Trump’s North Korea policy could trigger famine, experts warn

The Trump administration's primary North Korea strategy would do little to curb the country's nuclear program and could trigger a famine, according to experts.

After spearheading several rounds of sanctions, the White House is now urging China to turn off oil supplies to Kim Jong Un's regime and the 25 million people he rules.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump's national security adviser, summed up Washington's thinking Sunday: "You cannot shoot a missile without fuel."

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People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Many analysts say such a move would have minimal impact on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and would instead hit the country's agricultural sector, potentially leading to mass starvation.

"If it could be done, a full oil cutoff would certainly dramatically reduce the amount of domestically grown food available to the civilian population," according to David von Hippel, a senior associate at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, a California-based think tank.

Von Hippel warned the results of an oil embargo — which he conceded would be almost impossible to enforce — could have a catastrophic impact on a humanitarian level.

"Unless China or the rest of the world exported or gifted food to the DPRK to compensate, this would likely lead to famine," he added, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korea's population would feel a lack of oil more acutely than most countries.

RELATED: Every missile launch conducted by North Korea in 2017

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Every missile launch conducted by North Korea in 2017
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Every missile launch conducted by North Korea in 2017
This photo taken on February 12, 2017 and released on February 13 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows the launch of a surface-to-surface medium long-range ballistic missile Pukguksong-2 at an undisclosed location. North Korea said on February 13 it had successfully tested a new ballistic missile, triggering a US-led call for an urgent UN Security Council meeting after a launch seen as a challenge to President Donald Trump. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS / THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This undated picture released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on March 7, 2017 shows the launch of four ballistic missiles by the Korean People's Army (KPA) during a military drill at an undisclosed location in North Korea. Nuclear-armed North Korea launched four ballistic missiles on March 6 in another challenge to President Donald Trump, with three landing provocatively close to America's ally Japan. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A man walks past a television screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on March 22, 2017. A new North Korean missile test failed on March 22, the South and US said, two weeks after Pyongyang launched four rockets in what it called a drill for an attack on American bases in Japan. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks past a television screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on April 5, 2017. Nuclear-armed North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on April 5, just ahead of a highly-anticipated China-US summit at which Pyongyangs accelerating atomic weapons programme is set to top the agenda. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A North Korean navy truck carries the 'Pukkuksong' submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. North Korea has escalated tests of its SLBM programme in the last year. Whilst the isolated country is not yet believed to have an operational submarine capable of carrying more than one missile at the time, its enemies are worried that a fully-functional SLBM would make tracking and intercepting a North Korean missile launch and the submarine from which it was fired very difficult. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "PARADE WID" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
This picture taken on May 14, 2017 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15 shows a test launch of the ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO - The scene of the intermediate-range ballistic missile Pukguksong-2's launch test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) May 22, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS/File photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
People watch a television broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing what appeared to be a short-range ballistic missile, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, May 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 08: People watch a television broadcast reporting the North Korean missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station on June 8, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. According to the South Korean military, North Korea launched several cruise missiles from the east coast toward the ocean on June 8, 2017 in its fourth missile test in four weeks. The launch came amid the international tension surrounding the policy on North Korea, as a day before the newly elected South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, announced the suspension of the deployment of an controversial American missile defence system, and less than a week before the United Nations Security Council expanded the sanctions against North Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
This picture taken and released on July 4, 2017 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows the test-fire of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 at an undisclosed location. North Korea declared on July 4 it had successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile -- a watershed moment in its push to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the mainland United States. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken on July 6, 2017 shows a mass dance event as part of celebrations marking the July 4 launch of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, in Pyongyang. Fireworks lit up the sky over Pyongyang's Juche Tower as North Korea celebrated its launch of intercontinental ballistic missile, a milestone in its decades-long weapons drive. On July 4 -- the United States' Independence Day -- it launched a Hwasong-14 rocket that analysts and overseas officials said had a range of up to 8,000 kilometres, which would put Alaska and Hawaii within reach. / AFP PHOTO / KIM Won-Jin (Photo credit should read KIM WON-JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This July 28, 2017 picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 29, 2017 shows North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasong-14 being lauched at an undisclosed place in North Korea. Kim Jong-Un boasted of North Korea's ability to strike any target in the US after a second ICBM test that weapons experts said could even bring New York into range - in a potent challenge to US President Donald Trump. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIS KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. TO GO WITH NKorea-nucelar-missile-Japan-SKorea-politics, FOCUS by Shingo Ito and Park Chan-Kyong / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 26: People watch a television broadcast reporting the North Korean missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station on August 26, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea launched several ballistic missiles into the East Sea resuming a provocative act in a month despite Washington's diplomacy-first approach toward the belligerent regime. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This picture from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) taken on August 29, 2017 and released on August 30, 2017 shows North Korea's intermediate-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 lifting off from the launching pad at an undisclosed location near Pyongyang. Nuclear-armed North Korea said on August 30 that it had fired a missile over Japan the previous day, the first time it has ever acknowledged doing so. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by STR has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [at an undisclosed location near Pyongyang] instead of [in Pyongyang]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 15: People watch a television broadcast reporting the North Korean missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station on September 15, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan just days after the U.N. Security Council adopted new sanctions against the regime over its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing a file video footage of North Korea's missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on November 29, 2017. North Korea test fired what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile on November 29, in a major challenge to US President Donald Trump after he slapped fresh sanctions on Pyongyang and declared it a state sponsor of terrorism. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Much of the country's 46,000 square miles, an area around the size of Pennsylvania, is covered in mountains. According to the CIA World Factbook, only around 22 percent of North Korea is used for agriculture, compared with 44 percent of the United States.

What arable land there is, North Koreans farm intensively. They've also come to rely on tractors, irrigation pumps, refrigerators and transportation trucks to harvest and distribute food before it rots.

Von Hippel said that even without further sanctions, measures imposed in September as a result of Kim's missile and nuclear tests would likely impoverish North Korea's breadbasket.

"The civilian population will certainly feel the burden of the sanctions well before the nuclear weapons or missile programs or the DPRK elites do, if these noncivilians feel them at all," he said. "At some point, however, the agricultural sector will feel the pinch of sanctions."

MORE FROM NBC NEWS: North Korea says war with U.S. is inevitable

Elizabeth Rosenberg, a senior fellow and the director of the energy, economics and security program at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank, said that famine is "among the possibilities" that lawmakers should consider when deciding whether to impose tighter trade restrictions.

RELATED: Satellite images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea

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Satellite images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea
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Satellite images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - APRIL 2, 2017. Figure 1. Activity continues at the North Portal. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - APRIL 2, 2017. Figure 2. Possible new dumping observed at the North Portal spoil pile. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - APRIL 2, 2017. Figure 3. Probable personnel in formation or equipment in rows at the Main Administrative Area. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 30, 2017. Figure 1. No vehicles or trailers remain around the North Portal but well-worn paths are observed. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 30, 2017. Figure 2. No new dumping of material on the North Portal spoil pile. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 30, 2017. Figure 3. Small collection of crates or trailers seen in previous imagery has been removed. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 28, 2017. Figure 3B. Formations seen in the Main Administrative Area, similar to what was seen in lead up to 2013 nuclear test. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 28, 2017. Figure 2. Material dumped at the North Portal tailings pile. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - JANUARY 4, 2013. Figure 3A. Formations seen in the Main Administrative Area in lead up to 2013 nuclear test. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 28, 2017. Figure 1. Continued activity at the North Portal. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 25, 2017. Figure 1. Probable cabling and water drainage seen at the North Portal. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 19th, 2016: Figure 6: Excavation continued underground in the North Portal area suggesting more tests to come in the same tunnel complex directly under Mt. Mantap. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - JANUARY 5th, 2017: Figure 7: The North Portal spoil pile continued to expand into 2017, becoming increasingly broader. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - JANUARY 22nd, 2017: Figure 8: Late January 2017 imagery showing new spoil on top of recent snow. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 19th, 2016: Figure 9. A close-up of the North Portal spoil pile as it appeared in late October 2016. The unstable spoil can sometimes lead to accidents, as in this case of toppled rail cars downslope. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 12th, 2017: Figure 10. A close-up of the North Portal spoil pile from February 2017 shows that accumulations had begun move westward with a broadening of the top and bottom west side of the pile. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 1. DigitalGlobe imagery showing large shipping container or crate seen at the North Portal. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 2. DigitalGlobe imagery showing no changes to pattern and texture of tailings (spoil) pile at the North Portal. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 3. DigitalGlobe imagery showing a small vehicle present at the West Portal. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 4. DigitalGlobe imagery showing a truck present in the southern courtyard of the Main Administrative Area. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 5. DigitalGlobe imagery showing a truck present at the sites Command Center. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 6. DigitalGlobe imagery showing snow cleared at guard barrack and security checkpoint. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 24, 2016: Figure 2. No activity seen at the Sohae launch pad. Date: October 24, 2016. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 24, 2016: Figure 3. Environmental shed remains adjacent to the vertical engine test stand. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 29, 2016: Figure 1C. Increased activity around the North Portal throughout October. Date: October 29, 2016. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
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"On the other hand, bringing many, many more people under grave threat from more and more intercontinental ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads is a sobering thought," she said, acknowledging the balancing act that those involved in implementing sanctions often face.

There is no need to imagine what widespread starvation in North Korea might look like. From 1994 to 1998, the country was ravaged by a famine that killed an estimated 1 million people.

Mirroring the current crisis, one of the contributing factors was a lack of oil-based products in the agricultural sector after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Since then, life for many North Koreans outside the capital of Pyongyang has remained an impoverished and isolated existence. Even without a full oil ban, some experts say these people have suffered the most from the sanctions already imposed this year.

In September, the United Nations Security Council capped North Korea's crude oil imports at current levels and capped refined petroleum imports to 2 million barrels per year.

The U.S. wanted a total ban on all oil-based products, but this was dropped to keep China and Russia on board.

The loopholes in the current sanctions regime mean that China can keep pumping an estimated 10,000 barrels of crude oil into North Korea annually through the so-called Friendship Pipeline under the Yalu River.

The crude is then sent to North Korea's sole working oil refinery, the Ponghwa Chemical Factory, where it can be turned into products for military use but also — crucially for the civilian population — transportation, agriculture and the fishing industry.

Even if this crude stopped pumping, the North could produce other forms of hydrocarbons, such as melting coal to make up the shortfall, according to a September report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.

Some also speculate Kim has been hoarding fuel reserves in anticipation of further sanctions.

If there was an energy drought, Kim would likely let his innocent civilian population bear the brunt rather than let it affect the weapons he believes are essential to stop the U.S. from trying to topple his dynasty, according to a paper Von Hippel co-wrote after the last round of sanctions in September.

"There is little evidence of any direct impact between oil constraints and the missile programs, at this moment," according to George A. Lopez, a professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame.

"The poorest people that you don't see in Pyongyang, and everyone outside the city, would be short of heating oil this winter. And the reverberations in national agriculture come spring, summer could be devastating."

This prioritization would be business as usual for North Korea — one of the poorest countries in the world, but one that still manages to spend more than one-fifth of its GDP on its military, far higher than any other country.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin put it in September: "North Korea would rather eat grass than abandon its nuclear program."

Several experts told NBC News that a total embargo of oil-based products would be nearly impossible to achieve. Doing so would involve persuading China to acquiesce to Trump's demands while stopping all illicit smuggling into North Korea.

"It's very difficult to believe that a full oil embargo could be fully implemented," said Rosenberg, the Center for a New American Security analyst.

A total of 49 countries, including China, are failing to fully implement the sanctions that are already in place, according to a report by the Institute for Science and International Security published Tuesday.

MORE FROM NBC NEWS: How North Korea recruits its army of young hackers

And that's without trying to police a total ban on all oil entering the isolated state.

"It's hard to think of how you could create a really watertight sanctions program," Rosenberg added.

So what can be done?

Both Rosenberg and Lopez agreed that the way forward is not in trying to limit the physical goods traveling in and out of North Korea but to restrict the financial transactions associated with them. These measures have increasingly cropped up in U.S. and U.N. resolutions, even if they don't appear to be the White House's main focus.

"Such financial sanctions are the wave of the present and future," Lopez said. "It's not just 'follow the money,' as they say, but cut off all the money, illicit and legitimate."

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