Open Sources: Special Nukewatch Edition

ANYONE UP FOR A NUKE POOL? So North Korea didn’t test a nuke on Monday, as rumor had it, but Sung Yoon Lee was on the record (in an email to me) before that, saying it would happen around February 10th.

If it’s a uranium device, the closest guess gets my autograph on your copy of “Meltdown.”  I say this knowing that there might be two winners, and that it might be a while before we know, if we ever do. For more on that, you may find Sig Hecker’s thoughts to be of interest, but be mindful that Hecker has sometimes gone astray when he let his political views influence his scientific conclusions; for example, he was a long-time skeptic of a growing body of open-source evidence that North Korea violated the 1994 Agreed Framework by assembling a uranium enrichment program.  Even now, he still finds North Korea’s pursuit of a uranium enrichment program “puzzling,” yet former SecDef Bill Perry thinks the North Koreans actually have at least two HEU facilities.

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WHILE OUR EYES WERE ON PUNGGYE-RI, the Israelis just bombed another WMD facility in Syria with a North Korean connection.

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ONE THING I CLEARLY SENSE is that the mood in Washington is much more open to ideas like this than at any time in the last five years.  Centrists of both parties are acknowledging that diplomacy has failed — Perry refers to it as “the same losing diplomatic strategy” — and guys like Bill Richardson, who continue to advocate appeasement, have been marginalized.  Most North Korea-watchers still seem uncomfortable with their cautious and qualified support for new sanctions, but thankfully, some people know exactly where they stand.  We don’t to guess where Ed Royce’s head is:

In an interview in Seoul with Yonhap News Agency, Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said the U.S. Treasury Department’s 2005 blacklisting of a Macau-based bank accused of laundering money for the North Korean regime proved to be “the most effective” means to deal with Pyongyang’s provocative behaviors.  [….]

“When we did that with the Banco Delta Asia, the impact they created was the situation where the North Korean regime could not pay its generals, could not get the hard currency they needed in order to continue its nuclear program,” Royce said, referring to the Macau-based bank.

If North Korea detonates a nuclear device again, Royce said, “I will suggest those types of sanctions to the Treasury Department and its executive branches in order to create deterrence this type of behavior.”  [Yonhap]

Royce is a man after my own heart.  The problem is that these actions can’t work unless the Executive Branch is willing to enforce them.  The last time the boys at Treasury tried that, State rolled them.  And of course, the China and Korea lobbies will do everything in their power to insulate their own North Korea-enabling corporations and banks from the effect of these measures.

It’s good to see U.S. and South Korean diplomats already coordinating about what new sanctions they’ll pile on, but what effect will it have on Kaesong?  It’s too early to judge Park Geun-Hye, and the Obama Administration has never looked less serious.  You can see it in the Obama Administration’s retreat on U.N. sanctions, and its anemic application of Executive Order 13,382.  But at least the stage is set for a public debate about North Korea policy, and in the current political environment, there’s almost no chance State can get Congress to fund the aid that North Korea would demand as the price of Agreed Framework III.

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I WELCOME THE HARDENING OF ATTITUDES toward North Korea, but let’s be a little smarter about it.  Someone needs to take a deep breath and chill.



  1. I’m all for the NUKE POOL. I already have one on my Facebook page, but let’s do one here. I’ll contribute a 100 yuan note from China as a prize for the lucky winner! Only one date per participant, one person per date, so get your pick in promptly! I got February 11. The pool starts Feb. 7 at 18:00 EST and ends Mar. 2 at 23:45 EST; if a nuclear test doesn’t happen by 3/3 then the game expires. Good luck!

    Feb. 8. Tomorrow?
    Feb. 9. The Day After Tomorrow
    Feb. 10. Chinese New Year (Sung Yoon Lee’s pick)
    Feb. 11. *Spelunker’s pick*
    Feb. 12. Mardi Gras, Lincoln’s Birthday, Obama’s State of the Union Address
    Feb. 13. Ash Wednesday
    Feb. 14. Valentines Day, anniversary of Kim Jong-il being posthumously named Genaralissimo
    Feb. 15. Eve of Kim Jong-Il’s birthday
    Feb. 16. Kim Jong-Il’s birthday (Day of the Shining Star)
    Feb. 17. Day after Kim Jong-Il’s birthday, Michael Jordan’s birthday
    Feb. 18. President’s Day (both previous nuclear tests were conducted on US holidays!; Columbus and Memorial)
    Feb. 19-23. 5 days that don’t have any real significance, unless you like 2-22 as a numbers play. (The last missile launch was 12-12-12)
    Feb. 24. South Korea president Lee Myung-bak’s last official day in office
    Feb. 25. South Korea Presidential Inauguration for Park Geun’s-hye
    Feb. 26-28 3 insignificant days following the ROK inauguration
    Mar. 1. “Independence Declaration Day” ( Samiljeol) a national public holiday in South Korea
    Mar. 2. Last day to enter NUKE POOL if nobody has chosen March 3.
    Mar. 3. Another one for those who like playing the numbers “3-3”

  2. Interesting background note, according to Moon Jae-in’s book, “Destiny”, the Roh administration were the ones who brought about the relaxation of the BDA sanctions. Eager to improve relations with KJI, they asked the U.S. to reverse on the financial sanctions, which may explain why it appeared that State compelled Treasury to change its policies. Moon claims that they were able to get the U.S. to relent because Roh had earlier taken the step of sending troops to Iraq.

  3. That’s an interesting and plausible theory, although you must strongly suspect that Chris Hill also wanted the same thing at the same time. I may have to put Moon’s book in my list.

  4. Joshua,

    Don’t you think people are really overreacting to what Gen. Jung said? His exact words refer to a pre-emptive attack if the North was planning to attack with a nuclear weapon – which obviously ain’t happening anytime soon.

    Here’s the context:

    “He warned that South Korea will launch a pre-emptive strike “if there’s a clear sign of the enemy using a nuclear weapon” but no such attack is planned on the nuclear test site in Pyunggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province.

    “We may change our mind if the situation changes,” he added.

    Defense Committee chairman Yoo Seung-min said, “Are you sticking to your guns even if a pre-emptive strike on the North’s nuclear weapons will lead to a full-scale war?” Jung replied, “It would be better to destroy the North’s nuclear weapons first than to be struck by them, given that that would lead to a war in any case.”

  5. Well, if there was really a basis to think the norks were up to that, do you really think words would mean (or accomplish) anything? I’m not suggesting that he be relieved of command; I’m just saying he needs to learn to speak a little more cryptically: “The North Koreans are not foolish enough to contemplate such a thing, for they know what would happen if they did.”

  6. YES! 4.9 EARTHQUAKE IN DPRK!! I nailed it! All who ignored my NUKE POOL prediction must bow down and pay tribute to the master!
    February 11 shall go down as my greatest prediction since the release of Laura and Euna (I got that one right too!). When you want to know when something is going to go down in North Korea, ASK SPELUNKER! YEAH, BABY! WOO-HOO!!

  7. NUKE POOL entries are according to EST, which is what time it happens to be in Washington DC, not Pyongyang. The earthquake was detected at 22:30 EST on February 11 and confirmed as a nuclear test about a half hour later. I’m positively the worldwide winner for picking the exact date. The 100 yuan goes back in my wallet.

  8. Spelunker, I’ll give you and Sung Yoon Lee credit for being very close. Just don’t gloat too much until we know whether there’s going to be an encore.

  9. Spelunker, the release of Laura and Euna was a fifty-fifty shot, and you didn’t give the date. But with this Nork nuke, you gave the actual date, so I bow to you.

  10. In June 2009 I predicted on Danwei’-Net website and ROK Drop that Laura and Euna, who got captured during March and were in trial at the time of my prognostication, would be released in August. True, I did not give a specific date but I got the month right and that was back when they were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. There wasn’t a pool, but most other Pyongyang pundits were saying they would be home by Christmas or St. Patrick’s Day (the one year anniversary of their capture). I knew there was no way in hell Kim Jong-il was going to send 2 American journalists to document conditions in a prison camp, and thus the whole trial was a charade. I picked August 2009 two months before their release and stood by it all the way while others said they would be held much longer.

  11. Spelunker, predict this: when will China accept the Glans Plan for Korea?
    1. PRC stays out.
    2. ROK annexes DPRK.
    3. USA gets out.

  12. Can’t say “when Hell freezes over” so I will predict China accepts the Glans Plan for Korea unification when the Tumen River catches fire.
    I’m not joking; It would literally take a volcanic eruption of Mount Baekdu for China to allow ROK annexation. I truly believe such circumstances would facilitate a quick solution and China would be too busy managing its own disaster zone in Jilin province.

  13. Spelunker, it could happen. Richard Stone said this:

    “Historical records and ash layers indicate that Mount Paektu, a volcano that straddles the border between North Korea and China, explodes to life every 100 years or so, the last time in 1903. (Two-thirds of the mountain is in China, where it is called Changbai.) Around 1000 years ago, the volcano rained tephra—pumice and ash—across 33,000 square kilometers of northeast China and Korea, dumping 5 centimeters of ash as far away as Japan. Scientists are keeping a wary vigil. Because Changbai’s silica-rich magma is viscous and gassy, allowing pressure to build, the next eruption should be explosive, researchers say. In recent months, Chinese researchers have observed geophysical anomalies, including elevated temperatures of hot springs and deflation of the caldera rim. But most concur that there is no evidence of magma rising toward the surface, which would signal an imminent eruption.”

    at ScienceMag, 4 November 2011.

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