N. Korea sanctions bill headed for President’s desk later today; Hillary makes a funny about Bernie.

By now, most of you know that the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, the Senate’s version of H.R. 757, passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday night. The House is expected to pass the Senate’s version this morning and send it to the President’s desk.

In an election year, when floor time is especially precious, it was remarkable and humbling that the Senate spent an entire day debating this bill. Senator after senator came to the floor to give supportive speeches. If you read only one of them, read the moving speech of Senator Diane Feinstein (D, CA) about human rights, but be warned — this is the stuff of nightmares, and not for children’s eyes.

The speeches should be available on video here within the next few days.

Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio interrupted their presidential campaigns to fly back to Washington and cast “yea” votes. Both senators have been solid supporters of the bill. Two years ago, Senator Rubio personally read every line of an earlier version. I hope I’m not giving away a trade secret here, but it’s pretty damn rare for representatives and senators to personally read lengthy, legalistic bills themselves; most delegate that to their staffers. Rubio did so with obvious care and understanding, leaving no doubt that he’s extremely bright. I saw his tracked changes and comment bubbles in the draft, and suspect that the mineral export ban the Senate added to section 104 was (at least in part) his idea. That provision could be quite powerful, akin to previous legislation that banned Iran’s oil sales.

Cruz’s staff was also strongly supportive of the effort following North Korea’s nuclear test, and (working through the snowstorm) made a careful effort to understand the impact of its secondary sanctions. In the interest of bipartisanship, the same can be said of Senator Ed Markey, a liberal Massachusetts Democrat, from whom I expect great things on the human rights issue this year. And every senator — even Senator Paul, who had me concerned to the point of apoplexy at one point — resisted the temptation to inject the bill with parliamentary malware or veto bait.

The Senate’s key leaders on foreign policy, including Senators Bob Corker (R, TN), Ben Cardin (D, MD), and Bob Menendez (D, NJ) all gave strong speeches. Standing watch over it all was up-and-coming freshman and Asia Subcommittee Chair Cory Gardner (R, CO), who led the Senate’s efforts to move the bill forward.

You can see the full list of the Senators who voted here, but it would be easier to give a list of those who didn’t vote — Dan Sullivan (R, AK); Dick Durbin (D, IL); Lindsay Graham (R, SC), who was campaigning for Jeb! in his home state, but who had co-sponsored an earlier version of the bill; and Bernie Sanders (I, VT), who stuck to the campaign trail, but did issue a statement supporting the legislation.

For which, Hillary pounced on him.

“It is unfortunate that yet again, Senator Sanders has shown a lack of interest in vital national security issues, failing to vote on sanctions against the country he said poses the greatest threat to the United States,” Clinton campaign spokesman Jesse Ferguson said after Wednesday’s vote, according to news reports.

Sanders was quoted as saying that he had to be “necessarily absent,” but the increased sanctions were “absolutely essential” to ending North Korea’s nuclear program. [Yonhap]

Myself, I’m not a Bernie guy, because I like my regular supplies of meat and toilet paper, and 23 choices of deodorant obviously still aren’t enough for the people who sit next to me on the Metro. But … let’s just bear in mind that much of what this bill does is force the State Department to do things it could have done itself at any time over the last decade, but didn’t. That includes the period following North Korea’s second nuclear test, the sinking of the Cheonan, the shelling of Yeonpyong Island, the collapse of the Leap Day deal, a spate of assassination attempts against defectors and human rights activists in China and South Korea, and the disappearance of tens of thousands of political prisoners and their families at Camp 22 — all of which happened on Hillary Clinton’s watch as Secretary of State.

So there’s that. 

The South Korean government, which has immense influence in Washington, and which my paranoid side had at times suspected of a certain ambivalence about the bill, ultimately welcomed its passage.

The bill was lauded by the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thursday as demonstrating the “need for strong and comprehensive sanctions on North Korea.” [….]

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement Thursday lauded the resolution for “reflecting a bipartisan understanding and will on the need for strong and comprehensive sanctions on North Korea.” [Joongang Ilbo]

After the Senate vote, the South Korean Ambassador came to visit Ed Royce (R, CA), the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (full disclosure), where both men welcomed the Senate’s action.

With Park Geun-hye’s decision to pull out of Kaesong, Seoul has broken decisively with the Sunshine Policy, its main cause for ambivalence. Now, South Korea’s influence machine turns its weight toward a more effective enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. 

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On North Korea policy, the opinion pages suddenly read like posts from this blog

Since January’s nuclear test, I have noted with satisfaction the signs that Washington’s consensus on North Korea policy has taken a decisive turn toward views I’ve advocated at this site for years. This week, OFK readers have been sending me a great deal of better-placed commentary about North Korea, asking me, “Did you write this?” I swear I didn’t write, for example, this Washington Post editorial, published yesterday:

What is needed is a return to the only non-military strategy that brought results: sanctions that strike at the regime’s inner circle. Mr. Kim and his cronies are still managing to import luxury goods from China, in spite of a U.N. ban; they still use Chinese banks to do business with the rest of the world. Those links could be curtailed if North Korea, like Iran before it, were designated as a money launderer and U.S. sanctions were slapped on Chinese banks and other businesses that supply weapons and luxury goods.

Pending U.S. sanctions legislation, already passed by the House and scheduled for a Senate floor vote this week, would mandate these steps, while providing the administration with some flexibility. It should pass, and Mr. Obama should sign it. [….]

Both China and North Korea must see that they will pay a mounting price for what, to the United States, should be Mr. Kim’s intolerable steps toward a nuclear arsenal. “Strategic patience” is no longer a viable option. [Washington Post Editorial]

Or this, from a Wall Street Journal columnist:

Groundhog Day was last week, but North Korea’s ballistic-missile test on Sunday may have you feeling you’ve seen this one before. First the weeks of rumors, then the launch, next the emergency session at the United Nations—and then nothing. The pattern will continue until the U.S. stops running its North Korea policy through Beijing. [….]

Though President Obama calls North Korea “the most sanctioned” nation on Earth, he’s wrong. The U.S. lists Iran and Burma as countries of primary money-laundering concern, a designation it doesn’t apply to Pyongyang despite its counterfeit-currency racket. The U.S. has applied harsher human-rights sanctions against Congo and Zimbabwe, never mind the tens of thousands of political prisoners in Pyongyang’s labor camps.

Treasury Department officials have argued for stronger measures, on the model of the highly effective sanctions the U.S. imposed on Macau’s Banco Delta Asia in 2005 that forced banks to suspend business with Pyongyang. But National Security Adviser Susan Rice has opposed the move for fear of upsetting U.S. relations with Beijing.

The House last month overwhelmingly passed the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, mandating action against entities and individuals tied to illicit weapons programs, luxury-goods imports, counterfeiting and drug trafficking. The White House has hinted that it doesn’t oppose the bill, and the President might sign it if it passes the Senate. But the bill’s effectiveness depends on the Administration’s willingness to squeeze North Korean financing by punishing the Chinese banks through which the Kim regime moves its money. [….]

China isn’t likely to squeeze its client unless it sees the U.S. and its allies doing more to isolate the North on their own. Such a policy would seek to end the regime through sweeping financial sanctions that prevent the Kim family from financing the tools of their tyranny, from weapons to whiskeys, and that impose stiff penalties on their enablers abroad. The strategy of begging China has been a failure. [WSJ, Review & Outlook]

Or this, from the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

This week the U.S. Senate will join the U.S. House of Representatives in passing legislation that sends a strong bipartisan message: North Korea is a serious threat to U.S. national security and our current approach is a failure.

The North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, which we expect to become law in the coming weeks, will provide the executive branch with a more robust set of policy tools to confront the threat posed by the rogue regime in Pyongyang. And while there is no “silver bullet” solution to the North Korea policy challenge, the United States must undertake a more proactive approach toward North Korea to address its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and human rights abuses against its own people.

The Senate bill represents the best of our bipartisan foreign policy tradition and builds upon legislation passed in the House of Representatives to expand and tighten enforcement of sanctions for North Korea’s destructive activities.

he bill requires the Obama administration to investigate sanctionable conduct. This means working to expose those involved in supporting North Korea’s human rights abuses, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and activities undermining cybersecurity — marking the first statutory framework for sanctions in response to the growing North Korean cyberthreat.

Importantly, it also targets for investigation those who back these activities through other means, such as providing the regime with industrial inputs such as coal, or luxury goods that serve as a valuable source of hard currency to fund North Korea’s nefarious activities. The President then is mandated to sanction any person found to have materially contributed to, engaged in or helped to facilitate these actions. [….]

Some North Korea watchers assert that Beijing doesn’t have the leverage that many U.S. officials contend it has over Pyongyang’s behavior. But that’s simply not true. [Sen. Bob Corker, CNN.com]

I welcome all of this unreservedly, and if this means I’ve directly or indirectly influenced these views, then that’s all I’ve ever wanted from this jihad of mine. It is an unfamiliar feeling to an insurgent to be overtaken by the mainstream. Still, it would be an error for any American to take credit for it. This tipping point is really the work of the most effective lobbyist in this town, a morbidly obese high school dropout and NBA fan who has never been to Washington and barely speaks English.

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The End of Sunshine: S. Korea suspends ops at Kaesong, “suspected” of funding N. Korea’s WMD programs

Year after year, and almost alone, I have argued that the Kaesong Industrial Park was incompatible with U.N. Security Council resolutions sanctioning Pyongyang. At Kaesong, “South Korea has 124 companies … employing 54,700 North Korean workers … whose wages are paid to a North Korean state agency.” All told, those fees, taxes, and “wages,” which the North Korean workers probably never saw after Kim Jong-un took his cut, totaled $110 million last year alone.

Contrary to Kaesong’s founding purpose of promoting North-South engagement and people-to-people contact, the workers were heavily supervised and prohibited from direct action with their South Korean bosses, who had to relay their directives through North Korean state minders. And because Seoul never really knew how Kim Jong-un used the money, I argued that Kaesong was a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that required it to know, and to “ensure” that they money was not used for prohibited weapons programs.

Here, for example, is a quote from the first Chapter VII resolution against Pyongyang, UNSCR 1718:

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And here is UNSCR 2094, which South Korea itself voted for as a non-permanent member of the Security Council at the time:

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Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.58.51 AM Mind you, I said I was almost alone in arguing this, because as then-Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said in 2013, “Precisely what North Koreans do with earnings from Kaesong, I think, is something that we are concerned about.” I’ve publicly challenged the Unifiction Ministry to say whether it knew how Pyongyang was spending the funds it earned from Kaesong (it never responded).

But with Seoul’s decision today to “temporarily” halt operations in Kaesong comes this stunning admission from the Unifiction Minister himself:

The suspension of activity there comes amid calls from the United States and South Korea for tougher U.N. and other sanctions against the isolated North following the rocket launch and its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.

South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo told media North Korea was suspected of spending funds from Kaesong on advancing its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles programs, and the suspension of operations was to stop funds being used for that.

“We are not going to be able to crack North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs by sticking to the same kind of response we have taken all along,” Hong told a briefing. [Reuters]

Cue the usual bitching from Kaesong investors who profit from what amounts to slave labor by its workers, and from leftists who say that closing Kaesong (as opposed to Pyongyang’s conduct) will raise tensions. But here in Washington, opinion had shifted decisively against Kaesong, and calls for its closure had become deafening.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I welcome Seoul’s decision and its refreshingly truthful admission. By closing Kaesong, Seoul can now call on other nations to enforce sanctions without having those nations laugh in Seoul’s face. But really, how long did Seoul “suspect” that Pyongyang was using its Kaesong earnings this way? Based on Cohen’s statement, since at least 2013. Seoul’s admission today will make it almost legally impossible for Seoul to reopen Kaesong again under similar arrangements, now that it has admitted, in effect, that those arrangements were in violation of the Security Council’s resolutions. But if Pyongyang ever becomes serious about engagement, change, and reform, perhaps both sides can agree to reopen Kaesong on the condition that all of those wages and taxes are paid in kind, as food aid, distributed to North Korea’s hungry, by the World Food Program.

Dream on. And, God willing, good riddance to the Sunshine Policy, which died today.

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NYT: How China helped N. Korea buy ski lift cable cars, and break U.N. sanctions

Yesterday, I posted about hunger in North Korea, the fact that Kim Jong-un is spending the nation’s lunch money on missiles and ski resorts, and the importance of helping the North Korean people make that connection though a comprehensive information operations strategy. The New York Times has bolstered the evidence of North Korean and Chinese culpability for this tragedy with a detailed report on North Korea’s purchase of the equipment for its ski resort through China.

Previously, NK News revealed that the Masikryeong Ski Resort was filled with foreign-sourced equipment, and identified most of the manufacturers (if you aren’t a subscriber, there’s a version here, at The Telegraph). The question left unanswered, however, was whether the North Koreans obtained the equipment directly from the manufacturers, or through China. The Times found evidence in China’s own customs data proving that it was the source of at least some of the equipment.

The cable cars for the Masikryong ski resort, which are at least 30 years old and out of fashion on European ski slopes, were made by Doppelmayr, an Austrian company, and used for years in Ischgl, a skiing town in Austria. After the resort decided to install new cable cars, the old ones were sold to an Austrian secondhand dealer, Pro-Alpin, according to Ekkehard Assmann, head of marketing at Doppelmayr.

Pro-Alpin, in turn, sold the cable cars to an unidentified Chinese company, according to Pro-Alpin’s website. The Chinese company then arranged for the equipment to be shipped to North Korea. [NYT, Jane Perlez & Yufan Huang]

The Times also examines China’s lame and risible excuses for ignoring the U.N. luxury goods sanctions it repeatedly voted for at the Security Council.

By almost any estimate, the sale of such items appears to violate the intent of United Nations sanctions meant to punish the North for its nuclear weapons program — specifically, sanctions targeting luxury goods, intended to cover products like Champagne and caviar, yachts and expensive cars.

But China, whose companies were involved in providing the equipment for the Masikryong ski resort, which opened in 2013, told a United Nations panel that those sanctions did not apply because skiing is a “normal activity” in North Korea, a country where most of the population is impoverished and food shortages are common. “Skiing is a popular sport for people, and ski equipment or relevant services are not included in the list of prohibited luxury goods,” the Chinese said, according to last year’s annual report from the United Nations panel, which monitors sanctions violations. [….]

The luxury goods sanctions have a glaring loophole: Each country is permitted to define what it considers luxury goods. The United States has published a detailed list, down to such items as vanity cases, binoculars and television sets larger than 29 inches. The European Union says “articles and equipment for skiing, golf, diving and water sports” are luxury goods and bans them from export to North Korea. [NYT]

Here is the U.S. list (see Supplement 1), and here is the EU list (see Annex III). Yet, nearly a decade after the U.N. Security Council approved resolution 1718 ….

But China has failed to publish such a list and has not honored those of other countries, the documents of the United Nations panel show. Because it has never said what it considers to be luxury goods, China can argue that cable cars for Mr. Kim’s prestige resort were permissible, even justifying them as equipment for the masses.

“China appears impervious to shame,” said Marcus Nolan, of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, who said there were no penalties for flouting the luxury goods sanctions. [NYT]

The Times also traces the genesis of Xi Jinping’s obstructionist policy toward sanctions enforcement generally.

The Chinese hope to prevent tougher sanctions for fear that the North will become a hostile neighbor, a policy that diplomats said appears to have been shaped by President Xi Jinping last summer. In talks last week with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Secretary of State John Kerry made little headway in persuading China to toughen sanctions against North Korea, and he warned that the United States would most likely move ahead on its own. [NYT]

The policy isn’t entirely a new one. Diplomatically speaking, Xi is more openly obstructionist than his predecessors, but China has a longstanding pattern and practice of violating sanctions against North Korea related to proliferation, arms sales, deceptive financial practices, and luxury goods.

What neither Xi nor President Obama counted on, however, was that Congress would seize the initiative.

Tougher sanctions legislation is moving through Congress that, among other things, would target Chinese banks that do business with North Korea. The administration has been reluctant to call for such sanctions, known as secondary sanctions, and it is not clear what the White House would do about the legislation, American experts said.

“Given the broad and variegated bilateral relationship between the United States and China, U.S. officials have been reluctant to confront and economically punish China with secondary sanctions in case it should undermine other key priorities in the bilateral relationship,” said Elizabeth Rosenberg, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. [NYT]

The Times also gives us some absolutely breathtaking data on what Kim Jong-un is wasting on luxury goods, while most of his subjects are food-insecure, malnourished, stunted, or starving.

Chinese customs data showed that North Korea imported $2.09 billion in luxury goods between 2012 and 2014, according to recent congressional testimony by Bonnie S. Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Among the items that have slipped through the sanctions are Mercedes-Benz S-Class cars, photographs of which appeared in last year’s United Nations report. An unidentified American company armored the cars, the report said. It also said that a luxury yacht worth as much as $6 million, made by a British company, Princess Yachts International, made it into North Korea and has been used by Mr. Kim.

In 2014, China exported $37 million worth of computers; $30 million of tobacco; $24 million of cars; and $9 million of air-conditioning equipment to the North, according to trade statistics from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. In all these categories, China was the top exporter, the United Nations said. [NYT]

As the Times notes, “luxury goods may seem a relatively minor issue,” but “they help to ensure the loyalty of the tiny elite around” His Corpulency, thus helping to preserve its cohesion. Their availability also sends a signal inside Pyongyang that the regime is financially secure, bolstering the confidence of the elites in the regime’s survival.

There is also another, more important, reason why luxury goods sanctions matter. It bears repeating that the World Food Program’s operations in North Korea cost just $100 million a year, to feed just 2.4 million women and children, a figure that undoubtedly includes substantial salary and overhead costs. If the period from 2012 to 2014 is inclusive, that’s a three-year period, and an expenditure of almost $700 million a year — an even higher estimate than the one I cited here.

Yesterday, I posted evidence that for many North Koreans, the food situation remains desperate. No government has a sovereign right to steal and waste the wealth of its people when the people are hungry. Viewed this way, North Korea’s luxury goods imports and missile tests aren’t just a sanctions violation, they’re a crime against humanity. What’s especially frustrating is that it’s a crime the world has the power to prevent, by putting North Korea’s assets into financial receivership. The world’s financial regulators should put Kim Jong-un and his minions on notice that their offshore bank accounts are available to buy food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies, but not for ski resorts and luxury cars.

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Rice, peace & freedom: It’s time we told the N. Korean people the truth about why they’re hungry.

It is fitting that Groundhog Day was a busy day in North Korea. On the same day that Pyongyang announced that it would test a long-range missile, the U.N. released $8 million from its emergency aid fund “to assist [the] most vulnerable women and children” in North Korea.

Bangkok, 2 February 2016) United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 29 January 2016 released US$ 8 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for severely underfunded aid operations in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK). These funds will enable life-saving assistance for more than 2.2 million people most vulnerable and at risk of malnutrition. The DPRK was one of nine countries to receive such grants within the overall $100 million allocation to underfunded emergencies.

Undernutrition is a fundamental cause of maternal and child death and disease: in DPRK, chronic malnutrition (stunting) among under-five children is at 27.9 per cent, while 4 per cent of under-five children are acutely malnourished (wasting). Around 70 per cent of the population, or 18 million people, are considered food insecure. Food production in the country is hampered by a lack of agricultural inputs and is highly vulnerable to shocks, particularly natural disasters. Due to drought in 2015, 11 per cent of the main harvest was lost.

Health service delivery, including reproductive health, remains inadequate, with many areas of the country not equipped with the facilities, equipment or medicines to meet people’s basic health needs. Under-five children and low-birth-weight newborns are vulnerable to life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia and diarrhoea if they do not receive proper treatment or basic food, vitamins and micronutrients.

CERF funds will be used to sustain critical life-saving interventions aimed at improving the nutrition situation in the country through reduction of maternal and under-five child mortality and morbidity. More than 2.2 million people, including 1.8 million under-five children and 350,000 pregnant and lactating women, will benefit from assistance provided by CERF funds. “The commitment and support of the international community is vital. Protracted and serious needs must be addressed” said United Nations Resident Coordinator for the DPRK, Mr. Tapan Mishra. “Humanitarian needs must be kept separate from political issues to ensure minimum living conditions for the most vulnerable people.” The United Nations will continue to work towards addressing the structural causes of vulnerabilities and chronic malnutrition through its interventions agreed with the DPRK Government. [Relief Web]

Separately, UNICEF recently warned that “25,000 children in North Korea require immediate treatment for malnutrition after a drought cut food production by a fifth and the government reduced rations.” But the true “structural cause” of the “vulnerabilities and chronic malnutrition” Mr. Mishra cites is staring us in the face.

watches3

The fact that donor nations can see this is why the U.N. must dip into its emergency fund to provide for the most urgent needs of North Korean children. No other industrialized country has ever experienced such a prolonged food crisis. Most readers probably have a general idea that Kim Jong-un could afford to feed his population by spending less on weapons, but let’s examine the figures in greater detail. First, $8 million is a small sum compared to $200 million, the total cost of the World Food Program’s (WFP) current two-year program to assist 2.4 million vulnerable women, children, and families. That’s an annualized cost of $100 million per year.

A close reading of WFP Inspector General reports reveals that a substantial, but unquantifiable amount of this is overhead — salaries of the aid workers, salaries of the North Korean workers provided to the WFP by the North Korean government, fuel purchased from the North Korean government, and other costs (such as storage) paid to the North Korean government. In other words, the actual food costs are likely just a fraction of that $100 million a year.

It also bears repeating that 2.4 million North Koreans represents a small percentage of the North Koreans who are food insecure. Recent U.N. studies have placed the percentage of North Koreans who are food insecure at between 70 percent and 84 percent, out of a population of roughly 23 million people. Before the North Korean government expelled most international aid workers in 2006, the WFP was feeding 6.5 million North Koreans. 

For comparison, North Korea spent $1.3 billion on its missile programs in 2012 alone. In 2013, it spent $644 million on luxury goods, which U.N. resolutions prohibit it from importing. Let no one say that North Korea’s missiles never killed or hurt anyone.

Yet in listing the causes of the food crisis, the World Food program lists droughts, floods, typhoons, deforestation, an “economic downturn,” a “lack of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers,” and “limited capacity to access international capital markets and import food.”

In 2015, a U.N. Panel of Experts monitoring international compliance with sanctions against North Korea found that the North Korean government had placed an intelligence officer inside the WFP’s Rome headquarters.

Recent evidence, however, suggests that the North Korean government has no difficulty importing the things it really wants.

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Satellite imagery of North Korea’s Nampho port reveals what appears to be a new 50-meter pleasure craft, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).

The boat which was first spotted by Curtis Melvin at the U.S.-Korea Institute in Washington D.C., and can be seen docked at the naval headquarters of North Korea’s West Sea fleet. [….]

“No visitors have reported seeing or photographing this boat. We are under the impression that this boat was imported, at one point or another,” Melvin added, though admitted more me definite proof (sic) had so far been hard to come by. [….]

The new boat joins a number of other pleasure craft visible on satellite imagery around the DPRK’s coasts. In 2013, an NK News investigation revealed Kim Jong Un’s $7 million yacht, originally manufactured by British company Princess.

UN sanctions prohibit the sale of pleasure craft, cars and other luxury items to North Korea, but patchy implementation often means that prohibited goods can still find their way across the DPRK’s borders. [NK News, Leo Byrne]

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Photos obtained by NK Pro reveal North Korea’s new gondolas at the Masikryong ski resort originally came from Austria, in what could constitute a breach of UN luxury goods sanctions and EU regulations.

The recently installed cable car system now running up the Taehwa Peak in the DPRK’s Kangwon Province, once ferried passengers around the high end Ischgl resort on the border between Austria and Switzerland as part of network of 45 ski lifts and cable cars.

Coming amid momentum for fresh United Nations sanctions to respond to the DPRK’s fourth nuclear test, the gondola is the latest in a string of controversial purchases by the North Korean resort, which also include skiing equipment and specialized machinery sourced from Europe and Canada. [NK News, Leo Byrne]

A government that can import yachts and ski gondolas surely has the means to import rice.

In its 2014 report, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry that found evidence of crimes against humanity in North Korea discussed Pyongyang’s “systematic, widespread and grave violations of the right to food” in extensive detail.

660. Large amounts of state expenditure are also devoted to giant bronze statues and other projects designed to further the personality cult of Kim Il-sung and his successors and showcase their achievements. These projects are given absolute priority, which is also evidenced by the fact that they are often completed in a short period of time.  The DPRK Minister of Finance, Choe Kwang-jin, reported about the 2012 budget of the DPRK:

Of the total state budgetary expenditure for the economic development and improvement of people’s living standard, 44.8 per cent was used for funding the building of edifices to be presented to the 100th birth anniversary of President Kim Il-sung, the consolidation of the material and technological foundation of Juche-based, modern and self-supporting economy and the work for face-lifting the country.

661. In 2013, Kim Jong-un ordered the KPA to construct a “world-class” ski resort that would rival the winter sports facilities that are being built in the ROK in preparation of the ROK’s hosting of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. When visiting the site in May 2013, Kim Jong-un reportedly “was greatly satisfied to learn that soldier-builders have constructed a skiing area on mountain ranges covering hundreds of thousands of square meters, including primary, intermediate and advanced courses with almost 110,000 meters in total length and between 40 and 120 metres in width.” 

662. A number of similar prestige projects that fail to have any immediate positive impact on the situation of the general population have been pursued, including the construction of the monumental Munsu Water Park in Pyongyang, the Rungna Dolphinarium and Pleasure Park in Pyongyang and a beach resort town in Wonsan.

(f) Purchase of luxury goods

663. The DPRK continues allocating a significant amount of the state’s resources for the purchase and importation of luxury goods, as confirmed by the reports of the United Nations Panel of Experts established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1874 (2009), which inter alia monitors the implementation of the Security Council sanctions prohibiting the import of luxury goods. In one report, the Panel of Experts described the confiscation, by Italy, of luxury items such as high quality cognac and whiskey worth 12,000 euros (USD 17,290) and equipment for a 1,000-person cinema valued at Euro 130,000 (USD 187,310). The report further revealed that the DPRK has attempted to purchase and import a dozen Mercedes-Benz vehicles, high-end musical recording equipment, more than three dozen pianos and cosmetics. 

664. Luxury goods expenditure by the DPRK rose to USD 645.8 million (470 million euros) in 2012. Reportedly, this was a sharp increase from the average of USD 300 million a year under Kim Jong-il in October 2013. [U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on Human Rights in N. Korea, Feb. 2014]

In response to North Korea’s missile test, a State Department spokesman called on Pyongyang to “put food in the mouths of the North Korean people instead of spending money on dangerous military capabilities.” There is fresh evidence that this message would resonate with North Koreans, too. Although the North Korean government’s propaganda blames international sanctions for causing food shortages, the claim is nonsense. Professor Lee and I debunked it here, in the pages of the New York Times. The North Korean people also question that narrative.

Q: North Korea may be sanctioned again by the international community. I presumed that only ordinary people will suffer, not the upper class. What do you think about that?

A: Our life is so miserable; we are so poor with or without sanctions. We make a living selling in the marketplace, because the government no longer provides rations as they used to. Sanctions make any difference. [….]

Q: North Korean official media are showing scenes of people in Pyongyang celebrating the success of the hydrogen bomb test. How about in the provincial towns?

A: There haven’t been any meetings or gatherings regarding the nuke test. No one has any interest in it. A successful test will not provide a single teaspoon of rice. We are only concerned about the price of rice. We don’t care about that shitty bomb story; we are too busy trying to feed ourselves. [Rimjin-gang]

And separately, this:

Q: How do the people feel about the hydrogen bomb test?

A: I doubt that many people would have pride about that (the nuke test)! We don’t have enough food to eat! Everyone is making an outcry since they are doing that kind of thing even though we are so hungry! [Rimjin-gang]

North Korea watchers often speculate that the regime uses bomb and missile tests to create an us-versus-them mentality, to bolster national pride in the regime, and to distract the people from the hardships they endure. As The New York Times notes, “Most of the country, especially outside the capital, remains in dire poverty, a fact that analysts say has spurred Mr. Kim to focus attention on his nuclear program.” There’s evidence that it’s not working anymore.

She said, “People here are more apprehensive than boastful. They say the regime has finally blown it after the repetitive talks about the nuclear test. People in the markets also argue, ‘The government should have spent the money on food supplies. The state media announced that the nuclear test was a success, but who knows whether it was.’ ”

The situations in the North Korean border region remain unchanged; the residents are largely indifferent to the success of its nuclear test. The regime propagated justifications for possessing nuclear weapons and its success on the 4th nuclear test, on the basis that it defends peace and protects from the United States and its other enemies.

In the past, people in the DPRK have been proud of nuclear test success and its purported power to defend the state. But public opinion has turned against nuclear weapons over the years, with people’s perception of nuclear arms development going from ‘possession of national defense power’ to ‘waste of financial resources’. [New Focus Int’l]

The South Korean government has just announced that it will increase its loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the DMZ. If Seoul ever develops and deploys a comprehensive information operations strategy for broadcasting to the North Korean people, it should make the true causes of hunger in North Korea a centerpiece of its message. Seoul’s message to the people of North Korea should be a variation on a message that has long proven effective when delivered to oppressed people: rice, peace, and freedom … and reunification.

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Ed Royce’s North Korea sanctions bill is already giving President Obama leverage over China

Kim Jong-un’s Groundhog Day message to the world was the announcement of a long-range missile test, and as you’ve no doubt heard, he has since made good on that threat. Like the movie “Groundhog Day,” this provocation cycle has been a variation on an endless loop. In 2006, 2009, and 2013, the missile test came before the nuke test, but if reports that His Corpulency is preparing yet another nuclear test are true, that will still technically be the case.

Otherwise, events have played out much as they did then: emergency meetings at the U.N., shuttle diplomacy, calls by the U.S. for tougher sanctions, and calls by China for everyone to just chillax and talk it out.

The Obama Administration is pushing China to push North Korea, but China has pushed back, stalled, and obstructed. For all the talk about a downturn in relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, Xi Jinping is being exceptionally stubborn in shielding Kim Jong-un from the consequences of his provocations. As the Brookings Institution’s Jonathan Pollack observes, “The sense of silence from China on this issue is really quite extraordinary.” It’s no great wonder why. Our President has done little of consequence to pressure Pyongyang or Beijing, so naturally, Xi and Kim have learned not to take him seriously. Whenever President Obama sees Kim Jong-un’s shadow, our State Department makes six more weeks of empty threats.

Will this time finally be different? Maybe so. 

Thanks to quick action by a united and bipartisan Congress — and how often do you read those words anymore? — the U.S. now has leverage with China that it didn’t have before. President Obama and the State Department may have been caught off-guard by Kim Jong-un’s nuclear test on January 6th, but Congress wasn’t. Since 2013, Ed Royce, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, had been preparing a North Korea sanctions bill (full disclosure) and quietly building a bipartisan coalition to support it in the House and the Senate. Six days after the test, Royce pounced. Now, the administration isn’t even waiting for the bill to pass the full Senate (projected next Wednesday, if there are no “poison pill” amendments) to use its secondary sanctions provisions as leverage over the Chinese.

Mr. Kerry warned the Chinese that if they didn’t toughen their response to the North the U.S. might have to use secondary sanctions or deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system to the region, according to U.S. officials. [WSJ, Jay Solomon & Josh Chin]

Separately, the New York Times quotes Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken as saying that “[t]he United States and its allies will bolster sanctions and go on the defensive against North Korea in ways that China may not like” if it doesn’t put the screws to His Corpulency.

Some of those steps “won’t be directed at China, but China probably won’t like them,” he said. Mr. Blinken refused to go into detail. But he said that “everything is on the table,” including so-called secondary sanctions, of the type the United States most recently used against Iran, which would target third-party countries doing business with North Korea. [N.Y. Times, Choe Sang-hun]

As you’d expect, that discussion and the exchanges between State and the Foreign Ministry since then have been contentious. They needed to be. North Korea’s financial links are concentrated in China. Despite China’s new propaganda meme that it really can’t control North Korea, most of North Korea’s money is in Chinese banks, and the vast majority of North Korea’s trade is with China.

That means the new sanctions could fall heavily on Chinese firms, which current and former U.S. officials have long accused of complicity in Pyongyang’s military development. [WSJ, Jay Solomon & Josh Chin]

The Chinese government says it’s opposed to “any efforts to unilaterally impose sanctions on North Korea.” So they’re unhappy. Which is sort of the idea here.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), who sponsored the North Korea legislation that was approved Jan. 28 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it aims to “send a strong message to China and others that the United States will use every punitive economic tool at its disposal to punish the regime and its enablers, wherever they may be.” [….]

“China is the place we really want to send a signal to,” said a congressional official working on the North Korea sanctions. [WSJ, Jay Solomon & Josh Chin]

President Obama has since called Xi Jinping personally “about how to coordinate efforts in response to North Korea’s provocations.” If the new sanctions legislation didn’t come up in that conversation, it surely hovered in the background. According to the WSJ, not only is the bill “unlikely to meet with a White House veto,” but the administration is threatening to do something unprecedented — enforce the law. 

Senior administration officials said they were receptive to vigorously enforcing the unilateral sanctions being developed by the Congress, despite some technical concerns.

Congressional officials working on the legislation said they’ve sought to replicate elements of the financial campaign the Obama administration used against Iran. Those sanctions cut by more than half Tehran’s crude oil exports and largely froze Tehran out of the global financial system.

The North Korea legislation aims to sanction any foreign firms aiding Pyongyang’s nuclear and cyberwarfare programs. It also is designed to block North Korea’s ability to export minerals, a key foreign exchange earner, and blacklist its entire financial system for its alleged role in illicit businesses. [WSJ, Jay Solomon & Josh Chin]

The administration is sending a clear message to China through various channels.

The United States would clearly prefer that China actively cooperate on a much fuller spectrum of measures. But Washington’s message to Beijing is clear: America will act with or without China’s concurrence.

The United States has long believed that China has the means to more decisively oppose North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, including restrictions on China’s financial, economic, and energy assistance to the North. By sharpening the choices confronting Beijing, Washington shows it believes that equivocation or indecision by China is no longer acceptable. [Jonathan Pollack, Brookings Institution]

Don’t be surprised if, when the next provocation cycle comes, Congress is ready to pounce again. 

In the end, I don’t expect Xi Jinping to agree to significantly tougher U.N. sanctions. He’ll try to wear us down, weaken any draft resolution, and eventually, if only to let us save face, agree to a watered-down resolution that nominally increases sanctions. Then, within a few months, China will go right back to violating them(We’ll almost certainly see further evidence of China’s pattern and practice of non-enforcement when the U.N. Panel of Experts monitoring North Korea sanctions releases its next report in March — sooner if one of you leaks me a copy). He’ll also fight the new sanctions law tooth-and-nail, such as through barter and yuan-based transactions, although I have to wonder how many Chinese companies are interested in that kind of business.

What happens next depends on whether the Obama Administration (a) puts the new bill on a shelf for the next President to find, like both George W. Bush and Barack Obama did with the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, or (b) actually enforces it, like it wants us (and the Chinese) to believe it will. If the answer is (b), there may not be much Xi Jinping can do about it. In practical terms, even small Chinese banks and companies can live without access to North Korean markets, but not without access to ours. Even companies that don’t deal directly with the U.S. market need banking services, and banks won’t touch them if they’re designated. When China’s banking system is as shaky as it looks right now, no sane bank manager is going to risk secondary sanctions over transactions with North Korea. Once they see that the Treasury Department is serious, Chinese bankers will drop North Korean customers like so many hot potatoes.

~   ~   ~

How will we know that the administration is serious? I can think of several signs to watch for. First, the Treasury Department could finally declare North Korea, a notorious counterfeiter and money launderer, to be a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern, and impose harsh special measures on its banks. This is the single most powerful tool in the President’s arsenal.

Second, it could declare North Korea to be a state sponsor of terrorism, which would immediately invoke the tougher transaction licensing regulations at 31 C.F.R. Part 596, thereby closing a major sanctions loophole. If nothing else, that would help to appease Congress.

Third, it could launch criminal indictments against North Korean entities that have committed crimes. The government has expressed “very high confidence,” for example, in North Korea’s culpability for the Sony cyber attacks, which are violations of 18 U.S.C. 1030. An indictment would allow the government to issue an Interpol Red Notice for Kim Yong-chol, the assassin and terrorist who formerly headed Unit 121, until his recent promotion. Another potential basis for action could be that big meth smuggling conspiracy in New York, if any of the defendants have cut deals with DOJ and implicated North Koreans. More importantly, a conviction would allow the Justice Department to use 18 U.S.C. 981(k) and 982 to forfeit any North Korean assets involved in any crimes for which defendants were convicted, right out of the correspondent accounts through which those assets flow.

Fourth, it could take civil enforcement actions against entities that are propping up Pyongyang financially. The extraordinary reporting of George Turner at Finance Uncovered, for example, shows us that Orascom’s Naguib Sawaris, while building a cell phone network for the North Korean government, also set up a bank, Orabank, in partnership with North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank. The U.S. Treasury Department blocked the FTB in 2013 for WMD financing. Turner’s article implies that Treasury knew less about Sawaris than he did, including Sawaris’s U.S. citizenship and links to a major defense contractor. If Sawaris or his companies are designated under Section 104 of the new sanctions law, they and their subsidiaries could face the blocking of their assets, civil and criminal penalties, and debarment from receiving government contracts. Sawaris’s U.S. citizenship is not a prerequisite to Treasury blocking his dollar assets,  but if the Justice Department finds evidence that he broke the law, his U.S. citizenship will make it much easier for DOJ to assert personal jurisdiction over him. Another potential target is China’s 88 Queensway, which worked in direct partnership with North Korea’s money laundering agency, Bureau 39. Even the Bank of China has reason to be nervous.

Fifth, the President could direct the Securities and Exchange Commission to require issuers with investments in North Korea to disclose those investments in their public filings. The reputational risks associated with investments in North Korea could have the effect of driving investors out of North Korea, if those investments become a matter of public record. And given what happened with Orascom’s catastrophic gamble on Koryolink, who can seriously argue that the risks of investing in North Korea aren’t “material?”

~   ~   ~

One last question: did the North Koreans consider the potential impact of this before going through with these provocations? After all, they have the experience of Banco Delta Asia behind them. Of course, with the amount of turnover inside the regime since His Corpulency’s succession, there may be plenty of people in his inner circle who don’t remember Banco Delta Asia. Maybe the North Koreans don’t think President Obama dares touch them. Maybe the explanation is mostly psychological. Mabye Kim Jong-un’s domestic pressures are forcing him to take risks despite the consequences. Most likely, given Kim Jong-un’s record of brutality toward his inner circle, his advisors don’t dare try to restrain him. If Treasury enforces this law, the reality won’t set in until the checks start to bounce. That’s when the hard part comes — knowing how to use that pressure, and if and when to relax it for the deal Beijing and Pyongyang will inevitably offer us to get the sanctions relaxed.

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Obama’s weakness and Xi Jinping’s bullying are about to start a nuclear arms race in Asia

Next Wednesday, the full Senate will vote on, and almost certainly pass, the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Actan almost unprecedented bipartisan vote of no confidence against a sitting president’s foreign policy. If the bill becomes law, it will legislate the biggest shift in our North Korea policy in more than two decades.

Meanwhile, our Asian allies are holding another, quieter vote of no confidence on our North Korea policy. During the power vacuum of the Obama years, China accelerated its military buildup and made a series of spurious territorial grabs in the Pacific. Japan responded to China’s buildup and its claims to the Senkaku Islands with its own rearmament program. Despite the presence of nearly 30,000 American military personnel in South Korea, North Korea sank a South Korean warship, shelled South Korean territory, planted the mines that maimed two South Korean soldiers, and got away with all of it without losing China’s financial backing. Then, last week, two Chinese aircraft intruded into South Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone over the disputed reef of Ieodo.

Clearly, the deterrents that protected South Korea since the 1950s aren’t working anymore. Outwardly, South Korea still relies on the U.S. to guarantee its security. Its decision to accept a deployment of the THAAD missile defense system will offer some protection against North Korea’s nuclear missiles, but no practical defense against North Korea’s long-range, chem-and-bio-capable, multiple-launch 300-millimeter artillery rockets.

If the Sunshine Policy was South Korea’s all-night borrachera, its hangover was to wake up next to a morbidly obese high-school dropout with a penchant for the NBA, torturing small animals, bondage porn, and gruesome executions, and who has nukes and the apparent intent to keep them. If South Korea is starting to see its security differently, so would you if you were South Korea. How would you calculate the potential outcomes of North Korea’s escalating provocation cycles once His Corpulency has an effective nuclear monopoly on the Korean peninsula?

South Korea nukes

[Via Alastair Gale on Twitter]

America’s political uncertainties can’t offer much reassurance, either. If the very words “President Trump” don’t scare you enough, ask yourself whether a President Trump or a President Cruz would stay engaged in the region. Would Hillary Clinton, who never formed a coherent strategy to disarm North Korea or executed any other policy with particular competence as Secretary of State, suddenly come up with and execute one as president? Would President Sanders really threaten nuclear retaliation against a North Korean first strike? Even if he did, would Kim Jong-un believe him or gamble that he was bluffing? If I couldn’t nuke Pyongyang, I can’t imagine that Bernie Sanders could.

My point here is that a promise to nuke an enemy for a friend assumes more than a security or fiscal burden. It assumes a moral and historical burden that may well be unbearable for modern America, especially given all that could happen in today’s world. The world might forgive South Korea for massive retaliation, but it would never forgive us. That’s why I wonder how much America’s so-called nuclear umbrella is really worth today, and so do a growing number of people in Seoul:

The South feels insecure because of the nuclear threat by the North and, more importantly, the lack of a counterpunch it pack have to prevent the North from using nuclear weapons against it.

Thereby, the next question for the South is whether the U.S. nuclear umbrella is good enough to cope with this fast-changing status. Obviously, it’s not.

Above all, the umbrella is a deterrent. To borrow a metaphor, the umbrella was not made for a new purpose ? the North, a rogue state led by an unpredictable 32-year-old dictator. More importantly, it has never been used so its effectiveness is still in question.

First, would the U.S. act in kind, if the North attacked the South with its nukes? In the era of MAD, a nuclear war would have meant a world war and the Americans would have been the first targets of the Soviets.

Against the North, a small country with a population of 20 million, the U.S. would be bound to think twice, especially when it is incomparably stronger in conventional weaponry and few of its people would get killed.

A blood stain is still on its collective conscience as the only country that has ever used nuclear devices against humans, Hiroshima and Nagasaki during its war with Japan in the Second World War. From the U.S. perspective, it is no 9/11 or even the attack on the Pearl Harbor. This alone means a great reduction in the credibility of the U.S.-extended deterrence. [Oh Young-jin, The Korea Times]

I’ve never been a great fan of Oh Young-jin, but his perspective is probably a fair reflection of the hawkish and nationalist inclinations of many South Koreans today. The idea of a nuclear South Korea has just entered the country’s political mainstream. 

“It is time to possess a peaceful nuclear program for the right of self-defense.”

This declaration came not from North Korean state media, but South Korean lawmaker Won Yoo-cheol of the ruling Saenuri Party on January 7, the day after Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test.

More politicians from the ruling party have echoed this argument, saying “only South Korea is isolated from nuclear (power) in Northeast Asia.” This is far from the first time that South Korean politicians have spoken in favor of nuclear arms: Former ruling party presidential candidate Cheong Mong-joon openly called for independent nuclear development in 2012, saying South Korea could “achieve peace without the ‘balance of fear.’”

Well-known columnist Kim Dae-jung of South Korea’s most influential newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, also spoke in favor of starting a conversation on the nuclear possession on February 2, saying that withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty may be necessary.

A certain segment of academia in Seoul has also spoken in favor of nuclear development. Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute, generally an engagement-inclined expert, has recently been asserting the necessity of nuclear arms, even as he argues for the need to talk with North Korea following most inter-Korean incidents. [NK News, Choi Ha-young]

Yonhap, noting that “calls” for “the South to have its own nuclear deterrence … have grown,” quotes President Park Geun-hye as saying “she understands such a sentiment but made clear that her administration will stick to the policy of denuclearizing the entire peninsula.”

Since at least 2009, South Korea has been bargaining hard with the U.S. on a nuclear cooperation accord it wants to expand, to allow South Korea to “close the nuclear fuel cycle” by enriching and reprocessing nuclear fuel. Left mostly unsaid, but often implied, is the U.S. worry that South Korea may want to use its nuclear energy industry as a cover to develop its own nuclear deterrent.

Openly withdrawing from the NPT or declaring an intent to build nuclear weapons would draw disastrous diplomatic consequences for Seoul, so it would want to nuke up quietly. Politicians who want to nuke up would have to stay ambiguous about it, just like Israel, South Africa, India, and Pakistan all did. Japan, which can reprocess nuclear fuel, reportedly has a “bomb in the basement,” with enough plutonium to go nuclear within as little as six months

The drawbacks of a nuclear South Korea for the U.S. are obvious, starting with the collapse of global nuclear nonproliferation, severe strains on the U.S.-Korea alliance, and the fact that South Korea’s nukes will reinforce North Korea’s nuclear status while doing nothing to deter the real North Korean threat to the United States — that North Korea sells a nuke to a terrorist (which it has threatened to do) or nuclear technology to another state that arms terrorists (which it has tried to do).

It’s certainly not an ideal outcome. The ideal outcome would be a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, bread that tastes great and doesn’t make you fat, and commuting over I-66 in a pod racer. But if the ideal solution is out of reach, the next-best solution would be not giving the most aggressive, most brutal, and least restrained regimes on the block an effective nuclear monopoly. 

Of course, China would have fits about being surrounded by nuclear-armed neighbors, but there’s a certain justice in that, given all that China has done over the years to nuke North Korea up. And if you’re a small nation under the rapacious gaze of China and North Korea, nuclear weapons are a cheap and effective way to protect yourself. If you’re Taiwan, a marginalized ally with little reason to believe it’s still under Uncle Sam’s umbrella, nuclear weapons make particularly good sense.

Not for the first time in recent years, the weak diplomacy of well-meaning, peace-loving politicians and diplomats has undermined the very policies that preserved peace and averted conflict, and tempted states to reach for more forceful ones. The Obama Administration’s weak deterrence and weaker sanctions against North Korea have undermined the security framework that protected peace and incubated prosperity in (what is now) the world’s most dynamic region. It’s a future full of dreary ironies. The greatest of these is that a President who wanted a world without nuclear weapons may have, as his legacy, that he scared half the world into nuking up. 

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Update: I’ve always been impressed by how quickly ideas catch fire in South Korea.

A right-wing South Korean journalist insisted on Friday that South Korea and Japan push for their own nuclear armament for protection from North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

In a contribution to the conservative Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun, Cho Gab-je said that the two countries should be nuclear-armed for legitimate self-defense as long as a neighboring enemy is armed with atomic bombs.

Cho, former president of Monthly Chosun, said nuclear armament is a very natural option for the sovereign countries whose existence is being jeopardized constantly.

He also said the two countries should be able to ask for the revision of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) so that they are able to push for their nuclear armament under Article 10 of the NPT.

“It is possible for the two countries to give prior notice for the withdrawal from the NPT as they are faced with a crisis of national existence due to constant nuclear threats,” he said.

“South Korea and Japan should ask the United States to participate in the decision-making process of the U.S. nuclear umbrella strategy,” Cho said, insisting the U.S. nuclear umbrella promised to both countries, respectively, will have to be revamped into a combined command system among the three countries.

The reports have Xi Jinping’s attention, and he doesn’t sound happy:

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Friday that there should be neither nuclear weapons nor war on the Korean Peninsula as he spoke by phone with President Park Geun-hye for the first time since the North’s nuclear test last month.

Xi also said that all relevant parties should deal with the situation in a “cool-headed” manner from the perspective of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula while sticking to the principle of dialogue and negotiations, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

“Under any circumstances, China will consistently make efforts to realize Korean-Peninsula denuclearization, safeguard peace and stability on the peninsula and resolve problems through dialogue and negotiations,” Xi was quoted as saying.

And yet, when President Park asked Xi to help disarm North Korea through economic pressure, Xi pretty much gave Park the big F-U, just like his Foreign Minister did with John Kerry. I’m not saying that South Korea should nuke up or shouldn’t, but Xi shouldn’t be surprised that ideas like these gain currency when he won’t lift a finger to help protect South Korea’s fundamental national security interests from threats by one of his clients.

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Update 2: Don Kirk, who has been covering Korea long enough to give almost any story its full historical context, relates the long history of South Korea’s nuclear program, and how the U.S. pressured Park Chung-hee to end it. Then, as now, the program was driven by the fear of an aggressive North Korea, and a fear of U.S. disengagement. Given that North Korea got its first experimental nuclear reactor in the 1960s, I wonder whether Park or Kim Il-sung was the first to get the idea of going nuclear. What matters, in the end, is that Park’s backers forced him to end his nuclear program, and Kim’s backers just threw money at him and his successors.

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Of the North’s crimes against humanity, the world will ask, “Where was South Korea?”

South Korea’s political left, which has long been divided over whether to be violently pro-North Korean, ideologically pro-North Korean, or merely anti-anti-North Korean, has again blocked a vote in South Korea’s National Assembly on a North Korean human rights law that’s been languishing there since 2005. The law itself is weak bori-cha. It had been watered down until it did little more than fund NGOs seeking direct engagement with the North Korean people. But even as a symbolic gesture, as a beginning, and as a small preemptive apology to history, the bill deserved to pass.

The bill includes provisions to create a North Korean Human Rights Foundation that could fund non-governmental groups to conduct research and seek to improve the human rights situation in North Korea, educate South Koreans about rights conditions in North Korea, and provide humanitarian aid in line with international monitoring standards. The law would also establish a system to document and archive information about rights abuses by the North Korean government and its leaders that could be used for future efforts to pursue accountability for rights crimes, in line with similar international efforts.

The action by South Korea would help intensify international pressure on North Korea over its horrendous rights record, and would bring South Korea in line with other countries focused on rights concerns in North Korea. [Human Rights Watch]

On one hand, Korea’s left wants to use “quiet diplomacy” to address North Korea’s widespread, horrific, and present-day crimes against humanity — quiet diplomacy that in practice has never meant or accomplished anything. On the other hand, it fans the public and often hysterical rage against Japan over crimes against humanity that, as horrible as they were, happened 70 to 90 years ago in a world where mass murder and enslavement briefly became the global norm from Mauthausen to Babi Yar to Nanking to the Kolyma River.

There is no question that those past crimes justify rage. All the more so, when the Japanese government continues, incredibly, to say idiotic things like this. Although, it must be said, Japan has at least managed to pass a North Korean human rights law. That’s more than South Korea can say.

South Koreans’ rage against Japan’s past crimes is both sincere and justified. In the case of South Korea’s political left, it is also breathtakingly hypocritical when viewed alongside its culpable silence about Pyongyang’s present-day “crimes against humanity, arising from ‘policies established at the highest level of State,’” including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

Here is a dismal and undeniable fact: no amount of rage will save even one of the aging Korean women who suffered so much at the hands of the Japanese army so long ago. It may, with a generous assist from some influential idiots in Japan, mean that the last survivors among them die without the small and inadequate measure of compensation promised to them. But fanning anti-Japanese is a convenient way for some Korean politicians — and for the Chinese and North Korean governments — to exploit them for all their political value until the end of their days. And for good reason, at least for South Korea’s cynical politicians and rapacious neighbors: it may help them dissolve a nascent security alliance that every sober-minded observer knows both countries need, thereby endangering millions of people, both born and yet to be born. 

Meanwhile, the world is waiting for South Korea’s rage against what goes on today, even as I write, and even as you read:

• Mr Ahn Myong-chol explained that there is no designated burial spot for inmates or a Korean-style tomb. Instead, they were simply placed in shallow holes in collective burial sites: “They sometimes buried bodies over other bodies. As we are digging the ground and we sometimes found the bones, and so if there is a [prison] mine, then surrounding hills, and mountains would be something like a cemetery. There is no actual cemetery for political prisoners…”

• Mr Kang Chol-hwan remembered that he buried over 300 bodies during his 10 years in Political Prison Camp No. 15 at Yodok. Inmates assigned to bury the bodies stripped them of their clothes so as reuse or barter them. Eventually, the camp authorities simply bulldozed the hill used for burials to turn it into a corn field: “As the machines tore up the soil, scraps of human flesh reemerged from the final resting place; arms and legs and feet, some still some still stockinged, rolled in waves before the bulldozer. I was terrified. One of friends vomited.

The guards then hollowed out a ditch and ordered a few detainees to toss in all the corpses and body parts that were visible on the surface.”

781. Former prisoners and guards interviewed by the Commission all concurred that death was an ever present feature of camp life. In light of the overall secrecy surrounding the camp, it is very difficult to estimate how many camp inmates have been executed, were worked to death or died from starvation and epidemics. However, based on the little the outside world knows about the horrors of the prison camps, even a conservative estimate leads the Commission to find that hundreds of thousands of people have perished in the prison camps since their establishment more than 55 years ago. [U.N. Commission of Inquiry report]

What can still save Korean women, men, and children is for South Koreans to lead the world in speaking out against these crimes, and against the Chinese government for enabling them. That will not happen as long as South Korea is confused and divided, and as long as the rest of the world asks, “Where is South Korea?”

Germany 1945

[As the Germans and the Japanese did before them, they will say they did not know.]

Indeed, for generations, the world will ask, “Where was South Korea?” 

“South Korea arguably has the greatest interest of any country in improving human rights in North Korea, yet unlike some of its allies, it has made no legislative commitment to that task,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Passing this bill would ensure that human rights issues in the North are not pushed aside for political convenience on the Korean peninsula, now or in the future.” [Human Rights Watch]

Modern South Korea’s apathy to the mass murder of its countrymen in the North isn’t just an embarrassment to its own history. It is an embarrassment to human history.

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Update: The Korea Times is now reporting that the bill’s proponents will try again. Hat tip: Jonathan Cheng.

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Senate Foreign Relations Committee agrees on, passes North Korea sanctions bill

Last week’s big news was that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the last real legislative obstacle to a North Korea sanctions law, reached a compromise and unanimously approved a tough new version. Both Republicans and Democrats gave supportive statements before and after the vote:

“We have a bill that, in many respects, is stronger than the House bill,” said the Senate committee’s top Democrat, Ben Cardin of Maryland. “What we do is put pressure on not just the government, but on those who want to do business with North Korea — if they do in these areas, there will be sanctions imposed.”

The House bill requires the president to investigate and sanction persons and entities contributing to North Korean weapons of mass destruction, money laundering, censorship or human rights abuses.

The Senate bill adds provisions targeting North Korea’s sale of minerals and precious metals, a major source of hard currency. Corker said the legislation also places a greater emphasis on Pyongyang’s human rights record.

“I think we’ve enhanced it [the House bill] significantly,” Corker said. “It takes into account other issues that we have with North Korea, not just the nuclear testing, but also some human rights issues.”

Cardin stressed that the sanctions legislation would not affect international aid to Pyongyang.

The bill “is not aimed at all at humanitarian needs,” he said. “The North Korean people are in desperate need. We regret that the country doesn’t spend its resources on its people.” [VOA]

You can read Corker and Cardin’s official joint statement on the legislation here.

I’ll agree that the Senate bill is not only stronger than the House version but also stronger than what I’d expected. Under the compromise bill, the sanctions in sections 104(a) (for conduct such as proliferation and human rights abuses) and 104(c) (blocking all North Korean government assets) are now mandatory. Under the Menendez bill, 104(a) was discretionary and 104(c) didn’t exist as such. Under the Gardner bill, 104(a) was mandatory and 104(c) was discretionary. 

Marcus Noland should be pleased that section 302 of the new bill requires the administration to implement a diplomatic strategy to combat North Korea’s use of overseas slave labor, and that section 304 may well trigger mandatory sanctions against its use.

The Foreign Relations Committee has posted its amendment-in-the-nature-of-a-substitute on its website, although you have to put it together with some helpful amendments, proposed by Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, to get the full text. According to Senator Cory Gardner, the Colorado Republican who led the charge for this legislation, the full Senate will probably vote on it in the next two weeks.

Because the House and Senate bills are not identical, the House will have to act next to put the legislation on the President’s desk. It will probably vote on the Senate bill, rather than taking it before a Conference Committee. I’ve been told by a source I trust that President Obama has signaled that he won’t veto the bill. 

Here ends the good news. I promise you that all the other news is dreary, but I’ll save that for tomorrow’s post.

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CSIS: Deter North Korea with subversive information (Update: You had one job!)

Penetrating outside information into North Korea questioning the legitimacy of leader Kim Jong-un should be considered as a key means to retaliate against and curb the communist nation’s cyber attacks, a U.S. think tank said.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) made the suggestion in a report on policy suggestions on how to counter the North’s cyber operations, saying reponding to cyber attacks with cyber attacks won’t be effective because the North isn’t as dependent on networks as South Korea and the U.S. are.

“Therefore, responses should be tailored to leverage North Korea’s specific weaknesses and sensitivities,” said the report released this week. “North Korea has unique asymmetric vulnerabilities as well, especially to outside information that attacks the legitimacy of the regime.” [….]

“The deliberate introduction of additional media and information into North Korea’s networks and population may serve as a potent means of responding to cyber attacks without resorting to use of force, armed attacks or countermeasures,” it said. [Yonhap]

Well, isn’t that what I’ve been saying since 2010? The times have finally caught up with me. By the way, if you can lay your hands on a copy of the original report, I’d be most grateful.

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Update: Thanks to two readers to provided me with the report. Imagine my dismay when I reached page 78 and saw this:

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 2.56.23 PM

Hardly a word of this is true, and it’s not hard to see why. The authority the authors cite for their conclusion that North Korea is “heavily sanctioned”?

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 2.53.36 PM

Seriously? That was 16 years ago! In 2000, there were no Chapter VII U.N. Security Council resolutions against North Korea, and no history of China flagrantly violating those resolutions. There was no Patriot Act. North Korea was still listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. None of the executive orders that form the legal basis for U.S. sanctions against North Korea existed yet. No one in America had heard of Banco Delta Asia. We had not seen financial sanctions nearly crush the economy of Iran. Kaesong didn’t exist, Kumgang still did, and the Sunshine Policy was just starting.

Some of those sanctions are legally (but not practically) stronger today, others are far weaker, and the most effective ones were not even invented yet. But any way you look at it, a 16-year-old study on North Korea sanctions is as useless as a 16-year-old study on social media.

CSIS, you had one job. For a respected think tank to offer senior policymakers such a poorly researched (and consequently, wrong) conclusion about such an important policy option is just unforgivably sloppy. Is it too much to ask a think tank with an operating revenue of more than $30 million to research the law and the facts, or find and cite someone who has done it for you? For God’s sake, this isn’t even my day job. It’s YOUR day job!

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Rev. Tim Peters is feeding N. Korea’s hungry, and showing us how to re-think food aid

The Rev. Tim Peters, a man who embodies everything I admire about the word “Christian,” leads the group Helping Hands Korea, which has been helping North Koreans escape for more than a decade. Now, he’s putting into action what I call “guerrilla engagement,” reaching inside North Korea covertly and helping its oppressed and starved classes achieve material independence. He’s doing it by harnessing the private sotoji farms that operate on the edge of legality, and which may have saved North Korea from famine last year.

Rather than just spiriting a trickle of refugees to freedom abroad, he is also smuggling nutrient-rich vegetable seeds into North Korea, in a bold effort to provide food security for the 24.9 million people still trapped behind its barbed wire borders.

This campaign comes at a critical time. Due to some minor land reforms in the North, rural families now are allowed to cultivate tiny plots of land privately. A China-based refugee explained to him: “We have the land now, but we don’t have seeds.” [….]

Reverend Peters recalled of that time: “We sent the first batches into North Korea using various networks. Soon after that, another Catacombs member, Ed, mentioned that his grandfather bequeathed to him a chestnut orchard some time ago. I half-jokingly said: ‘Ed, are all those chestnuts just rotting on the ground when you’re over here in Korea?’ The next thing I knew, his family had sent a big box of seeds from America as a donation to our initiative. That is how The Seed Project began.”

Catacombs volunteers — a motley assortment of graduate students, English teachers, military personnel, and local high school students — now gather weekly at a small art gallery. Their goal is to repackage high-quality vegetable seeds with Korean planting instructions, while keeping up-to-date on the latest North Korea headlines. This winter, they have prepped over one thousand units. [Rachel Stine, The World Post]

I’m proud to call Rev. Peters, and several other participants in this program, my friends:

Despite the religious nature of Peters’ approach, Catacombs enjoys significant support from human rights activists on the secular left. At any given meeting, a third of the attendees are atheist or agnostic. Included in this demographic is regular attendant Craig Urquhart. A Canadian activist, Craig recently donated approximately 100 packets of organic, heirloom seeds designed to grow well in frosty climates.

“It’s not like we’re sending Bibles North,” he said. “We’re sending seeds – food – and a path to a better future. Sending seeds North is one way to help North Koreans who suffer repression by their government. It slightly reduces their dependence on the state dictatorship and it fosters food independence. There’s no negative to this kind of engagement.”

Kurt Achin, a Seoul-based journalist and Catholic supporter of the program, remarked: “I met Tim in 2004 when I came over here to report on defectors and human rights. I am a huge supporter of his quiet approach.”

My only complaint about this otherwise groundbreaking article is that it cites low estimates of the percentage of food-insecure North Koreans. According to recent U.N. reports, that number is somewhere between 70 and 84 percent. Admittedly, U.N. assessments should be treated with skepticism; they may well be skewed by both regime manipulation and the hoarding of food, including sotoji-grown food.

The obvious challenge for this program will be to stay covert and avoid the state’s domination. After more than two decades of humanitarian aid from the U.N. and various NGOs — aid that has long been subject to diversion and manipulation — North Korea is still in a chronic food crisis despite being an industrialized society in a temperate zone with more than enough cash to feed every last North Korean. And after all, how different is the weather in North Korea (perpetual food crisis) from that in South Korea (no food crisis)?

Without a doubt, regime-sanctioned aid must have helped many (but certainly not most) needy North Koreans, but it has not solved the larger food crisis, and may even be contributing to it. As Benjamin K. Silberstein writes, “Humanitarian aid is given with the best of intentions, but in the long run, by helping the North Korean regime avoid necessary policy choices, it may be harming rather than helping the North Korean population.” Or, as Nicholas Eberstadt wrote recently:

There is one final, and particularly bitter, piece in the puzzle: the role of foreign aid in financing and ultimately facilitating North Korea’s ruin. Mirror statistics reveal that the DPRK has never been self-supporting. To the contrary, it has relied on a perennial inflow of foreign resources to sustain itself. Since 1960, North Korea has reportedly received more than $60 billion (in today’s dollars) more merchandise from abroad than it has shipped overseas. Nearly $45 billion of that came from Beijing and Moscow—a figure we can treat as a rough approximation of total Chinese and Soviet/Russian financial support.

Why didn’t these massive transfers result in any appreciable measure of long-term economic advancement? The work of economists Craig Burnside, David Dollar and Lant Pritchett, published in the late 1990s under the aegis of the World Bank, suggests an answer: Aid can have a negative effect on growth when a recipient state has a bad business climate, because foreign subsidies allow the regime, in the short term, to escape the consequences of its misrule. In such cases, the greater the volume of aid, the bigger the harm.

Unfortunately, North Korea’s horrific economic performance was enabled in part by leaders abroad who sent billions of dollars to Pyongyang. Those resources allowed the Kim dynasty to continue policies so patently destructive that they would have been forced to cease, or at least to moderate, them absent subsidy from overseas.

International aid workers and humanitarian policy makers have always feared that foreign assistance, through cascading mishaps, might leave recipients poorer and worse off in the end. [Wall Street Journal]

If Helping Hands can keep operating below the state’s radar, it can be a small beginning for a series of far greater things. With material independence comes intellectual independence. If you want to donate to Helping Hands Korea, here’s a link.

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Meet the assassin/killer/hacker/terrorist Kim Jong-un just put in charge of relations with S. Korea

With all recent movement on sanctions legislation in the House and Senate, I’ve skimmed over the developments in North Korean Kremlinology, reports about which often read like the dossiers in a lost, bad-acid fueled manuscript for a “High Castle” sequel.

If you believe that personnel is policy, however, Kim Jong-un’s choice of a replacement for Kim Yang-gon, who ran Pyongyang’s so-called United Front Department until he died in a car-maybe-not-accident recently, is a dark omen about Kim Jong-un’s policy instincts. The UFD not only handles diplomatic relations with Seoul, but also Pyongyang’s propaganda and influence operations in South Korea, and its substantial cadre of sympathizers and spies there. 

Despite his job description, some scholars attributed pragmatic views to tScreen Shot 2016-01-26 at 9.05.03 PMhe late Kim Yang-gon. By contrast, the choice of General Kim Yong-chol as his replacement set off alarm bells among Korea watchers, who describe him as a “hard-liner” or a “hawk.”

If you believe that inter-Korean relations are a real thing, that’s bad enough:

“We could interpret Kim’s appointment [to head the UFD] as Pyongyang’s declaration that its business with the Park government is now over,” Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University, told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“In the short run, Kim’s appointment, if true, is a very negative sign for inter-Korean ties,” he said. “The General Bureau of Reconnaissance is mainly tasked with plotting and carrying out espionage against the South while the UFD is responsible for seeking communication and cooperation with the South.”

Another North Korea expert agreed on the negative implications of Kim’s appointment. “If Kim Yong-chol is really named to the UFD, it is an indication of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s decision to strain ties with Seoul,” said Kim Young-soo, a professor of political science at Sogang University. [Joongang Ilbo]

The blunt truth is much worse. Kim Yong-chol is the prime suspect in North Korea’s 2014 cyberattack on Sony pictures, its cyberterrorist threats against American movie theaters, its 2010 sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, the 2015 land mine attack against South Korean soldiers, and a whole series of attempted and perfected assassinations in South Korea and China. 

The blunt truth is, Kim Yong-chol is a straight-up terrorist. That’s why he featured so prominently in “Arsenal of Terror,” my report last year documenting North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism. There’s even a picture of him on page 62. Here’s one reason why:

In April 2010, South Korean authorities announced that they had arrested two North Korean agents who posed as defectors while plotting to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop. Following his 1997 defection, Hwang had become a fierce critic of the North Korean regime, and received multiple death threats.325

In June of 2010, Major Kim Myong-ho and Major Dong Myong-gwan326 of the RGB pled guilty to the assassination plot in a South Korean court.327 The court sentenced each of the defendants to ten years in prison. The defendants told prosecutors that Lt. Gen. Kim Yong-chol, the head of the RGB, personally assigned them to the assassination mission in November of 2009.

On October 10, 2010, just six months after the failure of the assassination plot, Hwang Jang-yop died, apparently of natural causes, at the age of 87. Ten days later, South Korea announced that it had arrested another North Korean agent, Ri Dong-sam, who was also plotting to murder Hwang. Police denied the existence of any connection between that arrest and Hwang’s death.329 [Arsenal of Terror, pp. 61-62]

Kim Yong-chol now becomes the most important North Korean official to have his assets blocked by the U.S. Treasury Department, which could get interesting if he travels abroad or attempts to make dollar payments to hotels or airlines. You can argue whether O Kuk-Ryol (also blocked) is a semi-retired elder statesman or a guy with real control over North Korea’s nukes and counterfeiting, but Kim Yong-chol has clearly reached the top ranks.

To further complicate matters, Michael Madden’s profile adds the ominous details that Kim Yong-chol used to report to O Kuk-ryol, but that “[A]ccording to several sources, Gen. Kim has been difficult for his superiors to manage.”

Consider not only who has risen under Kim Jong-un’s reign, but also who has fallen. Until his 2013 purge, Jang Song-Thaek was often seen as Kim’s regent and adult supervision. Scholars tended to emphasize his relative pragmatism, and his control over Pyongyang’s trade networks inside China, perhaps in the implicit hope (of which I’m a skeptic) that associates trade with reform and moderation. Less often mentioned was that Jang was also in charge of the North Korea’s most feared internal security service and its gulags.

Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol, who was reportedly stood before a battery of anti-aircraft guns and vaporized — I use the term in the literal, rather than the Orwellian sense — may not have qualified as a “moderate” in North Korean terms, but he was at least presentable enough to send to Russia to meet with Putin. 

In the process, moderates have totally lost out in factional struggles inside North Korea. The latest victim was Kim Yang-gon, in charge of dealings with South Korea. His death last month in a motor vehicle “accident” was the latest in a series of similar misfortunes that have befallen those whose views did not conform with the hardliners. He had visited Beijing several times and had joined North Korea’s second-ranking leader, Hwang Pyong-so, in talks with the South Koreans in Panmunjom for resolving the August mini-crisis on the DMZ.  [Don Kirk, Korea Times]

Of course, moderates in North Korea are like beachfront property in North Dakota — a category that requires a relativistic and expansive definition. Still, the promotion of a stone-cold terrorist to the top ranks of Kim Jong-un’s inner circle says much about how Kim Jong-un sees the world around him, and whether he’s the Swiss-educated reformer we’ve been waiting for.

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Photo credit: KCNA, via North Korea Leadership Watch

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Senate sanctions bills pick up new co-sponsors

It may be of no more than symbolic value at this point, with intense behind-the-scenes discussions ongoing over a bipartisan compromise bill, but symbols do matter, and a few more senators have lined up behind different versions of the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act in the Senate.

One of the Senate bills, S. 2144, has picked up Republicans David Perdue and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Steve Daines of Montana, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Cornyn of Texas, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia, Pat Roberts of Kansas, and Mike Rounds of my home state, South Dakota. Kirk’s co-sponsorship is interesting, in that he has a background in naval intelligence and is a recovering North Korea engager.

Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Marco Rubio of Florida, and James Risch of Idaho were original co-sponsors of S. 2144, which makes a total of 15.

Meanwhile, the Menendez-Graham bill, S. 1747, has picked up two more Democratic co-sponsors, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

Absent some unanticipated delay, the Foreign Relations Committee is expected to mark up a bill on Thursday. Interestingly, the schedule shows that they’ll be considering a 2015 version of the House bill, “with an amendment.”

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Did a U.S. university teach North Korea to track down dissidents?

Just after Christmas, Reuters reported on the analysis of two German IT experts who downloaded a copy of North Korea’s Linux-based Red Star operating system and analyzed its code. Inside, they found something both horrifying and completely predictable. Red Star contains code for “tagging, or watermarking, every document or media file on a computer or on any USB stick connected to it.” Meaning?

That means that all files can be traced. “It’s definitely privacy invading. It’s not transparent to the user,” Grunow said. “It’s done stealthily and touches files you haven’t even opened.”

Nat Kretchun, an authority on the spread of foreign media in North Korea, said such efforts reflected Pyongyang’s realisation that it needs “new ways to update their surveillance and security procedures to respond to new types of technology and new sources of information”. [Reuters]

BoingBoing calls this “a marvel of paranoid terribleness, with lots of marvellously bad features.” (sic)

The one I was most interested in is its covert insertion of watermarks into every file that it touches, either on the OS’s launch disk or removable USB sticks. This is used to track down North Koreans who share illicit media files with their friends and mark them out for punishment in the country’s notorious gulags. [BoingBoing]

Quartz calls it “a dictator’s wet dream:”

One of Red Star’s key features is a watermarking system that secretly creates a record of everyone who’s touched that file.

Red Star quietly adds a unique identifier to media files—pictures, Word documents, or videos—the moment they are accessible. For example, if a USB drive containing an illicit document is plugged into a computer running Red Star, that file is automatically tagged with that computer’s unique identifier. If that file is copied to another machine, the new machine’s identifier is added to the watermark. [Quartz]

The BBC says the watermarking function allows “the state to trace the journey of that file from machine to machine,” “identify undesirable files and delete them without permission.”

The watermarking function was designed in response to the proliferation of foreign films and music being shared offline, says Mr Grunow. “It enables you to keep track of where a document hits Red Star OS for the first time and who opened it. Basically, it allows the state to track documents,” he says.

The system will imprint files with its individual serial number, although it is not known how easily the state can link those serial numbers to individual users.

One element puzzling Mr Grunow is the discovery of an extended version of the watermarking software which he and Mr Schiess do not fully understand, but which he says may help identify individual users.

“What we have seen is the basic watermarking, but we found evidence of an extended mechanism that is far more sophisticated, with different cryptography,” he says.

“It could be that this file is your individual fingerprint and they register this fingerprint to you, and that could help them track down individual users.” [BBC]

Perhaps I can contribute something to the answer to this mystery. Reading this, my elephantine memory recalled that back in 2002, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Don Gregg, who takes an oddly understanding view of North Korea’s human rights abuses, brokered an academic exchange program between a U.S. university and a North Korean university to share (among other technologies) something called “digital watermarking,” which inserts distinctive metadata into digital media to trace copyright violations. 

One application of digital watermarking is source tracking. A watermark is embedded into a digital signal at each point of distribution. If a copy of the work is found later, then the watermark may be retrieved from the copy and the source of the distribution is known. This technique reportedly has been used to detect the source of illegally copied movies. [Wikipedia]

According to this book, entitled “Techniques and Applications: Digital Watermarking and Content Protection,” governments can also abuse this technology for censorship. 

“[I]t is important to note the potential that particularly usage tracing and control mechanisms have for misuse by political entities. Outright censorship or the mere knowledge that any access to information is subject to surveillance by governmental entities can result in a severe curtailment of individual freedoms of expression and ultimately thought due to a lack or selective availability of relevant information. [Page 11]

Most of the online evidence of Gregg’s exchange program has since vanished from the Internet, but thanks to the Wayback Machine, we can still retrieve this 2003 academic paper, which lists Gregg and North Korea’s former U.N. Ambassador as co-authors. It describes a “bilateral research collaboration” project between Syracuse University and North Korea’s Kimchaek University of Technology (KUT), concerning a series of information technologies, including “digital copyright and watermarking programs.”

The project claimed to have “tacit support” from the U.S. State Department.

The 2003 paper provides scant detail on what technology was actually transferred to the North Koreans, but a 2009 online newsletter from Syracuse claimed that the “ongoing collaborative initiative” had “enhanced IT capability in North Korea.” The program kept up a steady drumbeat of activity, including more delegation visits, for several years.

The Syracuse posting also raises the perennial question about engagement with Pyongyang — who changed who? If the objective of engagement is to reform North Korea, lure it into the norms and standards of civilization, and reconcile it with the U.S. and South Korea, its effect seems to have been closer to the opposite. Instead, the North Korean participants inflexibly praised Kim Jong-il and justified his nuclear proliferation, while the American academics they engaged parroted Pyongyang-friendly views of North Korea’s history, and even its nuclear program. There is more evidence that Syracuse’s program reinforced North Korea’s resistance to the norms and standards of civilization than evidence that it encouraged North Korea to conform to them. Sorry for the long quote:

“With the division of the peninsula, the U.S. virtually created a ‘Korea problem,’” says George Kallander, assistant professor of history and expert on Korea, who is on research leave this semester at the Academy of Korean Studies in South Korea. “Koreans themselves did not have a problem. Their country had never been divided like this before.”

He points out the importance of Korean pride and tenacity. “The division of the peninsula was unprecedented and no Korean wanted it. Korea has at various times in the past used foreign forces to overcome domestic political and military problems, but always, always, always Korea has prevailed. This period of division is an anomaly and will not last.

“No matter what people say, the Koreas will unite someday.”

The 1945 partition set the stage for today’s high-stakes diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear weapons. In April of this year, North Korea withdrew from the Six-Party Talks on nuclear disarmament and has since taken steps to restart its plutonium reprocessing facility and tested a weapon.

Jongwoo Han, an adjunct professor of political science and an expert on Korean politics, traces the evolution of the North Korean weapons program to 1991, when the Soviet Union’s collapse changed the balance of power in Asia and made relationships with America much more important. North Korea began to develop its nuclear strategy as a bargaining chip to gain recognition from the United States.

“North Korea knows its regime security is guaranteed only if the United States recognizes it,” says Han, the co-leader of the exchange program with Kim Chaek University. [….]

In 2002, a North Korean diplomat told Han, “We are going to go all-in” in playing the nuclear development card to gain recognition from the United States, as Han wrote in a 2009 article in the Australian Journal of International Affairs. He explained, “Pyongyang has pursued nuclear proliferation primarily in order to attain security and economic aid,” a point the late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung made in 2007 as he hosted visitors from Syracuse. 

[George S. Bain, Syracuse U., Maxwell School, News & Events, 2009]

Oh, and in the newsletter, Gregg pointed to Kim Jong-un’s Swiss education, suggesting that this time, reform was finally here! I could fisk that, but Gregg’s reaction to Kim Jong-un’s fourth nuclear test has so much greater a wealth of material, and Don Kirk has already done a fisking for the ages. It’s a must-read.

Ironically, the target of Red Star’s watermarking function is to stamp out intellectual and cultural engagement between North Koreans and the Outer Earth. Increasingly, that engagement takes place through computers that North Koreans purchase in the markets. Many — though we can’t be sure how many — probably use Red Star. Groups like the North Korea Strategy Center, founded by gulag survivor Kang Chol-hwan, are smuggling flash drives and DVDs loaded with books and movies into North Korea as part of a guerrilla engagement strategy designed to bring social change to one of the world’s most isolated, deprived, and militarized societies. That’s the kind of change Pyongyang is determined to stop.

The question that deserves closer technical examination, then, is whether an American university has unwittingly helped the North Korean security forces track down and punish North Koreans who read that content. We can divide that question into subparts.

  • Did Syracuse University teach North Korea digital watermarking? By its own claims, it intended to do so, although Syracuse hasn’t clearly said what technology it actually transferred. 
  • Did North Korea deploy a similar technology to censor digital content? Yes. 
  • Did North Korea use Syracuse’s technology, or a derivative of that technology, to censor digital content? For now, that’s probably impossible to know, but it seems like a strong possibility. It’s fair to point out that the regimes in Iran, China, and other countries also employ similar samizdat-tracking software. We can’t rule out other sources. 

What should be clear is that this revelation gives Syracuse an ethical responsibility to suspend its exchange program with KUT pending a thorough, independent, and transparent review. That review should examine the watermarking technology in North Korea’s OS, compare it to the technology Syracuse transferred to North Korea, and determine whether the technologies Syracuse shared with KUT are subject to misuse. 

Really, then, the questions this post raises are logically related to those raised by the still-unanswered allegations that exchange programs are training North Korean hackers, or helping North Korea weaponize anthrax. Proponents of exchange programs with North Korea can’t be oblivious to the nature of the regime they’re engaging, and the potential for it to misuse the technologies they share. Instead, they have a heightened duty to safeguard against the misuse of potentially harmful technologies with a regime of this nature.

Unfortunately, those involved in Syracuse’s project may be far too gullible to see this. That’s why it should not be left to them to reevaluate the ethical responsibility of their IT exchange programs with North Korea.

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How Congress can ban tourist travel to North Korea, and why it should

Yesterday’s big North Korea headline was the news that yet another American, Wyoming native, University of Virginia student and cretin Otto Warmbier ignored my sage advice, succumbed to his Madonna Complex, and got himself arrested in North Korea. 

The student, who had entered North Korea “under the guise” of tourism, had the “purpose of bringing down the foundation of (the DPRK’s) single-minded unity at the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation,” the KCNA said.

The U.S. embassy in Seoul told NK News on Friday afternoon that it was aware of the report about Warmbier, and said further comment would be later provided by Washington.

At this time of his arrest, Warmbier had been participating in a tour of the country organized by the British-owned, China-based Young Pioneer Tours company, Reuters said on Friday. […]

Other social media indicators suggested Warmbier’s interests include global sustainability and climate change. [NK News]

It’s all in a day’s work for a Swiss-educated reformer, as he opens North Korea’s doors to the world:

Arrests of American visitors to North Korea have been increasing steadily since Kim Jong Un’s succession to power, with news of the latest case coming just weeks since authorities paraded U.S. passport holder Kim Dong-cheol to foreign viewers via a high-profile interview with CNN. [NK News]

Martyn Williams tweets a screen shot of KCNA’s announcement of the arrest:


The Daily Mail has video of the announcement on Korean Central Television.

You may not realize that Warmbier isn’t the only American in a North Korean prison. Another American, Christian missionary Kim Dong-chul of Fairfax, Virginia, was reported as arrested in North Korea on spying charges on January 12th. Kim’s arrest hardly made the news, although his work, bringing medical aid into the northeastern city of Rason, was far nobler than Warmbier’s slumming expedition. As someone who doesn’t want the world to forget the martyred Reverend Kim Dong-shik, whom North Korean agents kidnapped from China and probably murdered, I wonder why the arrest of Otto Warmbier is a scintilla more newsworthy than the arrest of Kim Dong-chul.
kim-dong-chul

[Check out the crawler text.]

In most cases, white tourists who are arrested in North Korea are held for a few months and released, none the worse for wear and perhaps wiser. Now, consider how the North Koreans treated the Reverend Kim Dong-shik, the unquestionably courageous (though perhaps foolhardy) Robert Park, Euna Lee, and Kenneth Bae, over whom the North Koreans likely felt a certain “ethnic jurisdiction” to mistreat them. Call it North Korea’s version of white privilege. It’s all the more maddening when you contemplate the sense of entitlement that would motivate anyone to gawk upon such a miserable land as a tourist.

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In retrospect, Warmbier may wish he hadn’t put himself at the mercy of such evil men, by which I obviously mean Young Pioneer Tours. In a 2013 article about the arrest of another American tourist, Merrill Newman, a Young Pioneers employee even claimed that tourist arrests are just terrific for business:

China-based tour operators that specialize in taking foreigners to North Korea say the ordeal of the 85-year-old Newman has not deterred travelers. Beijing-based Koryo Tours and Xian-based Young Pioneer Tours both have had groups in North Korea since his detention, and have more trips scheduled between now and year’s end. Koryo has not had a single cancellation; Young Pioneer had one, but insists they aren’t worried. “For every one person that cancels we probably pick up five,” says Christopher P. White, travel director for Young Pioneer. “When things like this happen, we see a surge in interest.” [Time, Dec. 1, 2013]

The arrests of Americans in North Korea are completely foreseeable, and have been a regular occurrence in recent years, despite the pleas of the State Department that Americans STAY. THE. F**K. OUT. of North Korea (not a direct quote).

The Department of State strongly recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK). This replaces the Travel Warning for North Korea of April 15, 2015, to reiterate and highlight the risk of arrest and long-term detention due to the DPRK’s inconsistent application of its criminal laws.

Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens have been subject to arrest and long-term detention for actions that would not be cause for arrest in the United States or other countries.  North Korean authorities have arrested U.S. citizens who entered the DPRK legally on valid DPRK visas as well as U.S. citizens who accidentally or intentionally crossed into DPRK territory without valid visas. The Department of State has received reports of DPRK authorities detaining U.S. citizens without charges and not allowing them to depart the country.  North Korea has even detained several U.S. citizens who were part of organized tours.  Do not assume that joining a group tour or using a tour guide will prevent North Korean authorities from detaining you or arresting you.  Efforts by private tour operators to prevent or resolve past detentions of U.S. citizens in the DPRK have not succeeded in gaining their release.

Read the entire thing if you’re even thinking about visiting North Korea, or if you’re a lawyer who represents the family of Otto Warmbier. The Warmbiers’ lawyer may also be interested in knowing whether Young Pioneers met its legal duty to warn of a foreseeable risk on its tasteful Commie-kitsch website

How safe is it?

Extremely safe! Despite what you may hear, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit. Tourism is very welcomed in North Korea, thus tourists are cherished and well taken care of. We have never felt suspicious or threatened at any time. In fact, North Korean’s are super friendly and accommodating, if you let them into your world. Even during tense political moments tourism to the DPRK is never affected.

See also Uri Tours, whose website said that travel to North Korea “feels incredibly safe,” after the arrest of one of its charges.

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The timing of these arrests is also fascinating. North Korea deliberately chose a tense political moment to be “accommodating” to Mr. Warmbier, and to let him into its world for an extended stay. As it turns out, North Korea arrested him on January 2nd, four days before North Korea carried out its fourth nuclear test on Kim Jong-un’s direct orders


Young Pioneers sat on the news of Mr. Warmbier’s arrest for three weeks, perhaps while it ushered other American tourists through North Korea. It’s probably also true that the Obama Administration sat on the news until after the President’s State of the Union speech. In Kim Dong-chul’s case, he may have been arrested as early as last October. Pyongyang waited until after its nuke test to announce both arrests, just as it knew U.S. diplomats would be discussing new bilateral sanctions and asking the U.N. to pass a new sanctions resolution.

Mr. Warmbier’s detention comes as the U.S. seeks new sanctions at the United Nations on North Korea following its latest nuclear test on Jan. 6. Pyongyang has called its bomb test a necessary measure for self-defense and repeated its desire for the U.S. to offer a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War.

The U.S. says North Korea should first abide by its previous commitments to denuclearize.

Pyongyang has in the past used detainees to try to initiate diplomatic exchanges with Washington. In 2014, North Korea called for a high-level U.S. delegation to come and discuss the release of two Americans then under detention. [Wall Street Journal, Alastair Gale]

President George W. Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.”

Discuss among yourselves. 

~   ~   ~

As the U.S. and the U.N. seek ways to tighten the financial pressure on North Korea, they should be mindful that each year, tourism pours $43 million in cash into the coffers of a regime that may well be using that money to build nuclear weapons and missiles. Kim Jong-un may also be using tourists’ money to perpetuate what a U.N. Commission called “crimes against humanity, arising from ‘policies established at the highest level of State,’” including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” 

So if American tourism in North Korea is such a policy headache for the government, why doesn’t it just ban travel to North Korea like it banned travel to Cuba for so many years? Because that would probably require an act of Congress. Most of the executive branch’s sanctions authorities come from statutes, such as the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917, and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977, or IEEPA. Both statutes harness the Treasury’s power to block dollar-denominated transactions, which I explained in this paper for the Fletcher Security Review last year.

Unfortunately, President George W. Bush lifted TWEA sanctions against North Korea in 2008, and a carve-out in section 203(b)(4) of the IEEPA denies the President “the authority to regulate or prohibit, directly or indirectly . . . any transactions ordinarily incident to travel to or from any country.”

The authority for the Cuba travel ban, by contrast, came from the TWEA and other statutes, including Section 910 of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act. Even the broadest executive order the President has at his disposal doesn’t give the President clear authority to ban travel to North Korea (although a clever lawyer might, in theory, exploit the weasel-word “including” to reimpose TWEA sanctions without fear that Congress would object).

The greater problem is that President Obama simply lacks the will to impose tough sanctions on North Korea. Congress — and this is equally true of both Democrats and Republicans when it comes to North Korea — does not suffer from the same deficiency. If Congress wants to ban travel to North Korea, it could enact language like this, with little fear that the President would actually veto it:

———————————————————————-

SEC. ____. LIMITATIONS ON TRANSACTIONS RELATED TO TOURIST ACTIVITIES IN NORTH KOREA.

   (a) Notwithstanding section 203(b)(4) of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 (Pub. L. 95-223) the President —

      (1) may prohibit, and many deny any license or permit authorizing, any transaction incident to travel to, from, or within North Korea for tourist activities.

      (2) shall prohibit, and shall deny any license or permit authorizing, any transaction incident to travel to, from, or within North Korea for tourist activities, unless the President has, not more than 180 days prior to such authorization, certified to the appropriate congressional committees that U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents traveling in North Korea —

          (A) are not at significant risk of arbitrary arrest and detention; and

          (B) are not at significant risk of detention under conditions dangerous to the life or health of a person.

   (b) Tourist Activities defined.—In this section, the term “tourist activities” means any activity with respect to travel to, from, or within North Korea for purposes other than travel for humanitarian, journalistic, educational, diplomatic, consular, or official U.S. government purposes.

———————————————————————-

You’re welcome, Congress!

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Arguments to Impotence, Part 2: A response to Joseph DeThomas

As Professor Lee and I have flogged, and flogged, and flogged, and flogged this horse that our sanctions against North Korea were far weaker than was widely assumed, we knew a few of you were rolling your eyes and wondering how long we would go on flogging it. The answer, of course, is, “As long as it takes.” 

If the published opinions of Michael Green, Victor Cha, Bruce Klingner, Scott Snyderthe editors of The Washington Post, Evans Revere, Robert Gallucci, and the United States Congress are enough to call “a consensus,” Professor Lee and I may need to find another horse. The new consensus is that sanctions can and should do much more to disarm North Korea, and that secondary sanctions against Kim Jong-un’s Chinese enablers are an essential part of this strategy.

The most surprisingly strident agreement comes from Peter Harrell, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs from 2012 to 2014. In 2013, Harrell was also one of State’s representatives in discussions with House staff about the shape of H.R. 1771, the predecessor of H.R. 757. I honor the Vegas Rule with respect to the content of those discussions, but I liked Harrell personally (although, given my own calculated obnoxiousness in those meetings, the converse is less likely to be true). Without revealing more, I was surprised to see Harrell call H.R. 757 no more than “a useful first step” toward something much stronger, and to see him criticize the weakness of the sanctions in place now.

The existing sanctions are not effectively designed to challenge this dynamic. For example, the U.S. and our allies do not currently sanction international companies that establish joint business ventures in North Korea or that trade with North Korean mining, metals, textile and other companies that are mainstays of the North Korean economy. [Peter Harrell, The Hill]

Of course, civil servants don’t go to meetings to share their personal views. In 2013, Harrell served his President loyally, professionally, and competently. Now that he can speak for himself, Harrell joins fellow Obama Administration alumnus Kurt Campbell in arguing that sanctions can do much more. 

There are U.S. and United Nations sanctions against selling luxury goods like sports cars and high-end watches to North Korea—an effort launched several (sic) to curb the reportedly-lavish lifestyles of North Korea’s elite —but these sanctions have rarely been enforced. [Harrell]

True. The most recent example of this came last week, when the Treasury Department sanctioned a series of Chinese companies and individuals for selling missile technology to Iran, but not for their concurrent dealings with North Korea. 

Then, Harrell begins to show us his inner Curtis LeMay:

First, the U.S. and our allies should begin imposing sanctions on international companies that do business with North Korea’s primary economic sectors, such as mining and textiles. These could be modeled after the sanctions imposed on Iran beginning in 2010 that drove most international companies to stop doing business with Tehran. [Harrell]

From the sound of Senator Cory Gardner’s comments to Yonhap this week, that may be where the Senate is heading. Gardner, though still a freshman, is well regarded for his intellect and his command of Asia policy, and has emerged as the Senate’s leading voice on North Korea. Critically, Gardner tells Yonhap, “The main point of the bill obviously is a mandatory sanctions regime.”

Harrell continues:

The U.S. should also ramp up financial sanctions against the handful of banks that still do business with North Korea. Unlike current legislative proposals, however, financial sanctions should not be limited to banks that facilitate North Korea’s nuclear program or other illicit activities. Instead, the goal should be to entirely cut North Korea off from the global banking system, much as the U.S. did with Iran over the past five years.

Combined, escalated trade and financial sanctions have the potential to curb North Korea’s growth and to undercut the economic base that the North requires to keep advancing its nuclear program.  Stepped up enforcement of the existing sanctions targeting North Korea’s illicit activities would complement such a new broader sanctions campaign against North Korea’s economy. [Harrell]

Harrell doesn’t draw a red line at the Yalu River, either:

China, which is responsible for more than half of North Korea’s trade, is a key player and needs to make a choice: either join in an international effort to increase pressure on North Korea, or see Chinese companies that continue to trade with the North risk their ability to participate in the broader global economy.  China’s own rising concern about its long-time client’s nuclear program and other destabilizing activities makes it likely that China would ultimately join in a campaign of escalated economic pressure, as long as the diplomacy is handled deftly. [Harrell]

Naturally, this is not a unanimous view. Another former Obama Administration official, Joseph DeThomas, has published a post at 38 North criticizing the CNN op-ed Professor Lee and I published earlier this week. I can see why DeThomas might have felt stung by our criticism of the Obama Administration’s dereliction in enforcing sanctions as the North Korean threat grew. It’s curious that DeThomas chooses us among so many others who’ve recently espoused similar views, but we’ve never been the kind to shy away from arguments. Fortunately, I’ve already prebutted DeThomas’s argument-to-impotence in this OFK post and this one, at The Weekly Standard, but briefly: 

  • DeThomas calls it an “urban myth” that the Banco Delta Asia measures threatened the survival of Kim Jong-il’s regime, but officials who were in the Bush Administration at the time, and who would presumably have a stronger basis of knowledge, disagree.
  • DeThomas says sanctions won’t work because we don’t know where Kim Jong-un’s money is, but I’ve cited evidence to the contrary, and a source now tells the New York Times that, actually, the Treasury Department does, too, know. (It’s also odd that DeThomas doesn’t direct this argument toward Peter Harrell, who was State’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions until 2014, and who clearly feels otherwise.)
  • To the extent we don’t know where the money is, that’s partially due to the fact that our sanctions regulations are too weak for us to gather that information from the financial industry.

A few other points:

DeThomas argues that most of North Korea’s income isn’t strictly illegal. To be clear, we said “much of” North Korea’s income was “derived from proliferation and illicit activities.” This is the essence of money laundering — you commingle the proceeds of illicit activity with legitimate income to conceal its origins. That’s why money laundering laws make the entire commingled amount subject to seizure and forfeiture.

DeThomas says that North Korea is now working through non-bank institutions to move its money, which I believe to be partially true. It’s also true of many other rogue states, drug dealers, and terrorists we’ve successfully targeted. North Korea didn’t invent money laundering. If Osama bin Laden died broke and isolated, a country of 23 million people must have a higher financial profile.

DeThomas doesn’t think we can “internationalize” effective sanctions at the U.N. I’d urge him to reread Paragraphs 11 through 15 of UNSCR 2094. Those provisions, if enforced as written, are already sufficient authority to internationalize effective sanctions. (This is not to deny that there’s room for improvement, particularly with respect to the mandatory reporting of North Korean property, accounts, and transactions to the Panel of Experts.)

DeThomas wonders: “Perhaps the sanctions experts in the US Treasury, Department of State or in the intelligence community are aware of a Chinese entity that is: a) violating US sanctions on North Korea, and b) is clearly generating significant amounts of foreign exchange for the regime.” Well, if I’m aware of all these examples, I certainly hope the experts can name more examples than a blogger can.

DeThomas worries that sanctions on North Korea’s Chinese enablers will bring down the Chinese (and with it, the global) economy. In fact, Section 207(b)(1) of H.R. 757 allows the President to waive even mandatory sanctions if “[t]he waiver is important to the economic or national security interests of the United States.” Not that a sanctions waiver will be enough to save the Chinese banks from all the bad loans they were forced to make to prop up state-owned enterprises and pump up stock prices. Not that Chinese banks that block North Korean deposits will have anything to worry about. It’s hard to believe that any Chinese bank is so heavily invested in North Korea that it can’t cut its ties quickly.

DeThomas argues that sanctions will piss off the Chinese, and calls for more of the same meek supplications that have failed for 20 years. The risk of pissing off China clearly doesn’t deter me as much as it deters DeThomas, given the bad faith China has shown in its non-enforcement and affirmative proliferation. Relations with China might just have to get worse before they get better.

As to DeThomas’s inference that sanctions will lead to war with North Korea, they actually led to a (flawed) disarmament agreement in 2007. North Korea has actually been more menacing since 2008, when we weakened our sanctions. In any event, it certainly won’t become less menacing after it has a more effective nuclear arsenal.

To sum up, one former Obama Administration official thinks H.R. 757 goes too far, and another thinks it doesn’t go far enough. Financial Times reporter Simon Mundy even manages to make both arguments in one story, criticizing H.R. 757 for being too permissive with its waivers to be effective, yet too offensive to China.

The new consensus, however, is that we need tougher sanctions against both North Korea and its Chinese backers. All of which suggests Congress got it just about right, although the Senate will still have the last word. From some of the chatter I’ve picked up offline, many Senators’ moods toward Pyongyang aren’t far removed from those Cato the Elder harbored toward Carthage. If we aren’t all frozen solid or eaten by wolverines by Monday, we’re in for an interesting week.

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In The Weekly Standard: Ed Royce’s Bipartisan Coup Against a Bipartisan Failure

If President Obama ends up signing a North Korea sanctions bill in the next 30 days — and at this point, I don’t know what interest he has in vetoing one — it will effect the biggest change in our North Korea policy since the 1994 Agreed Framework. That, in turn, will have been due to years of principled dissent and patient, bi-partisan coalition building by Ed Royce, the California Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A certain, too-prevalent type of Republican who sees all Democrats as enemies could learn a few things about winning policy arguments from a man who defied his own party for conservative principle, and yet had the strategic sense to see Democrats, including some very liberal ones, as allies to be won over.

Read the rest of the story here.

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