The United States is deploying energy sanctions from Caracas, Venezuela, to the Korean Peninsula in a bid to bring its rivals to heel. On Tuesday there was a potential breakthrough: A South Korea delegation that met leader Kim Jong Un reported that the North Korean leader is willing to hold talks with the U.S. on denuclearization and normalizing ties. They also said North and South Korea will hold their first summit meeting in more than a decade in late April.
If North Korea fulfills those promises that would be a big win and sign that the recent ineffectiveness of sanctions against some of the United States' biggest enemies — which have fallen short of their goals — may not apply to North Korea. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Tuesday that more sanctions against Russia will be unveiled in the coming weeks.
American policymakers developed the world's most sophisticated sanctions regime during a more than decade-long campaign to prevent Iran, OPEC's third-largest oil producer, from developing a nuclear weapon. Since then, they have wielded the financial weapons to punish Russia for annexing Crimea, hasten the downfall of Venezuela's strongman leader and to halt North Korea's nuclear program.
These more recent sanctions regimes are missing some elements that made the Iran campaign successful, analysts say. The United States reached the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear agreement by marshaling international support for sanctions and focusing on the relatively narrow goal of getting Tehran to accept limits on its atomic program.
"The major purpose was to change behavior, and that at least brought about" the Iran nuclear deal, according to Richard Morningstar, former U.S. ambassador to the European Union and State Department Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy.
"It worked because there was unity among the key players," including the United States, Europe, Russia and China, said Morningstar, now chairman of the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council.
When it doesn't work, sanctions threaten to escalate conflicts, undermine the global economic system and damage the United States' bargaining power in cases where the sanctions fail.