Search Penny Hill Press

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

North Korea: Legislative Basis for U.S. Economic Sanctions

Dianne E. Rennack
Specialist in Foreign Policy Legislation

U.S. economic sanctions imposed on North Korea are instigated by that country’s activities related to weapons proliferation; regional disruptions; terrorism; narcotics trafficking; undemocratic governance; and illicit activities in international markets, including money laundering, counterfeiting of goods and currency, and bulk cash smuggling. The sanctions have the following consequences for U.S.-North Korea relations: 
  • Trade is minimal and mostly limited to food, medicine, and other humanitarianrelated goods. North Korea has no advantageous trade status and is outright denied certain goods—including luxury goods—and trade financing, primarily due to its proliferation activities. The Department of Commerce places North Korea in the two most restricted country groups for exports; imports require a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control; using a North Korea-flagged vessel for any transaction is prohibited. 
  • Foreign aid is minimal and mostly limited to refugees fleeing North Korea; broadcasting into the country; nongovernmental organization programs dedicated to democracy promotion, human rights, and governance; emergency food aid; and aid related to disabling and dismantling the country’s nuclear weapons program. By law, U.S. representatives in the international financial institutions (IFI) are required to vote against any support for North Korea due to its nuclear weapons ambitions. Human rights and environmental activities would also likely result in U.S. objections to North Korea’s participation in the IFI.
  • Arms sales and arms transfers are fully denied. 
  • Assets are blocked for certain individuals and entities, should such assets come under U.S. jurisdiction. 
Since the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the United States had imposed fairly comprehensive economic, diplomatic, and political restrictions on North Korea. In 1999, however, President Clinton announced he would lift many restrictions on U.S. exports to and imports from North Korea in areas other than those controlled for national security concerns; the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, and Transportation issued new regulations a year later that implemented the new policy. On June 26, 2008, President George W. Bush removed restrictions based on authorities in the Trading With the Enemy Act and the terrorism designation, replacing them with more circumscribed economic restrictions related to proliferation concerns.

The U.S. sanctions in place are a result both of requirements incorporated into U.S. law by Congress and decisions made in the executive branch to exercise discretionary authorities. Though the President, in accordance with the Constitution, leads the way in conducting foreign policy, Congress holds substantial power to shape foreign policy by authorizing and funding programs, advising on appointments, and specifically defining the terms of engagement in accordance with U.S. political and strategic interests. This report presents the legislative basis for U.S. sanctions policy toward North Korea. These sanctions are a critical tenet of the larger bilateral relationship, and this report highlights Congress’s role and responsibility in determining the nature of U.S.-North Korea relations. This report focuses on U.S. law and does not address the impact or effectiveness of the sanctions; several other reports available from CRS address these matters. See Appendix A for a selected list of other CRS products relating to U.S.-North Korea relations.

Date of Report: April 25, 2011
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: R41438
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.