Diplomacy Sanctions

We Are All Neocons

Don Kirk, writing in the Asia Times, concludes that however North Korea behaves toward its neighbors at any given moment, it is determined to get our money and keep its nukes. That’s not an astonishing conclusion for any intelligent analyst of North Korean behavior, but Don’s writing is always worth a read. I try to refrain from predicting whether North Korea’s next move will be provocation or the North Korean equivalent of a “charm offensive,” since the options aren’t mutually exclusive. Kirk also sees some contradictions in U.S. policies that encourage the South to talk to the North while sanctioning them, although I don’t think those options are mutually exclusive, either. On the other hand, this administration isn’t necessarily immune to the sort of factionalism we saw during the last one. Never overestimate the U.S. Department of State.

I do agree with Don that we may be seeing some preliminary signs that the sanctions are starting to bite, but given that the North Koreans are so adept at laundering money, we ought to be squeezing things like Arirang, the so-called “Korean Friendship Association,” and Koryo Tours much harder than we are now. But for the moment, we continue to press the North Korean financial system hard:

The Democratic White House’s effort borrows a page from former President George W. Bush’s Republican playbook: Pyongyang unwilling to bend? Negotiating partners wary of tougher sanctions? Then bypass messy international diplomacy and hit the North where it hurts: its foreign bank accounts.

American officials are traveling around Asia, targeting private banks that might have North Korean ties. They hope to block money that could be used for missiles and nuclear bombs and, ultimately, to drive North Korea back to stalled disarmament talks.

The strategy is simple, according to interviews with past and current U.S. officials responsible for implementing it. And, they say, it works, which has not been the case with tortuous nuclear negotiations with the North.

The officials tell bankers that North Korea uses its accounts to hide counterfeiting of U.S. currency, to launder money, to smuggle cigarettes and drugs. The banks could face potentially dire consequences if they are seen as helping illicit activities.

U.S. officials say bankers find their visits difficult to ignore.

“It’s having an effect. We think that the word is out,” said Philip Goldberg, President Barack Obama’s point man on implementing new United Nations sanctions on North Korea. The effort encourages banks to “give heightened scrutiny to any transaction that may be coming through with a North Korean label on it.”

Juan Zarate, a senior counterterrorism adviser to Bush who helped develop the strategy, said in an interview that the U.S. effort to “harness the financial furies” is “making it very uncomfortable for the North Koreans to do business at all beyond their borders.” [AP, Foster Klug]

Not surprisingly, Selig Harrison is aghast, but then again, no one ever took up the OFK challenge and proved Selig Harrison right about anything. Harrison, who reliably represents Kim Jong Il’s interests in Washington, thinks Obama (a closet neocon!) is pushing for regime change. Maybe Selig Harrison has finally staggered upon an element of truth after all:

The other day I was asked by a writer for a mainstream French newspaper to say something about the “return” of the neoconservatives. His thesis seemed to be that the shambles of Barack Obama’s foreign policy had, after only nine months, made what was thought to be the most discredited wing of an ostensibly brain-dead conservative movement relevant again. [….]

My answer was that the neocons are back because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il and Vladimir Putin never went away. A star may have shone in the east the day Barack Obama became president. But these three kings, at least, have yet to proffer the usual gifts of gold and incense and myrrh. [Brett Stephens, Wall Street Journal]

It does seem
that the value of European affection is vastly overrated, but I can hardly comment on the health of a school of though that I’ve yet to see defined coherently. The left defines “neocon” as any foreign policy thinker to the right of Jimmy Carter, though I’d always thought that neoconservatives were largely defined by a market-based domestic agenda for reducing poverty. My view is that “neoconservatism” is a term that’s largely devoid of meaning when it comes to foreign policy, particularly as it applies to North Korea.

When it comes to North Korea, there are three main schools of thought. Masochists believe, secretly or openly, that nothing North Korea does is of any concern to us at all. Rationalists believe that everyone else acts as rationally as we might, based on whatever political or economic incentives we’re prepared to offer. Lockeans believe that certain states are founded on the pathology of seeking power and control as ends in themselves. For those states, providing for their populations is a national priority only to the extent that it serves the state’s accumulation of power. Their inability to provide for their people leads them to ever-increasing oppression of their own populations, and to seek national cohesion through the provocation of external conflict, until the some Gotterdammerung terminates the cycle. Such states’ suppression of the natural rights of their own subjects is a function of the same pathology that leads, inevitably, to conflict with other states, and at a time not of our own choosing.


  1. Not surprisingly, Selig Harrison is aghast, but then again, no one ever took up the OFK challenge and proved Selig Harrison right about anything.

    He spells his name correctly. Do I get a prize…?


  2. Here’s an opinion piece on North Korea from the Wall Street Journal where the author attempts to say that the new DPRK constitution proves that the country is no longer a Stalinist state, but rather is a “national-socialist” state.

    This is rather silly, don’t you think? Joseph Stalin was quite good at starving his people to death, much like Kim Jong-il… but Adolf Hitler was more interested in starving other people’s death instead. I don’t think the comparison is very objective, with that in mind.



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