Ill-Gotten Gains: Who Still Remembers Resolution 1718?

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(d) all Member States shall, in accordance with their respective legal processes, freeze immediately the funds, other financial assets and economic resources which are on their territories at the date of the adoption of this resolution or at any time thereafter, that are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by the persons or entities designated by the Committee or by the Security Council as being engaged in or providing support for, including through other illicit means, DPRK’s nuclear-related, other weapons of mass destruction-related and ballistic missile-related programmes, or by persons or entities acting on their behalf or at their direction, and ensure that any funds, financial assets or economic resources are prevented from being made available by their nationals or by any persons or entities within their territories, to or for the benefit of such persons or entities; (emphasis mine)

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, Para. (8)(d), Oct. 14, 2006

So now that Chris Hill has again caved in to the North Koreans and promised to give them back either $20 million or all $24 million of their criminal proceeds in Banco Delta Asia, I just have a few questions: do we have any idea what the North Koreans will do with this money, or can we expect it to be used for the customary prohibited purposes: luxury goods, missiles, and weapons systems? Will any of it be set aside for the care and feeding of North Korea’s millions of starving people? Or are we just not asking?

We need not ask where the funds came from. Recall the words that some “senior U.S. official” said to a Reuters reporter about these BDA funds not long ago: “It is all one big criminal enterprise. You can’t separate it out. Presuming — as I do — that the money will be returned with no strings, questions, or conditions, we’re not only violating UNSCR 1718, we’re giving them back money our own statements confirm we know to be criminal proceeds. We can meekly claim, as we did two weeks ago, that $8 to $12 million in funds could be legitimate, but to say that of 83% or even 100% of the total insults our intelligence.

I am bothered by this.

Like many Americans, I would like to dispense with the rule by which the United States alone is bound by U.N. resolutions while everyone else ignores them ab initio and in seriatim. I suppose it would be — to use a four-letter word — fair if we weren’t bound either, which would return us to our existential why-bother conversation about the U.N. itself. (As long as we’re on the subject, let’s not forget UNSCR 1695, either; it’s also less than a year old, and it was also our idea.)

But consider how strange it all is: the United States is now wadding up U.N. resolutions it rammed through the Security Council as recently as five months ago, and our Chorus of the Perpetually Aggrieved — the news media, the Human Rights Industry, the State Department plutocracy, foreign diplomats, congressional Democrats, and the U.N. itself — couldn’t be happier about it. In fact, they almost seem more eager to see us throw away these two potentially effective resolutions than they were when President Bush sent John Bolton to the U.N. to get them.

I confess to some ambivalence about all. I’ve already said that the fate of BDA matters more than the paltry sum we’re discussing here. I invest little faith in the U.N. as law-giver in any event and would rather have done everything 1695 and 1718 do through the Treasury Department, the Proliferation Security Initiative, and various ad-hoc coalitions. With the evidence that China, Russia, and South Korea are reading both resolutions through kaliedoscopes anyway, I don’t think eschewing the moral authority of the United Nations is too great a sacrifice. And the next time the Chorus of the Perpetually Aggrieved cites the sacred name of Dag Hammarskjold to say that we must obey the next joint Cuban-Sudanese-sponsored resolution demanding that we close down Gitmo, I’ll have a few belts of fresh ammo I can use to stitch the words “the U.N. is a farce” onto their scrawny, hairless chests.

The problem here is that the sacrifice of 1718 redefines the cliche “defeat from the jaws of victory.” As skeptical of the U.N. as I am, 1718 was my brief moment of belief that perhaps the United Nations might be restored to some useful role in doing was it was meant to do: enforce international standards and hold belligerent, genocidal tyrants accountable for their crimes. We came so close. With its very real penalties, 1718 might have been a foundation for really effective action. Its “luxury goods” ban, though sometimes ridiculed, was a first small step toward addressing the criminal misallocation of North Korea’s resources, which killed so many North Koreans who ought to be alive and eating today.

Indeed, I remember hearing Chris Hill cite 1718 with his own forked tongue when he testified before the Congress just three weeks ago. Hill claimed that 1718’s Chapter VII sanctions played some significant role in bringing North Korea back to six-party talks. My ears burned, of course, because North Korea only came back to demand and receive Hill’s surrender by proxy, and Hill has since followed with new capitulations on demand. So we’re back to this:

It is already the stuff of popular parody that Kim Jong Il cares less about the naked words of a U.N. resolution than he does about his pleasure squad’s toenail fungus. Thanks to the double-dealing of our “partners,” China, Russia, and of course South Korea — that conniving, malificent, manipulative aggrieved supplicant that ceased to be our ally in every way except for its cost to American taxpayers a decade ago — Kim Jong Il could count on that impact to be minimized. Even so, the time will come, more likely sooner than later, when North Korea will commit some great act of crime or belligerence that exceeds our State Department’s capacity to ingore or appease it. When that time comes, we will rue having weakened key provisions of two viable U.N. resolutions that we could have cited as the basis for effective enforcement or deterrence.

Meanwhile, just three weeks from the mid-April deadline for North Korea to “shut down and seal” its Yongbyon reactor “for the purpose of eventual abandonment,” how close have we come to that goal? Well, the Sorth Koreans tell us that the North Koreans have “begun preparations,” which could just as well mean that they’ve sent someone to the Home Depot for a roll of this:

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Actually shutting down the reactor, notwithstanding the deadline of Agreed Framework 2.0, will have to wait until “the right conditions are created.” [AP] Whether they will go even this far is questionable:

“If the Banco Delta Asia financial sanctions are not completely lifted, we are not going to stop our nuclear development program,” [North Korean delegate Kim Kye-Gwan] told reporters.

“What I mean is the initial steps. We are not going to stop the operation of the Yongbyon nuclear facility.”

This is the part where the moral authority of the United Nations will rescue us.

“Since we will not stop the nuclear facility unless the sanctions are lifted, there is no reason for inspectors to come in,” he said. [Reuters]

According to a slew of reports, the North Koreans were demanding nothing less than the return of all $25 million — criminal proceeds and all. [AP] [Yonhap] [NY Times]. Because the now-forgotten U.N. resolution that required this isn’t being enforced, Kim Jong Il has a pretty good idea of just how little attention he need pay to the U.N., as if that were still in doubt. But don’t worry. Chris Hill thinks he has ironed over that unfortunate misunderstanding, and he’s even going to push the North Koreans very, very hard to disclose the uranium program they built in violation of the Inter-Korean Denuclearization Agreement, the NPT, and the first Agreed Framework, and which they still deny even having despite Agreed Framework 2.0. Place your bets.

Here’s a prediction: in mid-April, some North Koreans will have taken no technically significant, difficult, irreversible, or particularly inconvenient steps toward “shutting down” Yongbyon (something 1718 required, but that requirement, too, is newly negotiable). Nor will Kim Jong Il have “come clean” about the considerable evidence, including its own admission, that it has a uranium enrichment program.

If Agreed Framework 2.0 hasn’t yet reached a complete impasse by then, the North Koreans will probably slap some of that yellow tape over doorway to the fuel rods, and Mohammad El-Baradei will call it “significant progress.” If criticism of this subterfuge is especially ferocious, Hill may request, and may even get, some kind of vague new reassurance that North Korea will actually keep its side of the bargain, although Kim Jong Il won’t tell us when, and he’ll probably add a few more new demands that were never agreed, but to which Chris Hill will counsel fresh capitulations, in furtherance of President Bush’s exit strategy.

Update and Non-Progress Report:   “‘Yongbyon’s 5-megawatt nuclear reactor is in normal operation at present, considering a constant stream of steam spotted from its cooling tower,’ said the  […] official [from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service], asking to remain anonymous [Yonhap].” 

Call  it a smoke signal.  North Korea seems to be  insisting that  this won’t change until its gets back all $25 million from BDA, yet Chris Hill claims that the BDA  issue is resolved.  They can’t both be  right if we didn’t cave.  [Yonhap]

Update  2:   On the other hand, this could be very good news indeed:

Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Glaser said the funds would be transferred to a Bank of China acount in Beijing to be used for education and humanitarian purposes in North Korea.  [Wash. Times, World Scene, Mar. 19, 2007, p. A13]

If that doesn’t mean this kind of education, and if the aid is in fact distributed “to each according to his need,” I will be ecstatic.  No, really.  Let’s see if the “ifs” pan out, and if  North Korea will really be satisfied with this.  If so, I’d cheerfully score this round for Richardson (see comments).

Update 3:    Or maybe it  depends on  how you define “ensure:”

But a U.S. State Department spokesman Monday acknowledged the difficulties in monitoring how North Korea will use the money. 

“Because of the nature of Korean society, it is difficult to monitor activities in North Korea. There is a limited ability to do that,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

10 Comments

  1. This (6-party “talks”) has all been (especially the latest rounds) diplomacy for motion’s sake. Ignoring the NORKs after resolution 1718 was, and would still be, the best thing we could have done. A little more “suffering” by Senior NORK officials might have actually had them coming to “the table” with genuine interest in bailing their own tails out of possible collapse. But who knows. We abandoned a strategy that looked sound far faster than I imagined and with the almost inevitable “love fest” being prepared by the S Koreans this year, the United States is set up to look like the bad guys from this point on.
    I will not add my two cents to the “UN is uselss” debate (is it even a debate anymore?), but C. Hill is doing everything his bosses are telling him to do in order to “get the deal done”. I can’t be too upset about Mr Hill’s “capitulation” because the NORKs are playing the media/international community like the Al-Quaeda fiddles they are. This then makes us look worse if we come back with the “that wasn’t part of the deal” response to anything the NORKs say first. Just like in the middle-east, the US is losing the media war on this subject and let’s face it, that’s the real diplomatic forum that counts.




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  2. Pronouncements of violating 1718 are premature;

    . . .funds connected to illegal activities, like money laundering, counterfeiting, and narcotics and weapons trafficking, are not supposed to be returned.

    [. . .]

    North Korean officials have sent mixed signals about whether the Treasury Department action satisfies their demands to end the dispute. Senior officials in Pyongyang have not yet indicated that they consider the Macao matter to be resolved.

    I’ve not seen anyone say they’re getting it all back.

    And I am still counting on the administration reaping political capital after North Korea reneges, and that can be used to reapply strangulation. Frankly, the administration is lacking sufficient influence to pursue such a policy at present. Play-by-play it doesn’t look so good, but the only chance succeed in strangulation is long-term.

    Chris Hill is, so far, doing a good job with what he’s got. If North Korea reneges and Hill still pursues engagement over strangulation, I’ll change my position on him, but as stated above on many occasions before, I see this as only one move of the larger game.




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