Reuters “North Korea may stage two more nuclear tests this year, source says” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/15/north-korea-more-nuclear-tests
Celia Hatton “China's delicate balancing act with North Korea” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-21441917
Tania Branigan “China's patience with North Korea wears thin after latest nuclear test” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/12/china-north-korea-nuclear-test
Sanctions assume that all countries react to external pressure as might a capitalist democracy. They assume a misguided regime will change its mind and put financial advantage above its definition of national interest. "Smart sanctions" (really dumb sanctions) further assume the rich can be punished without punishing the poor, and that all dictators' wives want to fly abroad and shop at Harrods. They assume that trade guides political action and political action trumps dictatorship.
Economic sanctions are hugely popular to western politicians, not because of their effect but because of their cause: the desire to stand on an international stage and being seen to "do something". They are the least-cost first resort of the laptop bombardiers of global intervention. They sound punitive and aggressive without inflicting any hardship on the imposer.
After North Korea the other target in the sanctions frame is Iran. Everything at present suggests that ever-tighter sanctions have done nothing to curb Iran's nuclear programme. Indeed, by inducing paranoia, probably the reverse. Sanctions have certainly "bitten", to the glee of their advocates. They have brought inflation and a collapse in the currency, the rial. They have harmed ordinary people and solidified sentiment against the west and the "great Satan" of the US. Assassination and cyber-weapons have wiped out a few scientists and scrambled a few computers.
What sanctions have not done is weakened the power of the ayatollahs or their private army, the Revolutionary Guards. Both seem as secure as ever, while (relatively) moderate civilian politicians are reduced to feuding and arresting each others' children. Iran's nuclear programme appears to proceed independent even of the organs of its own state.
When I was reporting on South Africa in the 1980s I became convinced that sanctions were aiding import substitution and benefiting the Afrikaner economy, probably giving apartheid an extra decade of life. They likewise prolonged Ian Smith's regime in Rhodesia. Sanctions made Libya's Gaddafi so rich he could spoon money into the London School of Economics. They made Saddam Hussein one of the 10 wealthiest people in the world. Besides, sanctions create sanctions-busting which, like drugs, is a global criminal industry born entirely of the idiocy of western diplomacy.
A year ago the Foreign Office defended yet another round of sanctions against Tehran on the grounds they would "hasten Iran's economic collapse and deepen rifts within the regime, in the hope that saner voices will deem the price of pursuing nuclear weapons too high"*3. Economies don't collapse, any more than poverty changes governments. Even Greece, now the most "sanctioned" nation in Europe, has not collapsed. Places just get poorer. As for "saner voices", they go into exile, hiding or prison. That's where sanctions send them.
If Iran really wants a nuclear weapon, it will get one – the more so when it is threatened with dire retribution if it does. That is how such states react to pressure. Ever since the dodgy election of 2009, threats and sanctions have not weakened the regime's determination to proceed, but rather weakened opposition to it. If ever there was a country unlikely to respond to diplomatic bullying, it is Iran. If ever there was a country that might respond to constructive engagement, to commercial, governmental and cultural intercourse, it is also Iran. Why the west should want to make it another North Korea passes comprehension.
*2:“Whether it's North Korea or Iran, sanctions won't work” http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/13/west-loves-sanctions-not-much-dictators
*3:Simon Jenkins “Why is Britain ramping up sanctions against Iran?” http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/03/britain-ramoing-sanctions-against-iran-washington
*4:See also http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110103/1294080150 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110215/1297745581 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110428/1303973572 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110428/1304017887 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110612/1307859509 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20120929/1348872831
*6:その表現たる主体思想については、http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20070201/1170333898 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20091222/1261450836 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20120514/1337012241 とかも参照のこと。