Plan B: How to Disarm Kim Jong Il Without Bombing Him

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  13,224Nuclear 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.