Here’s the kind of story you hear too seldom in Washington today: A conservative Republican (Cory Gardner of Colorado) has joined forces with a liberal Democrat (Ed Markey of Massachusetts) to write a letter to the new secretaries of State and Treasury, asking them to fully enforce the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act (NKSPEA), which passed Congress with the overwhelming support of both parties last year. (Even Bernie Sanders would have voted for it had he not been campaigning in New Hampshire at the time.)
Gardner emerged as the Senate’s leader on North Korea policy just under two years ago, and went on to lead the Senate’s efforts to pass the NKSPEA. Markey, arguably the Foreign Relations Committee’s most liberal member, has also been keenly interested in North Korea for some time, particularly on human rights and the risk that loose talk about preemptive strikes might lead to miscalculation and war. His decision to become more vocal on sanctions enforcement is welcome, particularly for those of us who believe that human rights must be at the core of our policy.
The senators’ letter drives directly at the very issue I raised in last Friday’s post — it’s no use for Congress to pass new laws unless the President puts enough cops, lawyers, and intelligence analysts on the job to enforce them. The letter asks the new secretaries for detailed reports on how many people they’ve assigned to North Korea sanctions investigations and enforcement, how many investigations they’re currently conducting, how much money they’ve asked Congress for to staff up, and whether they agree that the government should form an interagency task force to enforce the NKSPEA.
I know a few people who’d love to answer those questions. I’ll take a shot at the last one myself: yes, if Trump wants to avoid the paralysis-by-analysis that consumed all eight years of the Obama administration. For years, cabinet departments tripped over one another on North Korea policy for the same reason different parts of the Chinese government are also imperfectly aligned — they deal with different people and prioritize different interests. The difference is that China has exploited our differences skillfully, while we’ve mostly failed to exploit China’s conflicts of interest.
It’s old news that State has taken a deferential approach to China. Treasury is (somewhat understandably) keen to guard its authorities, avoid litigation, and maintain good relations with the banking industry. The enforcement agencies are frustrated that too often, after a great deal of hard work, they aren’t allowed to clean and fry the big fish they think they’ve hooked.
I also suspect that other agencies aren’t taking full advantage of the data the intelligence agencies could add to a shared map of North Korea’s finances. It’s too easy for DNI, CIA, and NSA to become victims of the tyranny of small distances. They’re sited out in northern Virginia or Maryland, which makes it logistically burdensome for them to share classified information with State, Treasury, Justice, and FBI, despite the fact that each may hold the missing pieces that the other might need to perfect cases they’re working on. A task force, as contemplated in NKSPEA 102, isn’t just needed to coordinate priorities at the cabinet and executive levels; smaller inter-agency strike teams are also needed to coordinate possibilities at the working, civil servant level.
When we drafted the NKSPEA, we knew that a fire-and-forget approach wouldn’t work. We knew that Congress’s aggressive oversight would be essential to overcoming bureaucratic resistance and prioritizing enforcement. That’s why it’s gratifying to see Chairman Gardner and his Ranking Member, Sen. Markey, make good use of the law’s oversight provisions.
Read their letter in full below the fold (click “continue reading” –>).
~ ~ Letter from Sens. Cory Gardner and Ed Markey ~ ~
to the Secretaries of State & Treasury
Dear Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mnuchin:
We write to highlight the urgency of the threat posed by North Korea and to call on you to prioritize resources within your respective agencies to conduct the full enforcement of United States and United Nations sanctions against North Korea. We are encouraged by the action taken by the Department of Treasury today to impose sanctions on North Korean entities involved in weapons proliferation.
On February 10, 2016, the Senate passed the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act (NKSPEA, P.L. 114-122) by a vote of 96-0. This landmark legislation is the first standalone bill regarding North Korea to mandate the imposition of U.S. sanctions on entities contributing to North Korean proliferation activities, human rights abuses, and malicious cyber activities.
In particular, rather than simply providing sanctions authority, Section 102 (a) of NKSPEA mandates the President to investigate sanctionable North Korea-related conduct upon receipt of credible information. Section 102 (b) then asks the President to “direct the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the heads of other Federal departments and agencies as may be necessary to assign sufficient experienced and qualified investigators, attorneys, and technical personnel” to investigate all sanctionable conduct and to coordinate sanctions enforcement.
In conjunction with unilateral sanctions, the United States also led the international community to pass sanctions under the authority of the United Nations Security Council, which are universally binding on all U.N. member states. Most recently, the Security Council imposed mandatory sanctions on North Korea in Resolution 2270 of March 2, 2016 and Resolution 2321 of November 30, 2016. However, the recent report of the U.N. Panel of Experts on North Korea documents Pyongyang’s success in evading many of these sanctions, and highlights the troubling failure of a number of countries to effectively stem the flow of illicit North Korean commercial and financial activity.
We are grateful for your public commitment to full enforcement of United States and United Nations sanctions against North Korea during your respective confirmation hearings. However, we recognize that effective enforcement requires not only leadership and dedication, but also sufficient resources and skilled personnel to implement these policies throughout your agencies.
With this in mind, we respectfully ask you the following:
1) What are the current budgetary and work force resources at the Department of State and the Department of Treasury that are dedicated to the enforcement of P.L. 114-222 and other North Korea-related sanctions? Do you believe these resources are sufficient to fully enforce U.S. law?
2) How many investigations pursuant to Sec. 102 of P.L. 114-122 are currently ongoing?
3) Please provide the details of the Fiscal Year 2018 request for the Office of Economic Sanctions and Policy at the Department of State and the Office of Foreign Assets Control at Department of Treasury and how this request compares to the last five fiscal years.
4) Please describe the resources your respective departments have dedicated to strengthening enforcement of U.N. Security Council sanctions, and particularly to addressing shortfalls in the capacity and will of third countries to comply with their sanctions enforcement obligations.
5) Would you support the establishment of special U.S. government interagency taskforce to implement U.S. and U.N. sanctions against North Korea? If not, why not?
Please provide a written response and a member-level and staff briefing, in classified form if necessary, no later than April 28, 2017.