UN sanctions against North Korea: How well are states reporting on their implementation?

small arms survey
4 min readMay 22, 2023


By David Atwood and Gian Giezendanner

Any multilateral instrument on an issue of international concern, such as arms control or disarmament, is likely to impose reporting obligations on the participating states. Reporting has several functions, from indicating how well an instrument is being implemented over time to revealing weak spots and whether states need help to integrate the instrument into national practice. Proper reporting can also foster transparency and trust among states.

However, reporting on arms control instruments — including under the United Nations North Korea sanctions regime — has declined, according to a new paper by the Small Arms Survey’s Strengthening Implementation and Enforcement of the Arms Embargo on North Korea (SAENK) project.

The Value of Reporting: National Reporting Practices under the UN Sanctions Regime on North Korea states that between 2006 and 2022, just 130 of 192 UN member states (excluding North Korea) submitted at least one National Implementation Report (NIR) to the UN Security Council (UNSC). In other words, nearly a third of UN member states were in breach of their legal obligations.

In addition, the investigation found numerous shortfalls in reporting on UN North Korea sanctions, such as use of vague language or scant information on implementation and the incorporation into national law of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR). It also notes wide regional variations in the number and frequency of national reports. Europe had the strongest reporting record in terms of UNSC Resolutions, while Africa — the region with the most countries — had the weakest. (See figure 1 below).

Notably, the study highlights reporting’s importance to achieving the broader objectives of the North Korean sanctions regime and offers pointers for future research and practices.

Figure 1 Reporting frequency of UN member states by region, absolute numbers, 2006–22

Source: 1718 Sanctions Committee

Do arms embargoes work?

A 2007 study into the impacts of UN arms embargoes found their effectiveness depends:

primarily on the capacity and will of UN member states, particularly the UNSC P5 states, arms-supplying states, transit and transhipment states, and states neighbouring embargoed targets.

The Survey report examines how these dynamics may have influenced states’ reporting practices under the UNSCRs on North Korea from 2006 to October 2022, focusing on maritime states, the permanent members of the UNSC, and states geographically closest to North Korea.

Possible reasons offered for the decline in reporting to multilateral arms control instruments are a general lack of interest or commitment, indifference to a specific instrument, absence of political will, or ‘reporting fatigue’ amid many onerous obligations linked to multiple international agreements.

Synergies for smarter reporting

One way to ease the national burden of reporting to international arms control mechanisms may be to exploit synergies between adjacent mechanisms and processes. For instance, the Survey’s study highlights potential overlaps between reporting obligations under the North Korean arms embargo and other instruments, such as the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PoA) and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

It suggests ways to leverage these synergies, such as:
- If states specify in their reporting the other international, regional, and subregional arms control instruments to which they are a party, it will bring to light potential reporting synergies and promote international cooperation and assistance.

- If states repurpose their regular reporting for the PoA, the ATT, and other international instruments, the data could be reproduced in reporting related to specific, arms-related UNSCRs, such as North Korean sanctions.

The study also suggests avenues for future research and practices to enhance understanding and identify policy approaches that may improve the quality and quantity of national implementation reports.

Ultimately, the importance of reporting to the longer-term objectives of the UN sanctions regime on North Korea is laid bare. Reporting may be just one of the obligations states assume in implementing sanctions against North Korea, but it is a crucial indicator of the health of a sanctions regime that can also galvanize states’ engagement in the process.

Gian Giezendanner is a Project Officer at the Small Arms Survey, and leads the SAENK project. David Atwood is a Consultant working on the Survey’s SAENK project.

This blog post was produced within the framework of the SAENK project, which is financed by the Government of the Netherlands.

Blog posts are intended as a way for various Small Arms Survey collaborators and researchers to discuss small arms- and armed violence-related issues, and do not necessarily reflect the views of either the Small Arms Survey or its donors.



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