fired off a record number of missiles this year with the U.S. and its allies focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In November, North Korea test-fired a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile with an estimated range long enough to carry a warhead to the American mainland, highlighting the challenge for U.S. President Joe Biden.
The U.S., South Korea, and Japan have promised a coordinated response if Kim defies United Nations resolutions and detonates an atomic device.
Among the organizations added to Japan’s sanctions list was Lazarus Group, which the government said also goes under aliases including the New Romantic Cyber Army Team. North Korea in recent years has intensified its cybercrime operations, including stealing from cryptocurrency platforms, to generate revenue to prop up its ailing economy.
A report from blockchain research firm Chainalysis said North Korea’s hacker army stole $400 million in crypto assets in 2021. In April of this year, the U.S. Treasury Department tied the North Korean hacking group Lazarus to the theft of over $600 million in crypto from a software bridge used by a popular video game.
The U.S. previously sanctioned a “virtual currency mixer,” Blender.io, that the government said was tied to North Korean hacking and money-laundering activities.
The U.S. could still target North Korean shipping companies, coal exports to China, and Chinese companies employing overseas North Korean laborers, as well as North Korean efforts to steal cryptocurrency, said Anthony Ruggiero, a former North Korea director on the White House National Security Council who is now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think-tank.
“There’s a lot left to sanction,” Ruggiero said, speaking Thursday at an event on threats to non-proliferation. “We’ve got to reinvigorate the pressure campaign.”
National Security Council Advisor Jake Sullivan told a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum on Wednesday that new sanctions were “coming forward” and that the U.S. would bolster military and intelligence cooperation with Japan and South Korea.
Tighter military cooperation with Tokyo and Seoul would include upgrading “the alliance software that we have in the region,” and “steps with respect to the hardware,” Sullivan said, without providing further details.