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The new sanctions against North Korea, explained in under 500 words

A placard of North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un on display during an anti-North Korea rally in Seoul, in 2016.
A placard of North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un on display during an anti-North Korea rally in Seoul, in 2016.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The United Nations imposed its harshest sanctions yet against North Korea on Saturday, with the Security Council voting unanimously to punish the regime for developing ballistic missiles that could reach Japan and the United States.

The tough new sanctions would prohibit export of North Korean coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, and seafood. These industries account for about a third of all of North Korean exports, and the new restrictions could cost the country about $1 billion in revenue.

The resolution also sets new limits on North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank by banning new joint ventures between North Korea and foreign companies. It prohibits new foreign investments in North Korean ventures, and caps the number of workers the country can send abroad.

The income from those workers' earnings has been a key source of revenue for the Kim regime.

The sanctions will undoubtedly hurt the already-isolated North Korean economy. But it's unclear whether they will curtail the nation’s weapons program. Past sanctions have not discouraged the regime in its quest to develop nuclear weapons.

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley introduced the resolution on Friday to the UN Security Council. Observers were uncertain it would get the nine votes needed to pass. But in a surprising show of unity, all 15 members of the council voted in favor of the sanctions.

Haley said that the sanctions would punish North Korean leaders in particular. It's unclear how the sanctions will impact ordinary citizens.

It was especially significant that China voted for the measure, given that China is North Korea's largest trading partner and that Washington has been pressuring Beijing to take a harder stance against Kim Jong-un. This is the biggest step China has taken against the regime so far.

Tensions with North Korea have escalated in recent months, as Kim announced he had developed weapons that North Korea could use against Japan and the United States, the country's two biggest enemies. As Vox’s Alex Ward recently noted:

North Korea changed the game when it successfully tested the Hwasong-14 ICBM on July 4 and 28. After the second test, it appeared that the missile could travel around 10,000 km, or 6,200 miles, according to experts. That’s enough to hit the US homeland, and possibly even cities like Chicago, New York, or Washington, DC.

The news alarmed Washington, and led Haley to push the United Nations to respond. The economic sanctions are the harshest imposed so far on the regime, though they don't go as far as the US wanted.

Haley had also proposed cutting off access to foreign money and oil for North Korea's military. North Korea gets most of its crude oil from China and Russia.

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