Activism Human Rights Proliferation Sanctions U.S. Politics

Open Sources, March 6, 2014

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THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO CAME to this event on Capitol Hill yesterday and helped make it a huge success. We filled the room well beyond its capacity. There was an energy in the room that went beyond the question of numbers. It was who was there — young, old, in-between, conservatives, liberals, and a variety of ethnicities, including a very sizable Korean-American contingent. I don’t have words to express my admiration for the leadership of Suzanne Scholte, Greg Scarlatoiu, and Judy Yoo of the Federation of Korean-Americans. Human Rights Watch also made a very welcome contribution to the discussion.

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ADRIAN HONG, in The Christian Science Monitor:

We teach our children the heavy legacies of humanity’s grave past injustices: Nanjing. Auschwitz. The Killing Fields. Rwanda. Srebrenica. Darfur. Implicit in such education is the belief that had we been alive, or had we been in positions of influence while the great atrocities of the past century had been perpetrated, we would’ve acted decisively to stop them.

But the moral clarity with which we judge those who preceded us is elusive when we see our world today. Museums and memorials to the fallen victims of yesterday’s tyrants are meaningless if they do not translate to stands against the perpetrators of brutality today.”

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ANDREW W. KELLER, an American lawyer in Korea, writes in The American Thinker:

The United States Congress should pass H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013, which is currently in committee.  Sanctions restrict the export to and import from North Korea of goods and technology for the use, development, or acquisition of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.  Sanctions also ban the export of luxury goods to North Korea, a tactic that could help undermine the North Korean regime, which bribes its VIPs in Pyongyang with imported luxury goods while people in the countryside starve. 

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THE WASHINGTON POST writes a strongly worded denunciation of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, and of the isolationist escapism of too many Americans recently:

The urge to pull back — to concentrate on what Mr. Obama calls “nation-building at home” — is nothing new, as former ambassador Stephen Sestanovich recounts in his illuminating history of U.S. foreign policy, “Maximalist.” There were similar retrenchments after the Korea and Vietnam wars and when the Soviet Union crumbled. But the United States discovered each time that the world became a more dangerous place without its leadership and that disorder in the world could threaten U.S. prosperity. Each period of retrenchment was followed by more active (though not always wiser) policy. Today Mr. Obama has plenty of company in his impulse, within both parties and as reflected by public opinion. But he’s also in part responsible for the national mood: If a president doesn’t make the case for global engagement, no one else effectively can.

The White House often responds by accusing critics of being warmongers who want American “boots on the ground” all over the world and have yet to learn the lessons of Iraq. So let’s stipulate: We don’t want U.S. troops in Syria, and we don’t want U.S. troops in Crimea. A great power can become overextended, and if its economy falters, so will its ability to lead. None of this is simple.

But it’s also true that, as long as some leaders play by what Mr. Kerry dismisses as 19th-century rules, the United States can’t pretend that the only game is in another arena altogether. Military strength, trustworthiness as an ally, staying power in difficult corners of the world such as Afghanistan — these still matter, much as we might wish they did not. While the United States has been retrenching, the tide of democracy in the world, which once seemed inexorable, has been receding. In the long run, that’s harmful to U.S. national security, too.

These isolationist interludes are a feature of our history, just like our interventionist excesses. They remind me of Trotsky’s adage that you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you (hat tip). These interludes eventually end with unpleasant awakenings, and I worry that we haven’t seen the last of those yet.

While this certainly counsels against the dramatic reduction in our armed forces that the President has proposed, I also wonder when we’ll realize that the best way to protect U.S. interests abroad is often to ally ourselves with the people of the affected country who share our interests and values, arm them to the teeth, and train them well. If the Russian experiences in Finland, Afghanistan, and Chechyna tell us anything, it’s that the Russians are especially bad at fighting determined opponents who use unconventional tactics. If a messy border war eventually forces Putin out of power, Russia gaining control of the historically and ethnically Russian Crimea would be a small price to pay.

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I AM IN RARE AGREEMENT WITH JOHN KERRY when Kerry says that North Korea is “an evil place,” but then, there isn’t much we know about North Korea now that we didn’t know in 2003, when John Bolton made substantially similar comments about the North, and the North Koreans went histrionic on him. Now it’s Kerry’s turn. Does this disqualify Kerry as an effective diplomat?

“This is another vivid expression of the U.S.’ hostile policy toward the DPRK,” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said, according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency. DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Kerry’s remarks “are no more than a manifestation of his frustration and outbursts let loose by the defeated as the DPRK is winning one victory after another despite the whole gamut of pressure upon it over the nuclear issue,” the spokesman said.

“Before blaming others, Kerry had better ponder over what to say of the U.S., a tundra of human rights, as it commits horrible genocide in various parts of the world in disregard of international law under the signboard of ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy,'” the spokesman said.

Kerry should “bear in mind that no pressure is workable” on the North, he said. [Yonhap]

What’s dramatically different, of course, is that when Bolton said it, it was more evidence that Bolton was “a crazy neocon” and further reason to derail his nomination as U.N. Ambassador. Since Kerry said it, and since the North Koreans went histrionic on Kerry, there’s been almost complete media silence. Some of this is certainly because the consensus on North Korea has shifted, but the consensus has shifted because (quelle surprise) North Korea kept right on being North Korea after January 21, 2009. Bolton was right all along, but too many of us allowed our political polarities to blind us to the truth he spoke.

Update: The North Koreans make a similar comparison.

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NOW, THE U.N. PANEL OF EXPERTS is investigating Dennis Rodman’s gifts to Kim Jong Un.

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THE PANEL MAY ALSO DESIGNATE two more North Korean companies over the Cuba MiG-21 smuggling deal, which will eventually result in the blocking of their assets once Treasury and the EU get around to listing them:

The two include Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), a Pyongyang-based company with links to the North Korean government that is also the registered manager of the Chong Chon Gang. The other is Chinpo Shipping Co., registered in Singapore, allegedly used for the payment of costs for the Chong Chon Gang’s operation.

Chinpo Shipping? Really? So I take it the Urban Dictionary is blocked in North Korea. Pity.

I often ask myself why North Korea goes to so much risk and expense to buy up equipment that hasn’t had a combat advantage since the Johnson Administration. I often worry that North Korea’s doctrine for the use of these aircraft concentrates on low-altitude, one-way missions. After all, it’s clear that some of their airfields are fit for take-offs, but not really fit for landings.

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OVERALL, SANCTIONS ENFORCEMENT has a mixed record since the approval of UNSCR 2094, and my lapse of optimism about sanctions enforcement last summer was probably premature. First, via Yonhap and IHS Janes, we learn that North Korea is still able to trade in weapons, exporting $11 million and importing $63 million in weapons last year (that we know about). Admittedly, this isn’t very much, and some of these imports are probably pursuant to a loophole in the Security Council resolutions allowing North Korea to import light weapons from China. It isn’t clear whether that sum includes technology transfers and technical assistance, or North Korea’s recent acquisition of six road-mobile ICBM transporter-erector-launchers.

Second, and more worrisome, we see that despite signs of a banking crackdown last spring, trade between North Korea and China continues to increase. Obviously, the North Koreans have (1) found Chinese banks willing to accept their deposits and handle their financial transactions, and (2) avoided any significant financial disruption of their network of commercial agents in China after the Jang Song -Thaek purge.

This sort of rope-a-dope game is typical of China. They pretend to comply with sanctions for a few weeks, and go right back to the same old dirty business. That’s why we need H.R. 1771.


  1. Okay, Joshua, you fooled me. I clicked on the “crazy neocon” link, wondering which prominent person uttered the derogatory remark and whether it was in response to Bolton’s candid assessment of North Korea or something else. To my surprise, I fiound a short Google Groups thread started by an anonymous commenter. A regular reader of left-leaning Think Progress, I clicked on a related TP link posted by another commenter and found an article criticizing Bolton criticizing Clinton’s trip to rescue the two detained US journalists. Your second link took me to a BBC article detailing former SK ambassador Thomas Hubbard’s public scuffle with Bolton over whether or not the latter’s strongly worded remarks about NK were approved by Hubbard in advance. I do not see how either link supports your apparent perception that Kerry and Bolton were treated very differently on the basis of their similarly critical comments about North Korea. I did a bit of searching to confirm my suspicions that the actual content of Bolton’s remarks about North Korea played little if any role in the Senate refusing to confirm his recess appointment.


  2. Thanks for looking into it, Sonagi. I thought it would turn out like that, so I didn’t bother to click on either link. Joshua is a great man, but like all great men, he has his weaknesses.


  3. You have long been a regular reader of OFK and are more knowledgeable about North Korea than I am, Glans. My Google search revealed that two prominent NK experts did, in fact, label Bolton a neocon, prompting a thoughtful exchange between them and our blogger, which you may have read when it was posted in 2012:


  4. Sonagi, if your memory doesn’t reach back that far, Google’s does. When Bolton was nominated as UN Ambassador, multiple news services, including the Washington Post and PBS, among others, cited his criticism of North Korea and other statements he made in “news” reports to make a case that Bolton was undiplomatic and unfit for the job. Here’s The Economist, which starts with the North Korea statement:

    The man George Bush appointed this week to represent America at the UN isn’t boring, and he certainly isn’t bewildering. What he thinks is never hard to guess, because he uses the bluntest, most vivid language available. Life in North Korea, he has said, is a “hellish nightmare”. Of the body to which he is being sent, he has said it would make no difference if its New York secretariat building lost ten storeys, and that “There is no such thing as the United Nations.” Hence the hand-wringing, both among America’s liberal internationalists and many foreign diplomats at the UN itself, about Mr Bush’s decision to appoint Mr Bolton.

    The far left played to type, of course. Counterpunch cited the North Korea statement and called him “the undiplomatic diplomat.” Common Dreams (remember them?) cited it as evidence that he was “a right-wing extremist.” None of them examined the possibility that the statement might just be … true. They were so preoccupied with pursuing Bolton that they forgot to pursue the truth.

    Even Bolton’s fellow diplomats (Hubbard) distanced themselves from the statement once it became controversial. But it was just as demonstrably true then as now, and no more extreme in its tone than what Kerry said last month. Hubbard could have defended the accuracy of the statement, but he was running from a snowballing media trope.

    As for Bolton’s competence as a diplomat, he went on to author and get the UNSC to pass two resolutions, 1695 and 1718, that are still the foundation for Obama’s North Korea policy. Even the UN Panel of Experts calls itself the 1718 Committee, after Bolton’s creation. Bolton’s other legacy, the Proliferation Security Initiative, is alive and well.

    You have just wasted 15 minutes of my life over something that’s beyond serious dispute. It was only my profound love and respect for you that prevented me from simply ignoring it. 🙂


  5. Thanks again, Sonagi. Your link to the Haggard-Stanton dialog renews my profound love and respect for Joshua.


  6. You’re going to love and respect me even more when I point out that the first link merely described the harsh verbal exchange between Bolton and the North Koreans and did not characterize Bolton’s remarks as undiplomatic. The Economist notes those remarks and his derisive dismissal of the UN as reasons why “American liberal internationalists and UN diplomats” opposed his nomination. The Economist article goes on to describe several other serious allegations that drew attention from senators considering his nomination. The extent to which Bolton’s remarks about North Korea played a role in his failure to win senate confirmation is a judgment. I looked for a concise yet comprehensive, objective assessment of the senate’s decision and plucked this straight from the horse’s mouth:

    I also found this WaPo news story reporting the Senate decision recorded in the linked document:

    We do not disagree that Bolton’s remarks on North Korea were criticized. What we disagree on is the weight the remarks were given as a factor in his departure from the UN. I will not assume that if you do not waste 15 minutes posting a response that you have conceded. Primary sources speak for themselves. Anyone can read and draw his or her own conclusions.


  7. Let’s not be moving the goalposts, Ms. Sonagi. My assertion was that Bolton’s criticism of North Korea was “further reason to derail his nomination as U.N. Ambassador,” not the only reason, the principal reason, or even one of the most significant reasons. And if you insist on rejecting every cited source that doesn’t use the word “undiplomatic,” that’s obtuse. Readers, of course, will draw reasonable inferences about what the critical reporting was arguing.

    You concede that “Bolton’s remarks on North Korea were criticized,” and it’s apparent that this criticism played at least some role in derailing his nomination. Kerry’s remarks were not criticized. They did not deserve to be, but neither did Bolton’s. I infer that media bias played a role in this disparate treatment. You obviously disagree, which is your right.


  8. I originally used the phrase “little if any role,” in challenging your original links, to which you responded with more links. I inferred from your response that you disagreed with my phrasing “little if any,” which acknowledges that the remarks about North Korea could have played a small role.



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