The United States has hit Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Worker’s Party in North Korea, with sanctions for violating human rights. Two days ago, the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on 15 individuals, including Chairman Kim, and eight organizations. They will be barred from entering the United States, have their assets in the United States frozen and will have all financial transactions suspended. Since U.S.-North Korea relations have already been severed, this situation is more of a symbolic action. However, it is obvious that North Korea will take as a major insult the branding of Chairman Kim — the [people's] supreme leader — as a perpetrator of human rights abuses.

By directly targeting Chairman Kim, the United States is sending a message that it will punish the regime regardless of [any change] in U.S.-North Korea relations. Through the Congress of the Worker’s Party and the Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korea proclaimed the Kim Jong Un era, and the imposition of sanctions at this time and during these major events is full of significance. Without North Korea giving up its Byungjin policy of parallel nuclear and economic development, there is no room for improvement for relations in Korea. Using the human rights card, a last resort for foreign relations, reveals a similar story. Because of this, whether it is the Obama administration or the next U.S. administration, it will be some time before U.S.-North Korea relations can be restored. U.S.-North Korea relations seem to have "crossed the Rubicon."

The United States bringing up the grave human rights situation in North Korea is consistent with the advocacy of universal human rights. North Korea’s political prison camps and the systematic and widespread abuse of human rights must come to a stop. However, although these recent measures may undermine North Korea’s authority, it is doubtful that they will have a real effect in improving human rights. The best-case scenario would be that North Korea accepts U.S. recommendations on [ensuring] human rights. But looking at North Korea’s attitude in the past, this is an unrealistic expectation. Rather, North Korea is more likely to exchange criticism and resist diplomatic pressure while making military threats. This situation would raise the political-military tension on the Korean peninsula. Moreover, North Korea is likely to have a negative reaction to the U.S.-South Korea joint military drills scheduled for next month.

It does not look like these sanctions on Chairman Kim will have a positive effect on resolving the issue of North Korean nuclear development. If these measures won’t improve the human rights situation nor resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, the United States cannot avoid the conclusion that its recent actions will deteriorate the U.S.-North Korea relationship and the situation on the Korean peninsula. We must carefully consider that the U.S.-North Korea policy does not only concern nuclear issues and human rights, but also influences inter-Korean relations and the Korean peninsula as a whole.