Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. — Albert Einstein
Plan A, gentle diplomacy, has again failed to disarm Kim Jong Il. Whenever this happens (every time it’s tried) advocates of doing the same thing over and over again fall back on The False Choice, whether expressly or by implication: it’s their way or war. They know better, of course, which technically makes this a lie. And usually, this lie stands uncorrected:
“People lambaste the six-party process, and sure, it offers no refuge for those in need of instant gratification,” Mr. Hill, the negotiator, said in an interview. “But when asked for alternatives” to the nuclear pact, Mr. Hill said, “even the noisiest critics fall silent. [N.Y. Times]
Hill knows better. Last year, North Korea talked him into abandoning the one alternative that’s ever succeeded in modifying Kim Jong Il’s behavior: economic constriction. In just 17 months, the Treasury Department’s sanctions against one small bank in Macau brought Kim Jong Il’s palace economy to the brink of the same catastrophe the rest of the North Korean economy reached 15 years ago. Not only did the State Department force Treasury to abandon that pressure, Hill even helped Kim Jong Il launder $25 million in mostly ill-gotten gains. In exchange, Hill bought us some exceedingly nebulous North Korean promises to disarm, eventually. Not only did North Korea predictably renege, it continued to proliferate nuclear materials and/or technology to Syria right under our noses.
Quietly, the appeasement camp is now talking about an alternative of its own — negotiating an acceptance of North Korea as a “responsible” nuclear power (see here, here, and here). This is madness; not just for the obvious reasons, but because we have yet to even try a comprehensive, sustained effort against Kim Jong Il’s regime-sustaining finances. In the year President Bush has left in office, he could inflict a shock such of such voltage that it could deprive Kim Jong Il of the ability to pay and feed the military, intelligence, and bureaucratic organizations on whom his survival depends. Plan B starts with ten executive decisions, but President Bush must make them now:
1: Declare Bureau 39 of the North Korean Workers’ Party to be an “entity of special concern” for money laundering under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Then impose the so-called Fifth Special Measure on Bureau 39 and its bankers. Bureau 39 is the carotid artery of Kim Jong Il’s palace economy. It is responsible for earning, laundering, and recouping foreign exchange through such illegal businesses as drug dealing, counterfeiting, and missile sales. The Fifth Special Measure prohibits the designated entity from holding correspondent accounts in U.S. banks and would cut off most of Kim Jong Il’s access to international finance. This same sanction proved devastating when applied to Banco Delta Asia, and when applied to foreign jurisdictions such as Nauru and the Ukraine. Nuclear option: Apply PATRIOT 311 to the entire government of North Korea.
2: Sue. File criminal and/or civil RICO and/or money laundering charges against Bureau 39 for any criminal conduct occurring inside the United States, such as the distribution of counterfeit currency, cigarettes, or pharmaceuticals. Putting the evidence before an impartial tribunal places it before the eyes of the world. By adding forfeiture counts, prosecutors would gain the means to attach and seize Kim Jong Il’s personal assets. If North Korea can be proven responsible for crimes of violence against U.S. persons, it lacks many of the protections of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because of its listing as a state sponsor of terrorism. The clearest case of this may be North Korea’s suspected abduction, torture, and murder of the Rev. Kim Dong Shik, one of whose suspected abductors now sits in a South Korean jail. Korea North Korea would almost certainly not send a lawyer to defend itself in U.S. courts, in which case, the U.S. government (or Kim Dong Shik’s widow) would win by default judgment. Nuclear option: Charge Kim Jong Il as an individual defendant.
3: Strictly and aggressively enforce U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718, using the Proliferation Security Initiative to stop and search North Korean ships believed to be carrying prohibited cargoes such as missiles or nuclear material. These important resolutions ban North Korea from trading in most major weapons systems, components, and technology. They also require those tendering payment to the regime to ensure that those funds are not used for its WMD programs, never an easy thing to do in the case of secretive North Korea. Nuclear option: A “soft” blockade. Search any North Korean merchant ships we find on the high seas, seizing any we find carrying illegal cargo.
4: Halt the sale of North Korean blood gold. Following Treasury’s sanctions against Banco Delta, Kim Jong Il began selling off his nation’s gold reserves to buyers in Thailand and on the London exchanges. President Bush should ask Britain to halt the sale of North Korean gold, subject to appropriate assurances required under resolutions 1695 and 1718. He should also raise publicity and awareness of the fact that concentration camp prisoners mine much of that gold as a prelude to seeking international sanctions.
5: Divest U.S. pension and other funds from companies doing business in North Korea, such as Hyundai Asan. The divestiture movement has had significant success within some state legislatures and enjoys bipartisan support.
6: Push China aside. Let’s be realistic: China isn’t going to help us force Kim Jong Il to disarm. China has undermined every previous multilateral action against North Korea and still subsidizes Kim Jong Il. China prefers a divided Korea that acts as a distraction for U.S. influence and power in Asia. Under Executive Order 13,382, however, Treasury can sanction and freeze the assets of entities that support or finance North Korea’s WMD programs. We have already sanctioned Chinese companies under 13,382 for transferring sensitive techology to North Korea. Treasury could let the Chinese know that we’ll also apply it to any finanancial institutions acting as conduits for China’s aid to North Korea. After all, China voted for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 but still does not “ensure” that North Korea isn’t using Chinese aid money for WMD programs; thus, the language of 1718 supports this more aggressive interpretation of E.O. 13,382. Because North Korea continues to engage in continuing acts of international terrorism, another possible vehicle would be E.O. 13,382’s terrorist financing counterpart, Executive Order 13,224. Nuclear option: Investigate larger Chinese banks for money laundering, something Treasury may already suspect in the case of the Bank of China. Even a whisper of a PATRIOT 311 designation might cause a bank run.
7: Work with South Korea and Japan. Japan has already cut off most commerce with North Korea, and it probably wouldn’t take much coaxing to get Japan’s full support. A greater opportunity lies in the potentially cooperative government about to take power in South Korea. Seoul had provided billions of dollars in unconditional aid to Kim Jong Il’s regime in the last decade, but incoming President Lee Myung Bak has already stated that he wants to condition continued aid on North Korea’s disarmament. Lee also wants some things from us, such as a delay in the handover of wartime operational control to the ROK military. In return, he might agree to end all subsidies for the unprofitable and unpopular Kumgang tourist project, a cash cow for Kim Jong Il whose proceeds are suspected of financing North Korea’s military. We should also ask Lee to end direct bilateral aid and channel all of South Korea’s humanitarian aid through the World Food Program (this would also mean better monitoring and less diversion). We could leave the Kaesong Industrial Park mostly alone for now, but ask South Korea to enforce laws prohibiting direct payments to North Korea strictly. We should also encourage strictly humanitarian aid to the North Korean people. That leaves the South Koreans some leverage to hold in reserve. Nuclear options: “Rotate” more of USFK’s forces home for temporary exercises; apply Executive Order 13,382 to Hyundai Asan Corporation and Woori Bank.
8: Restrict trade. North Korea’s trade with the United States is infinitessimal, mostly because North Korea can’t produce high-quality consumer merchandise and has no credit rating. Still, it’s important to recall that President Clinton eased trade sanctions in 1999 as a reward for North Korea’s missile testing moratorium. Those sanctions should have been reimposed after North Korea’s July 4, 2006 missile test, but never were. After the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718, however, the United States accepted an obligation to account for where Kim Jong Il spends any money our corporations are sending him. Today, most imports, exports, and other large transactions with North Korea require approval from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). OFAC should deny permission for transactions with North Korea unless the applicant can verify a non-military use for the funds to be tendered.
9: Engage the people. Kim Jong Il’s hermetic seal around the North Korean people is breaking down, thanks to (a) radio, (b) curiosity, (c) capitalism, which drives a thriving black market, (d) corruption among the border guards, and (e) the regime’s financial inability to maintain control over its borders. Even as we seek to weaken Kim Jong Il’s capacity to oppress, we should do what we can to feed, strengthen, and empower the North Korean people. Our quarrel isn’t with them; they’re Kim Jong Il’s greatest victims and potentially, our greatest allies. First, the Bush Administration must make good on its cheap talk about human rights by implementing the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. Congress passed this legislation unanimously, but the State Department has blocked its implementation ever since President Bush signed it more than three years ago. This is not to say that the Administration shouldn’t also talk about human rights. But instead of childish epithets like “pygmy,” President Bush should simply restate what we know about the concentration camps, the infanticides, the mistreatment of the handicapped, the persecution of Christians, and the political manipulation of the Great Famine. At the same time, we should offer the North Korean people food aid, conditioned on strict monitoring and independent distribution by the World Food Program. We should also tell the North Korean people that we stand ready to help them by broadcasting into their country 24 hours a day. We should tell them about the depraved opulence of Kim Jong Il’s life, the corruption of their government, and the prosperity of South Korea. We should demand that the Red Cross be given access to the concentration camps, and that the World Food Program be given access to the hungry. The P.R. battle has great power to constrain or support our options. Bad P.R. for Kim Jong Il can deter leaders, investors, and candidates from defending policies that have prolonged Kim Jong Il’s misrule, and the misery of the North Korean people.
10: Start preparing for reconstruction. Unless Kim Jong Il believes that we’re prepared to accept the collapse of his regime as an alternative to verifiable disarmament, he won’t disarm. We should also understand that rebuilding North Korea will be a task of incalculable scale that we’ll eventually have to face, one way or another. Even if South Korean and Chinese aid continues indefinitely, it’s probably just a matter of time before Kim Jong Il’s regime collapses or dissolves into chaos. Kim Jong Il is over 60, his health is said to be bad, and he has no suitable successor. The economic system is in steady decline, resistant to reform, and probably incapable of reform. Information is leaking in and discontent is spreading. The food situation, which had recovered to more-or-less subsistence levels after the Great Famine, has worsened again following Kim Jong Il’s rejection of international aid and severe floods. North Korea is a failed state — stripped, gutted, and traumatized. Its reconstruction challenges could dwarf those of post-Saddam Iraq. That’s why we must wrap our minds around how big a problem we’re facing, financially, politically, diplomatically, militarily, and psychologically. Legislation such as the the North Korean Refugee Relief and Reconstruction Act would be a good start toward preparing to deal with those problems.
None of this requires us to close off our diplomatic channels to North Korea. We should keep talking, but we should also be realistic about our approach to those talks and widen their agenda. Even if negotiated disarmament seems exceedingly unlikely, we should express our willingness to talk any time, even if only for P.R. reasons. We should also be realistic enough to understand that a bad deal is not better than no deal, and a meaningless deal is a bad deal. We’ve learned that deals must be backed by pressure, that they must have clear terms and strict deadlines, and that we must extract tangible and immediate concessions instead of vague and distant promises. North Korea is such an exceptionally opaque place that we can’t begin to hope for success without turning “trust but verify” on its head. The first goal — not the last — should be to push inspectors and verification teams through North Korea’s walls of secrecy. Kim Jong Il will never give us an honest declaration. We’ll have to help him write it.
We should also expand the agenda to cover all of our disagreements with North Korea: missiles, chemical and biological weapons, human rights, food aid, and conventional weapons. That way, prolonged North Korean recalcitrance imposes a political and economic cost on its government. Our goal here should be nothing less than full access for international aid workers, investors, development teams, journalists, and Red Cross teams. Call it “compassionate self-interest” — when North Koreans receive food and medical aid from foreigners instead of the regime, decades of xenophobic propaganda will lose all credibility. It is the transparency that leads us to truth, not a worthless signature, that will tell us when Kim Jong Il has committed himself to disarmament.
I’m under no illusion that Kim Jong Il is likely to agree to this. He knows what it could cost him. But then again, Kim Jong Il should be under no illusion that he could easily survive a year of Plan B, and I don’t think he is. To say that pressure doesn’t help or harms diplomacy requires one to believe that any relationship between the events of September 15, 2005 and September 19, 2005 was mere coincidence. Last year, we saw what happens when we relax our pressure prematurely. Even if the next Administration chooses a different course, implementing Plan B will at least demonstrate what other, better options we have than trusting Kim Jong Il to use his nukes responsibly.