Kim Jong Il Unplugged, Part 15

The United States has leaked a new set of sanctions on “luxury items” that can no longer be exported to North Korea, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718:

[T]he list of proposed luxury sanctions, obtained by The Associated Press, aims to make Kim’s swanky life harder: No more cognac, Rolex watches, cigarettes, artwork, expensive cars, Harley Davidson motorcycles or even personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis.

Electronic goods like I-pods and plasma TV’s are also banned.  Defectors helped compile the list of Kim Jong Il’s favorite goodies.  There are a few ways of looking at this.  One is that it’s easy to evade, because the Chinese will certainly opt for a narrow interpretation of the meaning of “luxury items” and won’t halt transshipments through its territory.  That’s almost certainly true, although it  might divert some of Kim Jong Il’s arms procurement efforts in less destructive directions.   Here is the conventional view: 

“If you take away one of the tools of his control, perhaps you weaken the cohesion of his leadership,” said Robert J. Einhorn, a former senior State Department official who visited North Korea with Albright and dined extravagantly there. “It can’t hurt, but whether it works, we don’t know.”

My own view is that these sanctions, by themselves,  are unlikely to have a significant impact on the regime in the short or medium term.  I also believe that North Korea has no business spending its resources on items like these while its people are starving, and from that springs the real genius of this provision — the way it tends to reshape  our conversations about North Korea:

The population in North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated economies, is impoverished and routinely suffers widescale food shortages. The new trade ban would forbid U.S. shipments there of Rolexes, French cognac, plasma TVs, yachts and more — all items favored by Kim but unattainable by most of the country.


Responding to North Korea’s nuclear test Oct. 9, the U.N. Security Council voted to ban military supplies and weapons shipments — sanctions already imposed by the United States. It also banned sales of luxury goods but so far has left each country to define such items. Japan included beef, caviar and fatty tuna, along with expensive cars, motorcycles, cameras and more. Many European nations are still working on their lists.


U.S. intelligence officials who helped produce the Bush administration’s list said Kim prefers Mercedes, BMW and Cadillac cars; Japanese and Harley Davidson motorcycles; Hennessy XO cognac from France and Johnny Walker Scotch whisky; Sony cameras and Japanese air conditioners.


Kim is reportedly under his physician’s orders to avoid hard liquor and prefers French wines. He also is said to own an extensive movie library of more than 10,000 titles and prefers films about James Bond and Godzilla, along with Clint Eastwood’s 1993 drama, “In the Line of Fire,” and Whitney Houston’s 1992 love story, “The Bodyguard.”

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