The State Department’s efforts to isolate Pyongyang are starting to pay off

The reviews of Rex Tillerson are in, and most of them aren’t good. We could have predicted this ten months ago; after all, most of the commentariat harbors center-left or pro-“engagement” views and it wasn’t going to agree with Trump’s policies anyway. Still, it’s hard for me to accept at face value the criticisms of those who have defended, to varying degrees, the self-evidently disastrous North Korea policies of Barack Obama and second-term G.W. Bush — policies that have more similarities than differences. It’s an additional challenge to separate one’s views of this President and his Twitter habits from an assessment of his North Korea policies, or how competently his administration has executed them. Still, one can agree with Trump’s decision to break from the failed policies of his predecessors, which brought us to this crisis, and still acknowledge that some of the criticism has merit. Overall, this administration is getting more things right than its predecessors did, but let’s start with the areas that need improvement.

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First, an effective Secretary of State speaks articulately for his country. Tillerson isn’t a vocal or charismatic advocate of our interests or of the values that serve those interests. I can understand why Tillerson might be more concerned than his predecessors about upstaging his boss, or about saying something his boss might contradict later on Twitter. Maybe the recent diminution of the nationalist wing in the White House will liberate Tillerson, but his reticent personality may also be part of the problem. 

The State Department’s hiring freeze, which continues months after it was lifted for the rest of the government, retards the pace at which State can review and approve sanctions designation packages and dispatch envoys to persuade other nations to cut their ties to Pyongyang. I don’t yield to anyone as a critic of the State Department’s performance on North Korea policy or in agreeing that State needs some profound cultural and personnel changes. Agreed Frameworks I and II and the Leap Day Agreement have justly cost it credibility it may never regain. Even so, the President needs a strong diplomatic corps to build a global coalition against Pyongyang and, when the time is right, to know how to leverage that pressure to achieve our core interests in negotiations with our frenemies and our foes. We need good diplomats for both tasks.

Tillerson has also sent mixed signals on its willingness to negotiate with Pyongyang. His recent statement complimenting North Korea for not launching a missile against Guam resulted in a predictable embarrassment — he might as well have dared Kim Jong-un to test a nuke.

Tillerson’s greatest error on North Korea policy, however, has been to overlook the importance of human rights as a key element of U.S. policy, and as an argument for a global coalition against Pyongyang (for more on that point, see this by the Heritage Foundation, no less). Tillerson himself referred to the “moral dimension” of isolating Pyongyang, saying, “These first steps toward a more hopeful future will happen most quickly if other stakeholders in the region and the global security (sic) join us.” 

Yet by merging the duties of the Special Envoy for human rights into another full-time position, and by explicitly disavowing any efforts to destabilize the regime, Tillerson is throwing away the very leverage he imagines he’s clinging to when he says, “All options are on the table.” Pyongyang dismisses this as a bluff, but friends whose support we’ll need don’t. It’s our talk about human rights that really terrifies Pyongyang. What Kim Jong-un and his generals see in their nightmares is a day when they’ve lost control of the minds of the North Korean people, and can’t afford to pay, equip, or maintain the security forces to suppress 70 years of grievances from those they’ve cheated, abused, and bereaved.

By ceding human rights, Tillerson is missing an opportunity to build a global coalition around the principles articulated in the U.N. Charter. And no one has a greater need of a persuasive public advocate than a Secretary of State who isn’t one himself. Also, Pyongyang thinks we’re trying to overthrow it anyway. If anyone asks us if we’re encouraging the North Korean people to overthrow His Porcine Majesty, we shouldn’t say we are or that we aren’t. We should just be vague.* Let our frenemies and foes use their imaginations and be afraid of what we’ll do if diplomacy fails.

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Still, let’s give Tillerson credit where it’s due. He can boast of some successes here that build on the significant gains that Yun Byung-se achieved before Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. He probably deserves some credit for getting two useful resolutions (2371 and 2375) through the U.N. Security Council, although Ambassador Haley and the USUN staff probably deserve most of it. Liberals tend to overestimate the moral authority of U.N. resolutions, while conservatives tend to underestimate their utility in getting wavering, reputation-conscious states to put economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang. In fact, U.N. and U.S. national sanctions are mutually complementary. Neither works very well without the other.

There has also been significant progress toward isolating Pyongyang internationally, consistent with what Tillerson called for in this April 28th speech to the U.N.: first, to implement existing U.N. Security Council resolutions; to suspend or downgrade diplomatic relations with North Korea; and third, to isolate North Korea financially — a request Tillerson delivered with an explicit threat of secondary sanctions.

Recently, State’s efforts to disconnect North Korea’s diplomatic and trade links to the global economy have gained momentum. Start with this post from February and this one from June on Tillerson’s slow start. This post from August documents the first public signs of the administration’s efforts, through the spring and summer, to get southeast Asian nations to cut their ties with Pyongyang. Although State Department people say that much of this work is being done quietly and without publicity, in recent weeks, there have been more public reports that those efforts are starting to pay off — in some cases, because we’re backing them with threats.

  • 8/31: Spain says it will reduce the number of North Korean diplomats in its country.
  • 9/7: Mexico expels North Korea’s ambassador over its latest nuclear test.
  • 9/8: The Philippines’ Foreign Secretary says his country, which had recently become one of Pyongyang’s largest trading partners and a haven for drug dealing and money laundering — including the proceeds of the Bangladesh Bank/SWIFT hack — will end all trade with North Korea.
  • 9/9: Trump and Abe ask the President of France to increase pressure on North Korea.
  • 9/10: Japan’s Foreign Minister asks Qatar to stop using North Korean slave labor, before visiting Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
  • 9/11: Peru announces that it will expel the North Korean ambassador.
  • 9/11: Japan’s Foreign Minister, having failed to extract commitments from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop buying slave labor from North Korea, takes his appeal to the Arab League.
  • 9/12: President Trump meets with the Prime Minister of Malaysia, a haven for North Korean money laundering, and says (for what it’s worth) that Malaysia had agreed to stop doing business with Pyongyang.
  • 9/12: Egypt, a major and long-standing North Korean arms client, says it will cut its military ties to Pyongyang after the U.S. withholds an aid payment (more here).
  • 9/18: Vietnam expels another representative of the U.N.-designated Tanchon Commercial Bank.
  • 9/18: Kuwait says it will expel North Korea’s ambassador and reduce the size of its embassy staff from nine to four.

Reducing North Korea’s diplomatic presence abroad is essential to any campaign of diplomatic pressure, because North Korea’s diplomats do double-duty as arms dealers and money launderers. Of course, some important caveats apply. First, take any government’s promise to cut ties with North Korea with several grains of salt. For example, last November, Sudan said it would cut its military ties to North Korea, but as of July, the U.S. was still urging Khartoum to keep its promise and threatening to cut aid. Namibia promised to cut its military ties to North Korea, but we later learned that this wasn’t true, either. Second, Rex Tillerson cannot take full credit for this strategy, merely for his part in executing it. In the final months of the Obama administration, State Department official Danny Russel said that the U.S. has asked governments around to “downgrade or sever” their diplomatic relations with North Korea.

I’ve long argued that diplomacy would play a critical role in addressing the collection of crimes and crises collectively known as “North Korea.”  The theory I’ve advanced is what I call “progressive diplomacy,” which means that we should build coalitions with friendly and persuadable nations before we attempt to negotiate with hostile ones. Our objective should be to isolate Pyongyang and its allies until we have sufficient leverage for negotiations to have a chance of achieving our interests. Rather than approach Pyongyang now, while its leverage exceeds our own, we should approach friendly states (South Korea, Japan, Canada, the UK, the EU, Singapore, Panama) first and ask them to cut their economic and diplomatic ties to Pyongyang. Our next targets should be wavering states (Malaysia, Zambia, Namibia), then Pyongyang’s more willful enablers (China, Russia) and finally, Pyongyang itself. That sequence maximizes our leverage at each stage of this diplomatic process by approaching hostile states only after they are relatively isolated.

For the last 20 years, we’ve had that sequence entirely wrong. Give Rex Tillerson credit for getting it right, and for what he has done in the last several months to translate that strategy into policy. If the unplugging of Pyongyang’s diplomatic and financial links to the world is starting to cause it pain, and there are growing signs that it may be, I would expect Pyongyang’s provocations to escalate. Contra the pro-engagement critics who characterize each new nuclear and missile test as proof that sanctions aren’t working, it’s at least as likely that those escalating provocations are signs that they are. 

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* I don’t advocate a declared policy of “regime change.” First, what those words mean to most people (as in, invasion) would be disastrous for Korea. Second, it’s no use proclaiming a policy that can’t be explained or defended publicly, and a subversion project would necessarily include overt, covert, and clandestine elements. Our public position should be that nations are obliged to consider what their trade is supporting, that our financial system is closed to those who aid and abet crimes against humanity, that we will prioritize giving the North Korean people freedom of information, and that it is for the North Korean people to decide how they will use that information.

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Updates:

  • 7/19: Spain says it will expel the North Korean ambassador.
  • 7/19: Kuwait and Qatar both say they will stop issuing visas to North Korean workers. Qatar reportedly hosts 1,000 workers whose contracts will expire in 2018. Kuwait hosts 3,000 more.
  • 7/19: Taiwan says it will halt oil and LNG exports to North Korea, and will also halt textile imports (as required by UNSCR 2375).
  • 7/22: Taiwan adds that it will end all trade with North Korea. Taiwanese suppliers have previously exported dual-use machine tools to North Korea.

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Speaking out for the North Korean people is more than a full-time part-time job

For months, I’ve heard rumors that the Trump administration isn’t fond of special envoys, and quietly, some of us fretted that the administration was planning to eliminate the job of Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea. As it turns out, Tillerson isn’t doing exactly that:

The functions and staff of the special envoy for North Korean human rights issues would now fall under the office of the under secretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, who will now also assume that title. The position of special envoy for the six-party talks dealing with North Korea will be removed, as the talks ended in 2008. [CNN]

Why stop there? Why doesn’t Tillerson just eliminate both posts? Because he can’t. The human rights envoy’s position is a creation of statute — specifically, of section 107 of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, now codified at 22 U.S.C. 7817. A cabinet secretary can’t unilaterally eliminate a position that Congress has created.

The good news is that the job would move out of the East Asia Bureau, where the Special Envoy’s mission was more easily subordinated to each Assistant Secretary’s pursuit of a Nobel Peace Prize. But the proposal to merge the Special Envoy’s job into another position is problematic. Until recently, Congress cared deeply about the issues within the Special Envoy’s mandate. We’re about to find out if it still does. It was never pleased that former Special Envoy Jay Lefkowitz was a part-time Special Envoy. In the notes below section 7801, in fact, there is sense-of-Congress language expressing the sentiment that “the Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues should be a full-time position.”

The State Department will say that merging a position doesn’t mean it isn’t full time. Congress will answer that if you’re doing more than one job full-time you aren’t doing either job full-time, and the notion of a full-time part-time job is absurd. Anyone who can’t think of why this should be a full-time job doesn’t understand what the job should be. The Special Envoy should be the administration’s principal public voice who speaks to the world, and to the people of North Korea, in explaining, defending, and encouraging the implementation of policies that force Pyongyang to accept transparency, and to respect human life and dignity, or perish.

Congress and the world will not unite around a policy that diminishes or sidelines human rights. Transparency and respect for human life are logically inextricable from issues of war, peace, and proliferation. Those issues are also linked geographically, and perhaps operationally. To sideline human rights would throw away an important source of leverage over North Korea, China, South Korea, and Japan, which sees getting its abducted citizens back as a part of the Special Envoy’s job.

Human rights is also a test of whether diplomacy can work at all. If Pyongyang can’t accept transparency in its acceptance of aid or the amelioration of conditions in its gulags, why should anyone believe that we can have credible nuclear diplomacy? Human rights can be an important force multiplier in sanctions enforcement. If you’re a North Korean diplomat in Vientiane or Asmara who’s thinking about jumping the fence and taking your laptop and the passwords to your bank accounts with you, does this make it more or less likely that you’ll go through with that?

This proposal sends a message that America is abandoning the people of North Korea just when we need each other most. It will cost us the support of a global liberal coalition that is tempted to view sanctions-busting engagement or squandering unmonitorable aid as strategies for advancing humanitarian conditions in the North. It will undoubtedly please accountants in OMB and career diplomats in some quarters of the State Department, but it’s short-sighted and wrong. Congress should protest.

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UNSCR 2371: Text and commentary (see update)

Today, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2371 unanimously. The text is in black, my commentary is in blue italic.

PP1: Recalling its previous relevant resolutions, including resolution 825 (1993), resolution 1540 (2004), resolution 1695 (2006), resolution 1718 (2006), resolution 1874 (2009), resolution 1887 (2009), resolution 2087 (2013), resolution 2094 (2013), resolution 2270 (2016), resolution 2321 (2016), and resolution 2356 (2017), as well as the statements of its President of 6  October 2006 (S/PRST/2006/41), 13 April 2009 (S/PRST/2009/7) and 16 April 2012 (S/PRST/2012/13), (updated PP1 of UNSCR 2321)

PP2: Reaffirming that proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security, (PP2 of UNSCR 2321)

PP3: Expressing its gravest concern at the July 3 and July 28 of 2017 ballistic missile  tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“the DPRK”),  which the DPRK has stated were tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles, in violation of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016) 2321 (2016), and 2356 (2017), and at the challenge such tests constitute to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (“the NPT”) and to international efforts aimed at strengthening the global regime of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the danger they pose to peace and stability in the region and beyond, (PP3 of UNSCR 2321)

PP4: Underlining once again the importance that the DPRK respond to other security and humanitarian concerns of the international community, (PP4 of UNSCR 2321)

PP5: Underlining also that measures imposed by this resolution are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK, (PP5 of UNSCR 2321)

PP6: Expressing serious concern that the DPRK has continued to violate relevant Security Council resolutions through repeated launches and attempted launches of ballistic missiles, and noting that all such ballistic missile activities contribute to the DPRK’s development of nuclear weapons delivery systems and increase tension in the region and beyond, (PP6 of UNSCR 2321)

PP7: Expressing continued concern that the DPRK is abusing the privileges and immunities accorded under the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, (PP7 of UNSCR 2321)

PP8: Expressing great concern that the DPRK’s prohibited arms sales have generated revenues that are diverted to the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while DPRK citizens have unmet needs, (PP8 of UNSCR 2321)

Are you listening, Singapore?

PP9: Expressing its gravest concern that the DPRK’s ongoing nuclear- and ballistic missile-related activities have further generated increased tension in the region and beyond, and determining that there continues to exist a clear threat to international peace and security, (PP9 of UNSCR 2321)

PP10: Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, and taking measures under its Article 41,

1. Condemns in the strongest terms the ballistic missile launches conducted by the DPRK on 3 July and 28 July of 2017, which the DPRK has stated were launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and which used ballistic missile technology in violation and flagrant disregard of the Security Council’s resolutions; (Based on OP1 of UNSCR 2270)

Reading that language, it’s not hard to reverse engineer how the argument between the U.S. and Russian diplomats went.

2. Reaffirms its decisions that the DPRK shall not conduct any further launches that use ballistic missile technology, nuclear tests, or any other provocation; shall suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and in this context re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launches; shall abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, and immediately cease all related activities; and shall abandon any other existing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner; (OP 2-4 of UNSCR 2270, adapted and combined)

Designations

3. Designate individuals and entities for asset freeze/travel ban:  Decides that the measures specified in paragraph 8(d) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall apply also to the individuals and entities listed in Annex I and II of this resolution and to any individuals or entities acting on their behalf or at their direction, and to entities owned or controlled by them, including through illicit means, and decides further that the measures specified in paragraph 8(e) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall also apply to the individuals listed in Annex I of this resolution and to individuals acting on their behalf or at their direction; (OP3 of UNSCR 2321)

4. Designation of additional WMD-related Items: Decides to adjust the measures imposed by paragraph 8 of resolution 1718 (2006) and this resolution through the designation of additional goods, directs the Committee to undertake its tasks to this effect and to report to the Security Council within fifteen days of adoption of this resolution, and further decides that, if the Committee has not acted, then the Security Council will complete action to adjust the measures within seven days of receiving that report; (OP25 of UNSCR 22270)

5. Designation of additional Conventional Arms-related Items: Decides to adjust the measures imposed by paragraph 7 of resolution 2321 (2016) through the designation of additional conventional arms-related items, materials, equipment, goods, and technology, directs the Committee to undertake its tasks to this effect and to report to the Security Council within thirty days of adoption of this resolution, further decides that, if the Committee has not acted, then the Security Council will complete action to adjust the measures within seven days of receiving that report, and directs the Committee to update this list every 12 months; (Based on OP7 of UNSCR 2321 and OP25 of 2270)

Transportation

6. Prohibit port calls by designated vessels tied to illicit activities: Decides that the Committee may designate vessels for which it has information indicating they are, or have been, related to activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution and all Member States shall prohibit the entry into their ports of such designated vessels, unless entry is required in the case of emergency or in the case of return to its port of origination, or unless the Committee determines in advance that such entry is required for humanitarian purposes or any other purposes consistent with the objectives of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution; (New)

I’m not sure this adds much to existing sanctions that already require member states to seize designated North Korean ships that enter their harbors. It may be that member states were so reluctant to deal with the hassle of disposal that someone figured it would be easier to require them to keep the ships out of port entirely. I’m not so sure. 

7. Prohibit chartering of vessels flagged by the DPRK: Clarifies that the measures set forth in paragraph 20 of resolution 2270 (2016) and paragraph 9 of resolution 2321 (2016), requiring States to prohibit their nationals, persons subject to their jurisdiction and entities incorporated in their territory or subject to their jurisdiction from owning, leasing, operating any vessel flagged by the DPRK, without exception, unless the Committee approves on a case-by-case basis in advance, apply to chartering vessels flagged by the DPRK;

The only country I’ve heard was doing this is a Middle Eastern country that starts with “i” and ends with “n” and is spelled “i-r-a-n.”

Sectoral

8. Full ban on coal, iron and iron ore: Decides that paragraph 26 of resolution 2321 (2016) shall be replaced by the following:

“Decides that the DPRK shall not supply, sell or transfer, directly or indirectly, from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft, coal, iron, and iron ore, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such material from the DPRK by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of the DPRK, decides that for sales and transactions of iron and iron ore for which written contracts have been finalized prior to the adoption of this resolution, all States may allow those shipments to be imported into their territories up to 30 days from the date of adoption of this resolution with notification provided to the Committee containing details on those imports by no later than 45 days after the date of adoption of this resolution, and decides further that this provision shall not apply with respect to coal that the exporting State confirms on the basis of credible information has originated outside the DPRK and was transported through the DPRK solely for export from the Port of Rajin (Rason), provided that the exporting State notifies the Committee in advance and such transactions involving coal originating outside of the DPRK are unrelated to generating revenue for the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution; (New)

The good news: there is no longer a coal cap for China to cheat on. The bad news: there is now a complete coal ban for China to cheat on. A little birdie tells me – and in the near future, that little birdie will also tell you — that the North Koreans are smuggling their coal to China via third countries. My guess is that even if this isn’t airtight in practice, it will still make it harder and more expensive for Pyongyang to sell its coal, meaning it will cut into Pyongyang’s export profits.

9. Prohibit seafood exports from the DPRK: Decides that the DPRK shall not supply, sell or transfer, directly or indirectly, from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft, seafood (including fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other aquatic invertebrates in all forms), and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from the DPRK by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, whether or not originating in the territory of the DPRK, and further decides that for sales and transactions of seafood (including fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other aquatic invertebrates in all forms) for which written contracts have been finalized prior to the adoption of this resolution, all States may allow those shipments to be imported into their territories up to 30 days from the date of adoption of this resolution with notification provided to the Committee containing details on those imports by no later than 45 days after the date of adoption of this resolution;

Good on you, U.N., for using this nifty idea. I first suggested the same thing in this post, and section 311 of the KIMS Act now allows the President to designate anyone who buys fishing rights, food, or agricultural products from North Korea. I read the resolution’s language to cover the sale of fishing rights as well as seafood. For its next act, the U.N. should also ban food exports entirely. Pyongyang has no business exporting food for hard currency while the poor starve.

10. Prohibit lead exports from the DPRK: Decides that the DPRK shall not supply, sell or transfer, directly or indirectly, from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft, lead and lead ore, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from the DPRK by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, whether or not originating in the territory of the DPRK, and further decides that for sales and transactions of lead and lead ore for which written contracts have been finalized prior to the adoption of this resolution, all States may allow those shipments to be imported into their territories up to 30 days from the date of adoption of this resolution with notification provided to the Committee containing details on those imports by no later than 45 days after the date of adoption of this resolution;

I did not even realize North Korea exported lead, but evidently, it does

11. Ban the hiring and paying of additional DPRK laborers used to generate foreign export earnings: Expresses concern that DPRK nationals frequently work in other States for the purpose of generating foreign export earnings that the DPRK uses to support its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs, decides that all Member States shall not exceed on any date after the date of adoption of this resolution the total number of work authorizations for DPRK nationals provided in their jurisdictions at the time of the adoption of this resolution unless the Committee approves on a case-by-case basis in advance that employment of additional DPRK nationals beyond the number of work authorizations provided in a member state’s jurisdiction at the time of the adoption of this resolution is required for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, denuclearization or any other purpose consistent with the objectives of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution; (New)

Here is the first binding limit on North Korean labor exports, but it’s really a cap. On the bad side, because everyone involved in these contracts was already concealing or misrepresenting the number of North Korean laborers anyway, it will be hard to tell what “exceeds.” On the good side, this doesn’t prevent the U.S. from using section 321 of the KIMS Act to sanction employers of North Korean slave labor or their governments, and it will give the U.S. a stronger argument to convince host nations to send those workers home. This assumes we’re making that effort – and I keep hearing that we are, quietly. I also don’t interpret this to diminish the existing requirements of UNSCR 1718, paragraph 8 that purchasers of North Korean labor (a) “ensure” that the money doesn’t go to the nuke fund, and (b) abstain from dealing with designated persons.

Financial

12. Prohibiting new or expanded joint ventures and cooperative commercial entities with the DPRK: Decides that States shall prohibit, by their nationals or in their territories, the opening of new joint ventures or cooperative entities with DPRK entities or individuals, or the expansion of existing joint ventures through additional investments, whether or not acting for or on behalf of the government of the DPRK, unless such joint ventures or cooperative entities have been approved by the Committee in advance on a case-by-case basis; (New)

So, got your tickets yet for that big investment fair in Rason in two weeks? Are those tickets refundable? Yeah. Unfortunately, the word “existing” means that this isn’t necessarily the end for the MKP Group, although some parts of it (such as banking joint ventures) are banned by other resolutions. Ditto Orascom. It would be nice to get more definition on the words “new,” “existing,” and “expansion,” which seem like potential loopholes.

13. Clarifies that the prohibitions contained in paragraph 11 of resolution 2094 (2013) apply to clearing of funds through all Member States’ territories; (New)

This is useful. Although section 201 the NKSPEA effectively (if indirectly) banned direct and indirect dollar clearing services for North Korean banks, this extends that obligation to other issuers of convertible currencies – the EU, the UK, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Japan, etc. – and also closes a potential loophole for offshore dollar clearing. As always, detection and enforcement will be key.

14. Clarifies that companies performing financial services commensurate with those provided by banks are considered financial institutions for the purposes of implementing paragraph 11 of resolution 2094 (2013), paragraphs 33 and 34 of resolution 2270 (2016), and paragraph 33 of resolution 2321 (2016); (New)

In other words, shadow banks and money launderers (such as DCB Finance and Kim Chol-Sam) are banks for purposes of the resolutions. That matters, because North Korea increasingly relies on trading companies to perform the functions of banks.

Chemical Weapons

15. Prohibiting use of chemical weapons and calling for accession to the CWC: Recalls paragraph 24 of resolution 2270 (2016), decides that the DPRK shall not deploy or use chemical weapons, and urgently calls upon the DPRK to accede to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction, and then to immediately comply with its provisions; (Based on OP24 of UNSCR 2270)

For reasons that ought to be obvious ….

Vienna Convention

16. Abiding by the VCDR/VCCR: Demands that the  DPRK fully comply with its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; (New)

In South Dakota English, this means stop renting out your embassies as eurotrash flophouses.

Impact on the People of the DPRK

17. Regrets the DPRK’s massive diversion of its scarce resources toward its development of nuclear weapons and a number of expensive ballistic missile programs, notes the findings of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance that well over half of the people in the DPRK suffer from major insecurities in food and medical care, including a very large number of pregnant and lactating women and under-five children who are at risk of malnutrition and nearly a quarter of its total population suffering from chronic malnutrition, and, in this context, expresses deep concern at the grave hardship to which the people in the DPRK are subjected; (New)

I can’t overstate how smart and important this language is. Pyongyang will always try to use its people as human shields against sanctions. It will always steal from the poor to give to the rich and the military. The world needs to remember exactly why so many North Koreans are poor and hungry, and it’s not because North Korea is a poor country, or because of weather, or sanctions. It’s because of choices – choices that are made in Pyongyang.

Sanctions Implementation

18. State implementation report: Decides that Member States shall report to the Security Council within ninety days of the adoption of this resolution, and thereafter upon request by the Committee, on concrete measures they have taken in order to implement effectively the provisions of this resolution, requests the Panel of Experts, in cooperation with other UN sanctions monitoring groups, to continue its efforts to assist Member States in preparing and submitting such reports in a timely manner; (based on OP36 of UNSCR 2321)

If they weren’t filing their reports before, it’s going to take more than a strongly worded appeal to make them file now. That’s where the BRINK Act becomes important. Take a gander at section 104 for some of the sanctions non-compliant states might face.

19. Redouble implementation efforts: Calls upon all Member States to redouble efforts to implement in full the measures in resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013) 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), and 2356 (2017), and to cooperate with each other in doing so, particularly with respect to inspecting, detecting and seizing items the transfer of which is prohibited by these resolutions; (OP38 of UNSCR 2321)

20. Update Committee and POE mandate: Decides that the mandate of the Committee, as set out in paragraph 12 of resolution 1718 (2006), shall apply with respect to the measures imposed in this resolution and further decides that the mandate of the Panel of Experts, as specified in paragraph 26 of resolution 1874 (2009) and modified in paragraph 1 of resolution 2345 (2017), shall also apply with respect to the measures imposed in this resolution; (OP39 of UNSCR 2321)

21. Standard “seize and dispose” provision: Decides to authorize all Member States to, and that all Member States shall, seize and dispose (such as through destruction, rendering inoperable or unusable, storage, or transferring to a State other than the originating or destination States for disposal) of items the supply, sale, transfer, or export of which is prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution that are identified in inspections, in a manner that is not inconsistent with their obligations under applicable Security Council resolutions, including resolution 1540 (2004), as well as any obligations of parties to the NPT, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Development of 29 April 1997, and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction of 10 April 1972; (OP40 of UNSCR 2321)

This provision addresses what I call the Mu Du Bong problem. Remember when Mexico seized the Mu Du Bong after it ran aground off the port of Tuxpan? For the longest time, the Mexicans didn’t know what to do with the ship. This question eventually came to me via an indirect route. I pointed out that paragraph 8 of UNSCR 2087 already authorized Mexico to seize, destroy, or dispose of the ship as it saw fit. Of course, 2087 isn’t a Chapter VII resolution, but the Mu Du Bong became an artificial reef shortly thereafter, so I’d like to think I played some small role in the lives of some red snapper and grouper.

22. Force majeure clause: Emphasizes the importance of all States, including the DPRK, taking the necessary measures to ensure that no claim shall lie at the instance of the DPRK, or of any person or entity in the DPRK, or of persons or entities designated for measures set forth in resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution, or any person claiming through or for the benefit of any such person or entity, in connection with any contract or other transaction where its performance was prevented by reason of the measures imposed by this resolution or previous resolutions; (OP41 of UNSCR 2321)

This keeps governments that freeze assets from getting tied up in litigation for enforcing the resolutions – theoretically. Of course, not all member state courts will recognize this, and it only applies to claims by North Korea or by designated persons. It will require good implementing legislation, which (let’s face it) very few countries have.

23. Request Interpol notices: Requests that Interpol issue Special Notices with respect to designated individuals, and directs the Committee to work with Interpol to develop the appropriate arrangements to do so; (New)

OK, I’ll admit that I’m mildly impressed by this. I’ll believe it when Kim Chol-Sam leaves China for good.

24. Expand POE capacity and resources: Requests the Secretary General to provide additional analytical resources needed to the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1874 (2009) to strengthen its ability to analyze the DPRK’s sanctions violation and evasion activities; (Based on OP42 of UNSCR 2321)

Hmm. Are they hiring lawyers, and what do they pay?

Political

25. Reiterates its deep concern at the grave hardship that the people in the DPRK are subjected to, condemns the DPRK for pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles instead of the welfare of its people while people in the DPRK have great unmet needs, and emphasizes the necessity of the DPRK respecting and ensuring the welfare and inherent dignity of people in the DPRK; (OP45 of UNSCR 2321)

As stated above, this matters.

26. Reaffirms that the measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), and this resolution are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK or to affect negatively or restrict those activities, including economic activities and cooperation, food aid and humanitarian assistance, that are not prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017) and this resolution, and the work of international and non-governmental organizations carrying out assistance and relief activities in the DPRK for the benefit of the civilian population of the DPRK and decides that the Committee may, on a case-by-case basis, exempt any activity from the measures imposed by these resolutions if the committee determines that such an exemption is necessary to facilitate the work of such organizations in the DPRK or for any other purpose consistent with the objectives of these resolutions, and further decides that the measures specified in paragraph 8(d) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall not apply with respect to financial transactions with the DPRK Foreign Trade Bank or the Korea National Insurance Corporation if such transactions are solely for the operation of diplomatic missions in the DPRK or humanitarian assistance activities that are undertaken by, or in coordination with, the United Nations; (Based on OP46 of UNSCR 2321)

So, spoiler alert: the FTB, which Treasury designated in 2013, and which featured prominently in this recent civil forfeiture suit, is designated in one of the annexes below, which is good. When I say that Pyongyang uses its people as human shields, the Foreign Trade Bank is a perfect example of that strategy, and how some humanitarian aid NGOs have been willing accomplices of it. That exemption is probably a smart move, tactically.

27. Reaffirms its support for the Six Party Talks, calls for their resumption, and reiterates its support for the commitments set forth in the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005 issued by China, the DPRK, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States, including that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner, that the United States and the DPRK undertook to respect each other’s sovereignty and exist peacefully together, that the Six Parties undertook to promote economic cooperation, and all other relevant commitments; (OP47 of UNSCR 2321)

Note the language “reaffirms its support.” I occasionally see claims, either from soft-liners here or from Beijing, that the resolutions require us to return to six-party talks — never mind that North Korea won’t return to them — and that some notion of reciprocity consequently releases China from its obligations to enforce the other provisions. But “reaffirms its support” is non-binding language, in contrast to the sanctions provisions that say “decides,” and which are binding. The obligations aren’t reciprocal, and the idea that this provision requires anyone to return to the talks (including Pyongyang) is baseless. The resolutions do, however, use “decides” when they require Pyongyang to completely, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic missile programs.

28. Reiterates the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in north-east Asia at large, and expresses its commitment to a peaceful, diplomatic, and political solution to the situation and welcomes efforts by the council members as well as other States to facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue and stresses the importance of working to reduce tensions in the Korean Peninsula and beyond; (OP48 of UNSCR 2321)

29. Affirms that it shall keep the DPRK’s actions under continuous review and is prepared to strengthen, modify, suspend or lift the measures as may be needed in light of the DPRK’s compliance, and, in this regard, expresses its determination to take further significant measures in the event of a further DPRK nuclear test or launch; (OP49 of UNSCR 2321)

30. Decides to remain seized of the matter. (OP50 of UNSCR 2321)

Now, the designations.

Annex I

Travel Ban/Asset Freeze (Individuals)

1. CHOE CHUN YONG

a. Description: Representative for Ilsim International Bank, which is affiliated with the DPRK military and has a close relationship with the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation.  Ilsim International Bank has attempted to evade United Nations sanctions.

b. A.K.A.: Ch’oe Ch’un-yo’ng

c. Identifiers: Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 654410078; Gender: male

With respect to each of these guys, I can only ask: are their designated successors in Beijing yet?

2. HAN JANG SU

a. Description: Chief Representative of the Foreign Trade Bank.

b. A.K.A.: Chang-Su Han

c. Identifiers: DOB: November 08, 1969; POB: Pyongyang, DPRK; Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 745420176, expires on October 19, 2020; Gender: male

3. JANG SONG CHOL

a. Description: Jang Song Chol is a Korea Mining Development Corporation (KOMID) representative overseas.

b. AKA: n/a

c. Identifiers: DOB: 12 March 1967; Nationality: DPRK

4. JANG SUNG NAM

a. Description: Chief of an overseas Tangun Trading Corporation branch, which is primarily responsible for the procurement of commodities and technologies to support the DPRK’s defense research and development programs.

b. A.K.A.: n/a

c. Identifiers: DOB: July 14, 1970; Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 563120368, issued on March 22, 2013; Passport expiration date: March 22, 2018; Gender: male

5. JO CHOL SONG

a. Description: Deputy Representative for the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation, which provides financial services in support to Tanchon Commercial Bank and Korea Hyoksin Trading, a subordinate entity of Korea Ryonbong General Corporation.

b. A.K.A.: Cho Ch’o’l-so’ng

c. Identifiers: DOB: September 25, 1984; Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 654320502, expires on September 16, 2019; Gender: male

6. KANG CHOL SU

a. Description: Official for Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, which specializes in acquisition for the DPRK’s defense industries and support for the DPRK’s military-related overseas sales. Its procurements also likely support the DPRK’s chemical weapons program.

b. A.K.A.: n/a

c. Identifiers: DOB: February 13, 1969; Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 472234895

7. KIM MUN CHOL

a. Description: Representative for Korea United Development Bank. 

b. A.K.A.: Kim Mun-ch’o’l

c. Identifiers: DOB: March 25, 1957; Nationality: DPRK

8. KIM NAM UNG

a. Description: Representative for Ilsim International Bank, which is affiliated with the DPRK military and has a close relationship with the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation.  Ilsim International Bank has attempted to evade United Nations sanctions.

b. A.K.A.: n/a

c. Identifiers: Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 654110043

9. PAK IL KYU

a. Description: Official for Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, which specializes in acquisition for DPRK’s defense industries and support to Pyongyang’s military-related sales. Its procurements also likely support the DPRK’s chemical weapons program.

b. A.K.A.: Pak Il-Gyu

c. Identifiers: Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 563120235; Gender: male

List Update for Aliases:

• JANG BOM SU (KPi.016) – New AKA: Jang Hyon U with date of birth 22 February 1958 and diplomatic passport number 836110034, which expires on 1 January 2020.

• JON MYONG GUK (KPi.018) – New AKA: Jon Yong Sang with date of birth 25 August 1976 and diplomatic passport number 836110035, which expires on 1 January 2020.

Annex II

Asset Freeze (Entities)

1. FOREIGN TRADE BANK (FTB)

a. Description: Foreign Trade Bank is a state-owned bank and acts as the DPRK’s primary foreign exchange bank and has provided key financial support to the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation.

b. AKA: n/a

c. Location: FTB Building, Jungsong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK

Now we’re talking.

2. KOREAN NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY (KNIC)

a. Description: The Korean National Insurance Company is a DPRK financial and insurance company and is affiliated with Office 39.

b. AKA: Korea Foreign Insurance Company

c. Location: Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK

Another good one, though the failure to designate the Korean Shipowners’ Protection and Indemnity Association, which insured the Chong Chon Gang, seems like an oversight

3. KORYO CREDIT DEVELOPMENT BANK

a. Description: Koryo Credit Development Bank operates in the financial services industry in the DPRK’s economy.

b. AKA: Daesong Credit Development Bank; Koryo Global Credit Bank; Koryo Global Trust Bank

c. Location: Pyongyang, DPRK

4. MANSUDAE OVERSEAS PROJECT GROUP OF COMPANIES

a. Description: Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies engaged in, facilitated, or was responsible for the exportation of workers from the DPRK to other nations for construction-related activities including for statues and monuments to generate revenue for the Government of the DPRK or the Workers’ Party of Korea. The Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies has been reported to conduct business in countries in Africa and Southeast Asia including Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Benin, Cambodia, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Malaysia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Syria, Togo, and Zimbabwe.

b. AKA: Mansudae Art Studio

c. Location: Pyongyang, DPRK

In theory, African dictators will have to build their own big, ugly statues now. Recall that UNSCR 2321 banned the export of statues. But … no Air Koryo? Really? I guess we’ll have to wait for the nuke test for that one.

These sanctions could be damaging — if member states enforce them. The sanctions in UNSCR 2270 should have been more damaging than they were, but China violated them and, until very recentlygot away with it. Getting other member states to enforce the sanctions will require the President to use the authorities Congress has given him in the NKSPEA and the KIMS Act. A truly effective policy will require a whole-of-government approach: the State Department will have to lobby foreign governments, the Treasury and Justice Departments must be prepared to sanction violators, and the Homeland Security Department must step up the screening of cargo from ports that don’t inspect North Korean cargo.

Finally, the administration must speak coherently about sanctions, diplomacy, human rights, the proper role of engagement, what happens if diplomacy fails, and how to reunify Korea peacefully (or, as peacefully as possible). So far, I’ve seen some encouraging steps on sanctions enforcement, but not the coherent whole-of-government effort we’ll need.

~   ~  ~

The question most people are asking now is, “Will things be any different this time?” There’s one reason to think that they just might be. No, this isn’t the first sanctions resolution that might have done serious harm to Pyongyang’s palace economy if it had been enforced, but as I’ve said before, U.N. sanctions don’t enforce themselves. All the U.N. can really do is pass new resolutions and issue the occasional Panel of Experts report. (The Panel, which had previously issued its reports annually, will now start issuing them bi-annually. Its first mid-term new report should be coming out in the new few days. Expect it to be bleak about enforcement and compliance efforts so far, but it will also call out more cheaters and concentrate the attention of the FBI, the Treasury Department, and the Justice Department on them.)

Persuading governments and companies that want to trade with Pyongyang to stop doing so sometimes requires either an inducement or a threat. Yun Byung-Se was skilled at the use of inducements, particularly in Africa, but with Moon Jae-In in office, the U.S. has probably lost Seoul as a valuable diplomatic ally against Pyongyang. 

The Trump administration has recently become more willing to use threats. It hasn’t talked about it much yet, but the Treasury and Justice Departments have begun to seize and forfeit the funds of the trading companies that broker Pyongyang’s coal exports to China. It has also zapped one Chinese bank that was involved in laundering money for North Korea, and fired a shot across the bow of the correspondent banks that carelessly clear those transactions through our financial system. As the Justice Department noted last September, Pyongyang has tried to switch to non-dollar currencies, but without much success. Sellers prefer dollars. Now, for the first time, the U.S. has made a credible threat to banks and trading companies that facilitate Pyongyang’s coal exports. 

As for those who might be tempted to accept China’s view that Pyongyang’s coal exports were for “humanitarian” purposes, a new story by the Washington Post’s Peter Whoriskey cites the Justice Department filings I refer to in the preceding paragraphs to debunk that cynical lie (as I characterize it in the article, which quotes me):

Documents from a recently unsealed U.S. court filing, combined with another federal case, suggest that much of the money China has paid to North Korea for coal over the years went toward the country’s weapons and military efforts.

The coal trade cited in the court documents, which has accounted for as much as a third of North Korean exports, helps explain how North Korea continued to develop its weapons programs despite being impoverished and under trade sanctions. The connections to the military also undermine Chinese claims that their imports were benefiting North Korean civilians.

“We considered that to be a very narrow [humanitarian] exception, but it soon became clear that not all others shared our view,” a State Department spokesperson said before the vote.

In the most recent court filing, unsealed last month, U.S. government attorneys were granted a seizure warrant against the largest Chinese importer of North Korean coal and four related front companies after presenting evidence that the Chinese company’s transactions with North Korea were “ultimately benefiting sanctioned North Korean end users, including North Korea military and North Korea weapons programs.”

The documents cite a defector, deemed “reliable,” who said that the vast majority of the revenue from the country’s coal exports go toward the military, nuclear missiles and weapons programs.

Those disclosures followed a court case filed in September in which federal attorneys cited a spreadsheet showing a major Chinese coal importer making purchases from various North Korean government agencies.

The Chinese importer was also purchasing from a North Korean company controlled by a secretive government branch believed to be conducting illicit activities and slush funds for political leaders. [WaPo, Peter Whoriskey]

It’s always refreshing to see journalists find, read, and cite primary sources rather than call up the same familiar “experts” who may not know anything about sanctions or even about North Korea, but who can be relied on to validate their own opinions. Read the whole thing. 

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The freeze fantasy: Don’t tell us to talk to North Korea if you aren’t listening to North Korea

A weird logic prevails among certain North Korea-watchers, to whom Pyongyang’s every violation of the many disarmament agreements it has already signed becomes “fresh” evidence that we must pay it to sign yet another disarmament agreement. Thus, every time Pyongyang launches a missile or tests a bomb, we can expect a new crop of op-eds making shopworn and increasingly oblivious arguments for a freeze deal that Pyongyang has said — clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly — it doesn’t want and won’t sign.

And Pyongyang could not be more clear or emphatic: it doesn’t want a freeze deal, it isn’t going to disarm. If it won’t disarm, what exactly are we supposed to talk about, and how much leverage, what interests, and which principles are we supposed to throw away to get nothing discernible? And while we’re at it, aren’t the people dispensing this advice mostly the same geniuses (or their acolytes) who brought us Agreed Framework I, Agreed Framework II, and the Leap Day Deal, and who ended up leaving it to President Donald J. Trump to “handle” the world’s worst nuclear crisis since 1962?

Every time I read an iteration of this talk-to-North-Korea op-ed, I want to grab the writer by his lapels and scream into his face: “Don’t tell me to talk to North Korea if you aren’t listening to North Korea!” So, in that spirit, let’s take a moment to listen to North Korea.

~   ~   ~

2/2017: “It is the stand of the DPRK not to hesitate or make any concession in bolstering up its capability for self-defence. The U.S. is sadly mistaken if it thinks the nuclear deterrence of the DPRK is a matter for political bargaining and economic deal after putting it on the negotiating table.” [Rodong Sinmun]

3/2017: “For the DPRK standing in confrontation with the U.S., the chieftain of aggression advocating the doctrine that nukes are all-powerful, its strong nuclear attack capabilities serve as a treasured sword for averting a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula and defusing the danger of war against the Korean nation. The power of the nuclear strike means of the DPRK precisely means its national power and dignity.” [Rodong Sinmun]

3/2017: “As it presents itself as an immediate vital requirement for the DPRK to further bolster the capabilities for self-defence with a nuclear force as pivot given that the U.S. is staging joint military exercises for aggression after introducing largest-ever strategic assets into the Korean peninsula, the DPRK can not but take into serious account its participation in the conference and, therefore, decided not to take part in the conference.” [N. Korean Foreign Ministry, via KCNA]

4/2017 (at the UN Disarmament Conference, of all places!): “It is an entirely just right to self-defence of a sovereign state to keep itself highly alert and bolster in every way its strong war deterrent capable of mercilessly wiping out the aggressors as required by the grim situation where an actual war may break out any moment…. As long as the U.S. and its vassal forces persistently pose nuclear threat and blackmail and continue the nuclear war racket masked as an annual one at the doorstep of the DPRK, the DPRK will as ever bolster up its capabilities for self-defence and preemptive attack with the nuclear force as a pivot.” [Rodong Sinmun]

5/2017: “Beautified by the Trump administration, as if they are performing a little act of kindness for North Korea, the essence of the ‘engagement’ policy is simple… they want to disarm us,” the editorial, published in the DPRK’s most widely read newspaper, reads. “With flowery rhetoric, every day the U.S. is saying that ‘engagement’ is needed for ‘peaceful resolution’ [with the North] while claiming that not only the pressure, but the ‘resolving through talks and negotiation’ is what the U.S. wants.” [Rodong Sinmun, via NK News]

7/2017: “The only way out for the U.S.…is to withdraw the…hostile policy toward the DPRK and kneel and apologize before its army and people.” [KCNA]

7/2017: “The DPRK would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations in any case.” [Kim Jong-Un, quoted in KCNA]

7/2017: “Under the present international situation where the U.S. and its vassal forces’ policy of nuclear threat and blackmail persist, the DPRK will bolster up military capability for self-defense with nuclear force as pivot and ability of making a preemptive attack in order to preserve the country’s sovereignty and the nation’s right to existence. The DPRK’s measures to bolster up the nuclear force for self-defense will go on until the nuclear weapons are eliminated from the earth.” [KCNA]

~   ~   ~

Still not enough for you? Then go to the S.T.A.L.I.N. search engine and look up treasured sword” or “nuclear deterrent.” Now, already, the frequent Air Koryo flyers (as B.R. Myers calls them) are saying, “But I went to Pyongyang and Vice-Minister Kim said …,” or the perennial 38North favorite, “If you parse it, they really mean ….”

Parse all you want. Bruce Klingner and Sue Terry met with them at Track 2 talks early this year. The North Koreans were “unambiguously clear.” They “will not be deterred from augmenting [their nuclear arsenal or test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile.” They offered “no signals of flexibility or willingness to negotiate on these programs.” Their message was that “denuclearization is off the table.” No “combination of economic and diplomatic benefits or security reassurances” can make them keep the other denuclearization agreements they signed in 1994, 2005, 2007, or 2012 (to name just a few examples).

Also, for all the talk from American soft-liners that we must drop our preconditions to talks that obviously aren’t about disarmament, the North Koreans are now offering a precondition of their own: “First accept us as a nuclear state, then we are prepared to talk about a peace treaty or fight. We are ready for either.” In which case, we’ve lost just by showing up.

Still, the calls for us to talk to Pyongyang about its inexhaustible list of insatiable demands (but none of ours) just keep rolling off the conveyer belt that runs from the Northwest Washington think thanks to the desks of editors — often from the same geniuses who’ve built long and successful careers out of misjudging Pyongyang’s intentions. It may be too much to ask that they stop peddling this fantasy about a deal Pyongyang doesn’t even want and won’t keep. But won’t they at least read and try to rationalize away Pyongyang’s words at some point along the way?

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Maximum pressure watch: North Korea, sanctions & diplomacy

The nature of human beings is to remember dramatic events longer than methodical processes, even when the methodical process may be of equal or greater importance. That may be why North Korea watchers remember the September 2005 action against Banco Delta Asia but tend to forget the greater part of the strategy that action served: sending Stuart Levey, Daniel Glaser, and other officials on a world tour to warn bankers and finance minister to cut their ties to Pyongyang or risk losing their access to the U.S. economy. It was not merely the stroke of one pen that brought Kim Jong-Il to the brink of insolvency; it was the stroke of a pen that put iron behind the velvet gloves that Levey and Glaser wore.

For months now, I’ve been watching for signs that the Trump administration would deploy such a strategy against Kim Jong-Un. The good news is that the signs of such an effort are now unmistakable. The bad news is that this effort is proceeding too slowly to deliver the necessary results in time. 

Starting in May, the President asked the leaders of the PhilippinesIndia (see also) and Vietnam to step up their enforcement of North Korea sanctions and cut their economic ties to Pyongyang. More recently, Ambassador Joseph Yun visited Malaysia, Singapore, and Burma to ask those governments to do likewise. Both Singapore and Malaysia have been havens for North Korean money laundering. Burma has long hosted North Korean arms dealers and been involved in suspicious arms-related deals with North Korea, including some involving nuclear technology. Yun’s message to Burma was that it should not expect the U.S. to restore full diplomatic relations until those dealings end.

Recently, the U.S. delivered a similar message to Sudan, another North Korean arms client. Otherwise, however, there is little evidence that the U.S. has pressured Namibia to shut down a North Korean arms factory, Angola to end its arms deals and use of slave labor, Egypt to expel its local KOMID representatives, or Tanzania to ensure that it cancels the registrations of North Korean ships.

Congress has also joined the effort by pressing Taiwan to cut its commercial ties in a provision of the new Taiwan Security Act. For an ostensible U.S. ally, Taiwan has been implicated in transferring sensitive technology to North Korea with disturbing frequency. For example, starting in 2009, the Treasury Department designated (and the U.N. Panel of Experts has repeatedly mentioned) a Taiwanese arms dealer and several of his companies for selling machine tools to North Korea. 

Last week, banking regulators in Latvia fined two banks for flunking their due diligence obligations to detect and prevent North Korean money laundering. Let’s hope that this is only the first of many similar moves by states to enforce the financial due diligence obligations found in paragraphs 11 through 16 of Resolution 2094, and in subsequent resolutions.

In 2016, while the Obama administration slept, South Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yun Byung-Se, also went on tour and secured commitments from multiple states to reduce their economic ties with North Korea. It should not surprise us that since the election of Moon Jae-In filled the Blue House with advisors with histories of addlebrained appeasement or alarming, even violent, pro-North Korean activism, the pace of Seoul’s diplomacy has dropped off to almost nothing. I’ve found evidence of one effort by Seoul in sympathy with this campaign, when Moon had a telephone call with the UAE’s Crown Prince, although it’s far from clear whether he asked the UAE for anything specific, such as sending North Korean slave laborers home. Diplomatically, one can hardly say that Seoul is an ally at all anymore. It barely suffers the burden of accepting a subsidized defense from North Korean missiles, courtesy of American taxpayers.

Tokyo, by contrast, has coalesced with us in much a more valuable way, by joining the U.S. in the collective enforcement of sanctions designations against businesses that deal with Pyongyang, and against the Bank of Dandong. That strategy, which I’ve referred to as “progressive diplomacy,” and which involves coalescing with our friends first, and approaching our enemies only after they’ve been isolated, will greatly multiply the power of each designation.

I’ve noted before that collectively, the U.S., Japan, and South Korea are China’s top three trading partners. I’ve sometimes wondered if that pressure would be even more effective if it took an analytical approach, akin to the Strategic Bombing Survey of World War II, that targets vulnerable or labor-intensive industries in cities such as Dandong and Dalian that trade with North Korea. There are some new tools in the KIMS Act that may be worth considering in the context of such a strategy. One that might be the most potentially devastating authorizes the President to target those cities’ ports.

If South Korea, Australia (see also), the U.K., and Europe were to join in this coalition, the diplomatic and financial pressure on Beijing and Pyongyang might be irresistible. Pyongyang sounds worried. For the long term, it should be. In the short term, however, promises by governments to enforce sanctions against North Korea sometimes mean less in practice than they do on paper, either because those governments backslide, or simply don’t understand what the sanctions require. It is helpful that the U.N. has finally published this summary of the sanctions. It would be more helpful if the U.N., the U.S., or the Financial Action Task Force would promulgate model legislation to ensure that states can easily enact legislation to enforce U.N. sanctions.

~   ~   ~

But nothing would be more important in implementing the President’s new strategy than good management in the White House. One necessary step would be for the new Chief of Staff to seize control of the vetting and nominations for key cabinet posts from the political commissars and return that authority to the cabinet secretaries the President chose. Even a sound strategy will fail unless it’s executed competently. The diplomatic visits described in this post began in early May, and so far, the results they have produced are neither clear nor decisive. They have proceeded at too slow a pace to address a problem as urgent as this.

You won’t find a more strident critic than me of the thinking that has predominated in the State Department, particularly with regard to North Korea. But it is one thing to criticize an agency’s culture and the policies it continued to support long after their failure was manifest. It is another thing to destroy the agency itself. Good diplomacy will be an essential element of “maximum pressure.” That not only requires better direction from the White House, it also requires good diplomats. 

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We cannot live with a nuclear North Korea (or rather, it will not live with us)

Yesterday, the North Korean threat finally crossed the ocean to our shores. As it is after every fresh outrage from Pyongyang, the question many will ask is, “Now what?” Certainly, there are plenty of legal, financial, and diplomatic options on this list that President Trump’s cabinet can exercise. Congress is also ready to act, or nearly so. You should expect to see the Senate move legislation you’ve seen (or something similar to it) and legislation you have not yet seen. That is good, but is there still time? After years of indecision and neglect, it will take concerted diplomatic and law-enforcement efforts for financial pressure to show its effects on Pyongyang, and no pressure that fails to threaten the very end of Kim Jong-Un’s misrule will be sufficient.

As you read this, “experts” across Northwest D.C., including some of those who are most responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place, are proof-reading their next op-eds calling for us to beg for a deal that Pyongyang doesn’t want and wouldn’t keep. As Pyongyang has said repeatedly (though too many of us choose not to hear it) it will not negotiate away its nuclear arsenal. A freeze would only trade away valuable concessions until Pyongyang seizes on the slightest pretext to renege on it.  Those who tell us that we must talk to North Korea ignore the evidence of how often we have tried. Indeed, it is they who aren’t listening to North Korea. These people are deluding everyone — most of all themselves. Pyongyang did not starve millions of “expendable” people to build a nuclear arsenal so that it could trade that arsenal away. Kim Jong-Un does not want nuclear weapons merely to defend himself from us. He will use them to blackmail Seoul into a “peace process” that would achieve the incremental surrender of South Korea and ultimately, the legacy to which his father and grandfather devoted their lives — the reunification of Korea under his rule. I believe he now sees that goal as within his reach. He may be right.

Can we learn to live with a nuclear North Korea that sold missile technology to Iran, built a nuclear reactor in a part of Syria now controlled by ISIS, and threatened to sell nuclear weapons to terrorists? That attacked our South Korean treaty ally or U.S. forces stationed in Korea in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1976, 1983, 1987, 1998, 2002, 2010, and 2015, killing 50 South Koreans in 2010 alone? That sends assassins to murder human rights activists and dissidents in exile? That has launched cyberattacks against banks, newspapers, nuclear power plants, and the Seoul subway? That launched another cyberattack against a Hollywood movie studio, made terrorist threats against movie theaters in the United States, and chilled the freedom of expression that Americans cherish and have given their lives for? That murdered the half-brother of its tyrant with a deadly nerve agent, in a crowded airport terminal, in the capital city of a friendly nation, 5,000 miles away? That may already be able to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon? The very idea is madness. One day, Kim Jong-Un, whose tolerance for risk always exceeds the calculations of our “expert” class, will go further than we are prepared to tolerate. Down this path lies war — a war whose potential will grow more destructive with each passing year.

Any fool who can hear the rising roar and see the boiling cloud of mist ahead knows where this current is carrying us. We cannot live with a nuclear North Korea if it means — as it assuredly does — the end of nonproliferation and the beginning of an age in which nuclear, chemical, biological, and cyber-terrorism will cease to be theoretical and become imminent and frequent. Fundamentally, the question isn’t really whether we can live with a nuclear North Korea, but whether a nuclear North Korea so inculcated with hatred of America, and with contempt for our open and democratic society, would live with us.

For now, I doubt we’ll make much progress with Russia or China at the U.N., though I think we should give it a token try. One additional provision that’s now worth asking for is an air and sea blockade in which only imports of food, non-luxury consumer goods, and humanitarian supplies should go through. But China and Russia would not agree to this, and I increasingly incline toward not wasting our political capital there. Instead, we should re-focus our diplomatic energy on progressive diplomacy to build a coalition outside of the U.N. to enforce existing U.N. sanctions and deny the North Korean regime the funds that sustain it. But is there still time? And more importantly, don’t Pyongyang’s escalations call for a reassessment of what sanctions are meant to achieve, and therefore the targeting strategy?

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Pyongyang’s freeze gambit is a transparent pre-summit ploy.

I’m going to give the reports that North Korea’s Ambassador to India floated the idea of negotiations for a freeze deal all they attention they deserve. The proposal, such as it is, came during an English-language interview with a local journalist.

First, the proposal is an obvious ploy to divide the U.S. and South Korean governments just before Moon Jae-In’s visit to Washington. (As I noted yesterday, that visit already looks to be a difficult one.) Even Moon Jae-In appears to see through this ploy, urging his people not to read too much into it. A secondary purpose is to manipulate the usual suspects in the left-of-center, Libertarian, and far-right commentariat* into writing a flurry of pro-appeasement op-eds.

Second, several of the phrases conveyed with the proposal have the potential to make it illusory, including, “we can negotiate in terms of,” “under the right circumstances,” and especially, “if our demands is [sic] met.”

[Such as?]

Third, if Pyongyang is willing to freeze or dismantle its nuclear or missile programs, why did its Foreign Ministry representatives so recently tell Bruce Klingner and Sue Terry (among others) that it isn’t? That Pyongyang did not convey its proposal directly to the Americans during recent Track 2 talks suggests that it didn’t want to answer obvious questions about “circumstances” and “demands,” and that the proposal is spurious.

Fourth, even if a freeze agreement can be reached before the U.S. gains a persistent source of leverage over Pyongyang, how long would it be before the North Koreans renege again? The sine qua non of successful diplomacy with Pyongyang (if that’s still possible at all) is leverage.

If nothing else, a ploy this transparent should advance our recognition of how Pyongyang sees diplomacy, and what it really thinks diplomacy is for. The U.S. and South Korean position should be that if Pyongyang is serious about meeting the obligations it has undertaken — and broken — again, and again, and again, it knows how to contact the U.S. and South Korean missions at the U.N. After all, it knew how to contact Nikki Haley when it decided to dump the soon-to-be-lifeless body of Otto Warmbier.

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* Update: To give you an idea of what strange bedfellows North Korea makes, see this blog post at David Duke’s website, approvingly reprinting a Bruce Cumings op-ed in full. Yes, Professor Cumings knows. I emailed him to confirm it.

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Trump & North Korea: In search of maximum pressure (Pt. 1)

Last week’s North Korea designations from the Treasury Department were the second round since Inauguration Day, and like the first round, they omitted the essential element for sanctions against North Korea to be effective: secondary sanctions to deter Chinese | banks and companies from enabling North Korean proliferation and money laundering, as they’ve been | doing for so long, and so flagrantly. On this point, I need not repeat Anthony Ruggiero’s arguments, so I’ll just refer you to his post.

In other words, this still isn’t the “maximum pressure” the Trump administration promised us, and continues to promise us. Rather than designate the dozens of North Korean front companies and agents identified in the U.N. Panel of Experts’ recent reports, OFAC continues to designate North Korea’s support network in China incrementally. The only Chinese connections in this round were the designation of Korea Zinc Industrial Group, which has offices in Dalian, and the designation of (U.N.-designated) Koryo Credit Development Bank official Ri Song-hyok, who “has reportedly established several front companies in order to procure items and conduct financial transactions on behalf of North Korea.” (Under UNSCR 2321, paragraph 33, China and other states were supposed to have expelled all representatives of North Korean financial institutions last year. The fact that Ri is still doing business in Beijing speaks volumes.)

How does one explain this not-even-remotely-maximum pressure? One obvious possibility is that Xi Jinping snookered Trump into quietly withdrawing his support for secondary sanctions against North Korea’s Chinese enablers. If so, “maximum pressure” will certainly fail. A second possibility is that this Japanese report that President Trump gave Xi Jinping 100 days to tame His Porcine Majesty is accurate, in which case the 100-day grace period will expire in mid-July. In any event, the evidence that China is holding up its end of the bargain is hardly conclusive, and whatever China is doing isn’t enough to moderate Pyongyang’s provocative behavior. For all of the recent rhetorical differences between Pyongyang and Beijing, Pyongyang seems to be as skeptical as I am that China will exert serious, regime-threatening pressure on it.

There are still some straws an optimist can grasp. The designation of the entire North Korean military (specifically, the State Affairs Commission, the Korean People’s Army, and the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces) may seem symbolic at first glance, but it could be a step in the direction of designating the many military-affiliated trading companies that fund it. If OFAC proceeds to do so, it will fill various banks’ anti-money laundering compliance databases with the names, addresses, and passport numbers of North Korean agents, which will trigger heightened due diligence obligations under 31 CFR 1010.659, which could pave the way for subpoenas, civil penalties, and deferred prosecution agreements against non-compliant large banks, and the potential loss of correspondent relationships by non-compliant smaller banks. Going after the security forces that suppress dissent and the trading companies that collect the revenue that sustains them would be a sound targeting strategy if the administration pursues it aggressively. Again, whether the Trump administration has the political will to do this remains to be seen.

Another hopeful sign is that the Trump administration doesn’t seem to be sparing Russia with regard to secondary sanctions.

OFAC designated Moscow-based Ardis-Bearings LLC and its director, Igor Aleksandrovich Michurin, pursuant to E.O. 13382 for their support to Tangun.  Ardis-Bearings LLC is a company that provides supplies to Tangun, and Michurin is a frequent business partner of Tangun officials in Moscow. [….]

OFAC designated the Independent Petroleum Company (IPC) pursuant to E.O. 13722.  IPC is a Russian company that has signed a contract to provide oil to North Korea and reportedly has shipped over $1 million worth of petroleum products to North Korea.  IPC also may have been involved in circumventing North Korean sanctions.  OFAC also designated one of IPC’s subsidiaries, AO NNK-Primornefteproduct. [OFAC Press Release]

Leo Byrne has more information on the designation of IPC here.

Both rounds of designations by the new administration show a continued focus on the use of Executive Order 13722’s sectoral sanctions to strike at critical elements of Pyongyang’s economic support, including coal and energy. The designation of the Korea Computer Center is interesting is that it was not for hacking (see section 104(a)(7)), but for raising revenue for the military by selling software (see section 104(a)(8)). Also, Treasury finally got around to designating Kim Su-Kwang, the North Korean Reconnaissance General Bureau agent who infiltrated the World Food Program’s offices in Rome.

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The other sanctions news last week was the Security Council’s approval of Resolution 2356, which contains no new substantive provisions, only designations. On one hand, designations are certainly better than a “presidential statement,” and it’s some consolation that the U.N. is now pursuing North Korean officials who are responsible for censorship (the Propaganda and Agitation Department) and terrorism (the Reconnaissance General Bureau), suggesting an approach more holistic than one that treats Pyongyang’s proliferation as an isolated problem. The designation of Kangbong Trading Company, a military-affiliated coal-merchant designated by the Treasury Department in December, is worth watching. We’ll see if it means China will actually comply with the coal cap. I’m not holding my breath for that, but China’s agreement to a U.N. designation should hush China’s objections if the administration later decides to indict the purchasers of Kangbong’s coal later, for money laundering, conspiracy, and violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

On the other hand, this is a Chapter VII resolution in name only. There are no new restrictive measures, such as a ban on labor exports, or Pyongyang’s unconscionable export of food for cash while its people starve. The number, quality, and geography of the designations does not suggest a collective U.N. seriousness about uprooting North Korea’s proliferation network in China, Malaysia, Singapore, or Africa. The failure to designate Air Koryo, a key smuggling tool of the regime, is disappointing, and the failure to designate entities exposed in the most recent Panel of Experts report — notably Glocom and its affiliates — is simply egregious. While Resolution 2356 is certainly better than nothing, it’s also much less than what’s needed to enforce sanctions and make them work. As such, it’s a depressing sign of weakness from the Trump administration and disunity from the Security Council.

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What the Chinpo Decision doesn’t mean for the U.N.’s North Korea sanctions

Since the High Court of Singapore reversed part of the conviction of Chinpo Shipping for its role in financing the 2013 Chong Chon Gang arms shipment just over two weeks ago, and despite the crush of other (still unfinished) commitments that have eaten up my blogging time, I’ve wanted to set a few minutes aside to post some thoughts on the decision. (If you haven’t already looked up “chinpo” at Urban Dictionary, you really shouldn’t.)

Let’s start with what the decision wasn’t: a persuasive precedent for a narrow reading of U.N. sanctions:

May 2017: judicial reasoning in the Chinpo Shipping case found that the correct interpretation of UN sanctions against the DPRK is narrower than is often supposed, suggesting that even if current UN sanctions were to be implemented fully by all countries, a lot of trade with the DPRK could still continue lawfully; [Tristan Webb, NK Pro]

Contra Webb’s long-winded and thinly veiled celebration of the decision as a defeat for Donald Trump, “maximum pressure,” and U.N. sanctions, this decision turns out to have been much less than that. Rather, it was a flawed decision interpreting a badly written regulation that was two resolutions out of date at the time, and would be four resolutions out of date now had Singapore not already replaced it with a newer and tougher regulation that would likely have avoided the High Court’s embarrassing decision entirely. This decision is unlikely to be precedent in Singapore, much less in other countries.

The decision should, however, embarrass the 1718 Committee into carrying out its responsibility to “circulate a comprehensive compilation” of the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions (see paragraph 44), and spur the U.S. to lead a global effort to draft model sanctions legislation through the UNSCR 1540 process, the Proliferation Security Initiative, or the Financial Action Task Force.

This is my conclusion after having taken the extreme step of actually reading the decision, which I had to do for someone else on Saturday morning anyway, as one of those commitments I mentioned. (Special thanks here to Andrea Berger for posting it and helping me find it. Read her post, too.) Although I’m not a Singaporean lawyer, the laws of Singapore and the United States both descend from the English legal tradition, and to an American lawyer, the concepts will seem familiar.

Lost amid the commentary is that fact that the latter part of the High Court’s decision affirmed Chinpo’s conviction and fine for breaking the Money Changing and Remittance Business Act, by remitting more than $40 million for various North Korean entities through its Bank of China account without a license. As the High Court made clear, those remittances went well beyond the volume of Chinpo’s nominal shipping business, and Chinpo was really acting as a shadow bank. (That the Bank of China’s lawyers aren’t combing through terabytes of information right now, in response to Treasury Department subpoenas about flagrant Know-Your-Customer violations and possible money laundering, may be the greatest crime of all.)

The High Court reversed the portion of Chinpo’s conviction for violating the Singapore’s circa-2010 regulation implementing the U.N.’s North Korea sanctions, because the prosecution failed to prove that Chinpo had reason to know that its remittances directly benefited North Korea’s nuclear program. That part of the result is both absurd and partially understandable. It’s absurd because the U.N. sanctions themselves required no such standards of proof in 2013, when they occurred. The Chinpo wire transfers financed the smuggling of weapons, in violation of an arms embargo in effect against North Korea under resolutions 1718 (paragraph 8) and 1874 (paragraphs 9 and 10). Now, here is what the Singaporean prosecutors had to work with in 2013 — a poorly drafted, ridiculously outdated, and incomplete rule:

12.  No person in Singapore and no citizen of Singapore outside Singapore shall —

(a) provide any financial services; or

(b) transfer financial assets or resources, or other assets or resources,

that may reasonably be used to contribute to the nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related, or other weapons of mass destruction-related programs or activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Yes, that’s it. Not only does the regulation fail completely to prohibit financing of North Korea’s arms trade, it fails to incorporate the UNSCR 1718 arms embargo at all. There’s just no excuse for an advanced nation to have failed in this way, given that the embargo has been in effect since 2006. Which is why the decision was also partially understandable; after all, the court couldn’t very well allow Chinpo to be convicted for something the law didn’t yet prohibit. This is not to excuse the High Court’s ridiculously narrow reading of the regulation, and (given the nature of North Korea) the insurmountable evidentiary burdens the court applied to what was meant to be a due diligence obligation. 

So what we have here is a flawed decision based on a poorly drafted, outdated, and now-superseded regulation by a government that likely didn’t want to interfere too much with Singapore’s lucrative commercial ties to North Korea or offend Chinese interests. No doubt, after the Panel of Experts traced the Chong Chon Gang money trail back to Singapore, some Grand Poobah in the Singapore government told the prosecutors to charge Chinpo with something. That poorly drafted regulation is all the prosecutors really had. (Another serious, if more forgivable, error is that by the time of the Chong Chon Gang seizure, UNSCR 2087 and UNSCR 2094, with its much more stringent financial provisions — see paragraphs 10-16 — had been in effect for five months, but Singapore still hadn’t updated its regulation.)

Still, if this sort of thing can happen in a modern, advanced, rule-bound place like Singapore, why should we expect better results from Indonesia, Tanzania, or Angola?  The U.N. Security Council has now passed seven lengthy, often impenetrably worded, and overlapping resolutions strung together with confusing cross-references. It’s time to help the states with the lowest capacity to enforce those resolutions understand, translate, codify, enact, and enforce them. Model legislation is an essential first step, and only the U.S. can really lead that effort.

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Sung-Yoon Lee: Why do we appease N. Korea?

Professor Lee recounts the long history of North Korea committing outrages against peace, international order, and every standard of human civilization, and of American presidents of both parties doing approximately nothing about it.

Pyongyang’s countless provocations since the Korean War have never set off a meaningful punitive response. Even in egregious cases like assassination attempts against South Korean leaders or the shooting down of an American reconnaissance plane in international airspace in 1969, the United States and its allies have answered with restraint.

Since the early 1990s, American presidents have treated the growing threat of the North Korean nuclear program as a priority — but one to be dealt with later. North Korea’s deep poverty and the apparent clownish nature of its leaders have sustained the illusion that its nuclear program could be bought out, the regime itself could be waited out, and that its largely concealed crimes against humanity could be tuned out.
While the United States has vacillated between expedient deals, halfhearted sanctions, pleas to China for greater intervention and doing nothing, the North has methodically advanced its nuclear arsenal and missile capacity.

[….]

Through each of Pyongyang’s tests, American policy makers have harbored the hope that Beijing would come around and put real pressure on the regimes of Kim Jong-un and his father, Kim Jong-il. But all Beijing has done is demonstrate a disingenuous pattern of diplomatic ambidexterity. China has made token gestures like signing on to United Nations Security Council resolutions while failing to enforce them fully, and at times even increasing trade with Pyongyang.

Although most North Koreans are cut off from the global economy, the regime elite remains beholden to international finance for moving proceeds from weapons trafficking. Pyongyang’s international currency of choice is the United States dollar.
North Korea is the only state known to counterfeit dollars as a matter of state policy. And the United States has largely declined to go after the Kim regime’s money trail because of concerns that doing so would push Pyongyang to escalate its provocations. The United States has also mostly shied away from imposing sanctions on the regime’s Chinese partners. [NYT, Sung-Yoon Lee]

Read the whole thing. For all its tough talk, the Trump administration shows little sign of implementing the tough policy it has articulated. It’s increasingly conspicuous to close observers that this administration has imposed no sanctions or taken any perceptible action to execute its “maximum pressure” since Xi Jinping came to Mar-a-Lago and confirmed his intention to turn Korea into its next semi-autonomous ethnic reservation. Trump is now in danger of falling into the same pattern as his predecessors, at a time when we can no longer afford to wait for some other president to solve this problem. By then, an extortionate, mass-murdering crime syndicate will have the means to nuke Seattle, its hegemony over a consensually finlandized South Korea will be functionally irreversible, and no sensible leader would ever trust America as an ally and security guarantor again.

In conclusion, terrorize your neighbors and your critics. Make sure you only let in the most pliable, controllable, and corruptible journalists. Hide your atrocities well — if there’s no video, no one really gives a shit anyway.

[Also, most people still don’t give a shit when there is video.]

Bolster the credentials of the most gullible academics and washed-up, has-been bureaucrats by giving them special, preferential access while denying it to those with the principle and basic common sense call you out. Proliferate with abandon and sell your work to the highest bidder. Keep your proles and peasants hungry. If your model of statecraft doesn’t include providing for them, and if you keep them too famished, isolated, exhausted, and cowed to start downloading plans for DIY Sten guns and shaped charges that might make the local SSD boys hesitate before hauling their families off to the gulag, it’s a winning strategy. After all, we’ve established that international institutions are either apathetic, impotent, or both, and that no democratically elected leader would sacrifice a portion of his domestic political support — such as it is — to challenge that business model.

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Our grand plans to engage North Korea must learn from their failures and evolve with the evidence

One of my cruel habits lately has been to ask the holdouts who still advocate the economic, cultural, and scientific “engagement” of Pyongyang to name a single significant, positive outcome their policies have purchased at the cost of $8 billion or more, over 20-odd years, as thousands of North Koreans died beyond our view and our earshot. I’ve yet to receive a non-sarcastic answer to that question. Yesterday, I salted this wound by pointing out that the largest remaining engagement experiment, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, has become a pool for hostages for Kim Jong-un, exactly as the Malaysian Embassy in Pyongyang recently was, and exactly as the Kaesong Industrial Complex will be if Moon Jae-in is foolish enough to reopen it — and if we’re foolish enough to let him draw us into this potential flashpoint for conflict (think Desert One with nukes).

It is now beyond serious debate that the Sunshine Policy (and every rebranded variation of it) has failed, and that it will never succeed as long as Kim Jong-un weighs down a throne in Pyongyang. Engagers will answer that it is essential to keep open lines of communication to prevent war. Fine, but such communications are best left to diplomats who can meet their North Korean counterparts in safe, neutral locations, not to anyone addlebrained enough to visit or take up residence in North Korea in times like these.

Engagers will also argue that North Korea will never change if North Koreans aren’t exposed to better ideas and ways of life. But if you were to interrogate the engagers and me, you’d find that I believe this point more strongly than the engagers themselves do. We differ in their belief, and my skepticism, that Pyongyang-approved engagement programs have the potential to catalyze positive change from the top down. Rather, it’s the smuggling and broadcasting of media that Pyongyang is waging an unrelenting war to suppress that have the proven potential to change North Korea from the bottom up, and for the better. Remember 2012, when the engagers figured Kim Jong-un for a Swiss-educated reformer? Instead, his signature domestic policy has been a counterinsurgency campaign — a violent war by his regime against an unorganized popular uprising. Except that in this war, only one side is organized and armed, and consequently, the other side has done all of the dying.

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The evidence that has accumulated over 20 years yields no basis — none — to believe that we will see a kinder, gentler Kim Jong-un if we just throw enough money at him. Indeed, the legacy of the Sunshine Policy is far worse than its mere failure to succeed. It has also set back the cause of reform, opening, and change by financing the machinery of oppression and terror (of both the domestic and foreign varieties) that guards the status quo.

Several years ago, for example, I linked to reports that the dreaded State Security Department finances its salaries and expenses through a China-based trading company. Since then, the Treasury Department has designated three North Korean trading companies that sell coal and iron ore — Daewon Industries, which supports the Munitions Industry Department; the Kangbong Trading Corporation, which supports North Korea’s military; and Paeksol Trading Corporation, which supports the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the spy agency that carries out most of North Korea’s terrorist and cyber attacks. To these, the Wall Street Journal‘s Jay Solomon adds another example, involved in financing North Korea’s nuclear programs.

From this evidence, it follows that we would do more to disarm and transform North Korea by targeting those companies with sanctions and bankrupting them, and by forcing the soldiers and cadres that rely on their revenue to turn to corruption, than by financing them. If we’re serious about bringing change to North Korea, our sanctions policy should preferentially target North Korea’s security forces and border guards as much as it targets its proliferation network. That’s the part of “maximum pressure” the Trump administration gets.

The even greater potential source of pressure, which the Trump administration may or may not understand, is to employ an engagement strategy that seeks to reach the North Korea people directly, using technology to bypass Pyongyang’s minders and censors. The people of North Korea are looking for that bypass from within:

Amid heightened levels of surveillance and border control, an increasing number of North Koreans in the border areas are purchasing South Korean smartphone, which they perceive as more secure from detection by the authorities.
“Most smugglers own mobile phones that enable them to communicate across the border, but recently an increasing number of residents are looking for South Korean touch-phones (smartphones). There are rumors that the South Korean phones are not as easily detectable by the devices used by the security agencies,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on May 1.
“Some say that residents with South Korean smartphones are able to send texts and pictures more quickly and evade detection. For this reason, individuals are paying large sums of money to smugglers for South Korean phones.” [Daily NK]

An engagement strategy that goes directly to the North Korean people has far more potential to achieve cultural, social, and political change than another rebranded variation of Sunshine. It would follow the plan I’ve written about at length and described as “guerrilla engagement” — one that directly engages North Korea’s discontented by harnessing the jangmadang economy and North Koreans’ hunger for information about the outside world. It would use entertainment and practical information (weather and market reports) as gateway drugs for those who might later opt to listen to overtly religious and political content. An essential reagent for the second phase of that strategy will be deploying the technology that not only allows North Koreans to hear our messages, but also to communicate and organize with each other. In time, it would organize and coalesce their grievances into a broad-based popular resistance movement with the capacity to broadcast photographs and video of the regime’s human rights abuses, stage strikes, deny the regime control of the market economy, and further strain the regime’s finances.

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True, the election of Moon Jae-in threatens to reanimate the old, failed approach to engagement, though without much of a popular mandate. In due course, a revival of Sunshine will collapse under the weight of Kim Jong-un’s predatory and impulsive nature, just as Kim Jong-Il’s conduct eventually discredited Roh Moo-hyun’s policy. Until then, neutralizing South Korean opposition to “maximum pressure” will require us to bargain harder with Seoul that George W. Bush or Barack Obama ever did. Moon’s election may require us to find information strategies that circumvent his obstructionism by relying on our own technological innovation, and perhaps by shifting toward a closer operational partnership with Japan.

We tend to forget that until just over a year ago, engagement and sanctions worked at cross purposes — effectively, sanctions and subsidies were mutually canceling. But consider the potential of those two strategies if we ever coordinated them. It is one thing to bankrupt the border guards, but entirely another to do so while helping smugglers bribe or evade them. It is one thing to bankrupt the security forces, but entirely another to do so while helping clandestine journalists show their abuses to the world. It is one thing to bankrupt the military’s commissary system, but entirely another to do so while empowering clandestine humanitarian NGOs to minister to, and provide for the material needs of, demoralized, hungry, and mistreated soldiers. If the Sunshine experiment was allowed so many years to double and triple down on failure, might we at least experiment with an engagement strategy designed to shift North Korea’s internal balance of power, gradually enough so that Kim Jong-un never faces the dangerous use-it-or-lose-it proposition that our loose talk of “decapitation” raises?

Engagers will say this means regime change, and it’s certainly some kind of change, but a kind that looks less like Iraq than the unkept promises of glasnost and perestroika we heard from the engagers themselves 20 years ago. As Professor Lee, Bruce Klingner and I pointed out in the pages of Foreign Affairs recently:

The failure of engagement was just as inevitable as the failure of the Agreed Framework. Its premise—that capitalism would spur liberalism in a despotic state—was flawed. After all, over the past two decades, both China and Russia have cracked down on domestic dissent and threatened the United States and its allies abroad, even as they have cautiously welcomed in capitalism. In 2003, even as it cashed Seoul’s checks, Pyongyang warned party officials in the state newspaper that “it is the imperialist’s old trick to carry out ideological and cultural infiltration prior to their launching of an aggression openly.” For the regime, engagement was a “silent, crafty and villainous method of aggression, intervention and domination.” Given this attitude, it’s no surprise that Kim Jong Il never opened up North Korea. The political change that engagement advocates promised was exactly what he feared the most.

That is to say, the Sunshine Policy could never work because it was a strategy for regime change that depended on the very people with the most to lose if it succeeded — the ruling class in Pyongyang. (Either that, or Sunshine was really a marketing strategy for overcoming U.S. objections to subsidizing Pyongyang and canceling out the effect of sanctions by clothing it as regime change. In which case, it succeeded brilliantly.)

Taking the aims of Sunshine at face value, however, its manifest failure calls for a complete rethinking. Engagement must appeal, first, to the people who seek change, rather than those who resist it. The information component of this strategy must be tailored to different constituencies — soldiers, the elites, and of course, the poor who are trapped at the bottom of the songbun scale. By engaging the North Korean people directly, we can help expand the private farming and trading that fill the markets. We can broaden the cracks in Kim Jong-un’s blockade to expand the freedom of information that really can bring social and political change. We can slow the pace of proliferation and relax the grip of the state’s oppression on the people. We can hasten the erosion of belief in Kim Jong-un’s personality cult, promote peace, and help prevent (or shorten) a war.

We will also need a separate strategy to engage the elites in Pyongyang, to persuade them not to resist change, to abstain from crimes against humanity, and to refuse (as much as they are able) to attack civilian targets in South Korea. This must be an appeal to the interests of the men with the guns. We should seek to undermine their confidence in Kim Jong-un and convince them that they have a better and safer future in a reunified Korea. That may require the difficult choice to offer some form of clemency to those who have taken innocent life, but only if they save innocent North or South Korean lives at critical moments. We must speak to them with candor about the recent purges in Pyongyang — how the status quo eventually means physical obliteration for them and a slow death in the prison camps for their families. If we employ these strategies in tandem, the elites will realize that time is not on their side, and that their reward for preserving Kim Jong-un’s reign will be physical extinction for themselves, a bleak future for their families, and a legacy on the ash-heap of history.

No pressure can ever be “maximum” if it excludes this reinvented, disruptive new approach to engagement.

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To prevent a larger hostage crisis, shut PUST down now — all of it.

The news that North Korea arrested its third American hostage over the weekend ought to change the shape of our discussion about PUST, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

Kim Sang-duk, a U.S. citizen and professor at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST) in Yanji, China, was detained in North Korea on Saturday at Pyongyang’s Sunan airport, a source familiar with the case confirmed to NK News on Sunday.

Chan-Mo Park, current chancellor of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), said that Kim and his wife had been on his way back to China after teaching a class in International Finance and Management at the university.

“Professor Kim Sang-duk was arrested on the way out of the country yesterday (22nd),” Park told NK News over email. “From what I heard, he is being investigated for the matters that are not tied to the PUST.”

Kim joins two other U.S. citizens in detention there, 22-year-old Otto Warmbier and 62-year-old Kim Dong Chul, both of whom are serving sentences of hard labor of 15 and 10 years respectively.

An earlier report from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that Kim is a 50-something Korean-American. [NK News, Oliver Hotham]

I’ve previously written that the Commerce Department should review PUST’s licenses for scientific and technological training while leaving its medical training programs intact for now. (The same should go for OFAC’s licenses for PUST’s financial transactions with Pyongyang.) That’s not only because the experiment itself has failed. Nor is it only because PUST has been changed by Pyongyang more than it has changed Pyongyang. It’s not even because of the danger that PUST may be training North Korean hackers, although that would be a good enough reason by itself. It’s because resolutions that our U.N. Ambassador voted for require us to suspend that training pending a review.

“11.  Decides that all Member States shall suspend scientific and technical cooperation involving persons or groups officially sponsored by or representing the DPRK except for medical exchanges unless:

(a) In the case of scientific or technical cooperation in the fields of nuclear science and technology, aerospace and aeronautical engineering and technology, or advanced manufacturing production techniques and methods, the Committee has determined on a case-by-case basis that a particular activity will not contribute to the DPRK’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or ballistic missile-related programmes; or

(b) In the case of all other scientific or technical cooperation, the State engaging in scientific or technical cooperation determines that the particular activity will not contribute to the DPRK’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or ballistic missile-related programmes and notifies the Committee in advance of such determination; [UNSCR 2321]

In plain English, this language creates three categories of scientific cooperation: medical exchange, which is fine; nuclear science and the other items in 11(a), which must full-stop pending immediate 1718 Committee review; and “all other” scientific and technical cooperation, which member states are obligated under 11(b) to review to ensure they will not contribute to banned programs (note the shifting of the burden). The 11(b) review is also subject to the “suspend scientific and technical cooperation … unless” clause; thus, 11(b) requires us to suspend “all other” scientific or technical cooperation pending that review. That the U.S. government still hasn’t acted on this can only be due to the slow pace of the Trump administration’s appointments and its consequent inattention to the problem.

As far as PUST’s medical training goes, that can continue in Yanbian or other locations outside North Korea for reasons that ought to be obvious now. The other danger that has now come into clearer focus is that the other Americans on the PUST campus will also become hostages. Admittedly, as Ron White says, “You can’t fix stupid,” and the stupidity of intelligent people can be the most stubborn kind. Some of PUST’s administrators and instructors will stay in Pyongyang even if we do revoke those licenses, just as some tourists will find ways to go to North Korea even if Congress finally gets around to banning tourist travel there. What is increasingly worrisome is this question: if Pyongyang is willing to take athletes and diplomats from Malaysia hostage, despite Malaysia being a friendly country, why would Pyongyang hesitate to take any American hostage, no matter how good her intentions?

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Stop the war. Enforce sanctions.

If Kim Jong-un’s strategy is what I think it is, it involves provoking a series of escalating security crises, with a plan to “de-escalate” each one through talks, or ideally, though an extended-yet-inconclusive “peace treaty” negotiation, in exchange for a series of pre-planned concessions that would amount to a slow-motion surrender of South Korea. I say “escalating” because Pyongyang’s provocations have escalated in recent years, and because it’s a sure bet they’ll escalate even more after Pyongyang has an effective nuclear arsenal. From that moment, it could be as little as five years before Pyongyang’s strategy achieves sufficient hegemony to exercise significant control over South Korea’s politics, media, textbooks, defense policies, and economic resources, and to effectively intimidate any noisy defectors and activists into silence.

Along the way, however, the risks are great that either a miscalculation, or a U.S. or ROK refusal to slouch passively toward surrender, would end in the most devastating war since 1945. In this post, I will argue that if North Korea cannot be disarmed without war, war is inevitable, but also that premature talk of war impedes our chances of disarming Pyongyang peacefully.

Those who invited this crisis by counseling us to indulge Pyongyang now insist that Pyongyang’s only purpose for acquiring nuclear weapons is to protect itself. But having watched Pyongyang wage the war of skirmishes it resumed in 2010 with the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong-do attacks, I cannot agree that Pyongyang’s objective is merely regime survival. Pyongyang knows that it cannot survive forever as the poorer Korea. Rather, its strategy is to coerce Seoul into a political framework that allows it to exercise and expand its political and economic control over all of Korea. Its master plan does not involve an occupation of the South for the foreseeable future; instead, it contemplates using South Korea’s own government to enforce its writ.

If this belief makes me an outlier, so be it. Just bear in mind that what you and I believe is possible matters less than what Kim Jong-un believes is possible. I also believe that Pyongyang is closer to achieving these objectives than most Americans or South Koreans suspect. Americans underestimate how many South Koreans would willingly sacrifice freedom for the sake of “peace,” or “inter-Korean relations.” Freedom, after all, is as difficult a thing to appreciate as peace unless you’ve lived without it. But if you think that sacrifice would prevent war, keep reading.

One waypoint toward Pyongyang’s objective is sanctions relief from Seoul. This is not just for the primary economic benefits of, say, reopening Kaesong. Any laxity by Seoul in enforcing U.N. sanctions would have far greater secondary benefits for Pyongyang. It would have domino effects in the capitals of North Korea’s arms clients and enablers throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, would create more diplomatic distance between Washington and Seoul, and would break up the global sanctions enforcement coalition-building strategy that had finally taken shape. It would also put Seoul in direct conflict with the Trump administration’s emerging policy, which will emphasize economic pressure. The economic benefits of unearned sanctions relief would help Pyongyang validate its “byungjin” policy by enriching its elites, by showing off its selective prosperity to its sympathizers abroad, and by underwriting its political control over its own “wavering” and “hostile” classes.

Another waypoint is to undermine political support for Seoul’s military alliance with Washington in both capitals. Pyongyang seeks to strain that alliance by raising war fears, and by getting exercises canceled and key weapons systems (read: THAAD, Patriots) withdrawn. It wants to show South Koreans and Americans that this alliance is more risk than it’s worth. If the point comes when the alliance does more to constrain U.S. options and advance them, that time may come sooner than most of us expect.

The war scare that swept through Twitter last week advanced Pyongyang toward that objective. The Pentagon quickly debunked it, and for now, the White House’s strategy is moving toward a well-thought-through list of North Korean industries and targets for sanctions. I could not have said it better than the headline over Grant Newsham’s recent piece for the Asia Times: “Before attacking North Korea, please try everything else.” The subhead to his piece was, “Try sanctions, real sanctions.” (Do read the entire piece.) War talk is not only premature and unnecessary, it’s apt to help bring Pyongyang closer to realizing its political objectives by scaring South Koreans into wanting the U.S. gone.

Maybe some of this war talk is simple disinformation or bad journalism. My fear is that the White House thinks raising the fear of war will put Pyongyang and Beijing off their game and raise our leverage. It needs to understand that a war panic could cost us the confidence of people in Japan and South Korea whose support we’ll need to prevent war. This crisis is scary enough at it is. Turning well-grounded concerns into panic serves no one’s interests but Kim Jong-un’s.

But it is also true that the anti-sanctions / talk-to-North-Korea crowd is, however unintentionally, also contributing to the risk of war. To their credit, most of them are at least honest enough to admit that they no longer believe a negotiated nuclear disarmament of North Korea is possible. They should also be honest enough to admit that accepting North Korea’s nuclear status will lead to a catastrophic war, not peace. A nuclear North Korea will not coexist with us, with South Korea, or with human civilization itself. As Anthony Ruggiero and I recently noted:

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un last month sent assassins to Malaysia to murder his half-brother in a crowded airport terminal with a chemical weapon. Pyongyang has sent assassins abroad to kidnap and kill human rights activists and dissidents, proliferated ballistic missiles, and sold weapons — including man-portable surface-to-air missiles — to terrorists and their sponsors. It attacked South Korea twice in 2010: sinking a warship and shelling a fishing village, which killed 50 of its citizens. The hermit kingdom is a state sponsor of terrorism, even in the absence of a formal designation: it has helped Syria use chemical weapons against its own people, and attacked our freedom of expression with terrorist threats against movie theaters across the United States.

Nor can the U.S. invest its hopes in talks alone. Pyongyang insists that it will neither freeze nor dismantle its nuclear and missile programs. U.S. envoys have met with their North Korean counterparts during almost every year in the last decade, yet failed to induce Pyongyang to return to disarmament talks. In 2012, President Obama finally secured Pyongyang’s agreement to freeze its nuclear and missile programs. Two weeks later, Pyongyang reneged.

I might add that in 2007, North Korea secretly built a nuclear reactor in a part of Syria now controlled by ISIS. There is no compromise, no half-surrender, no piece of paper that will secure peace and prevent war without Pyongyang’s disarmament and without fundamental humanitarian reforms. As long as Pyongyang possesses weapons of mass destruction, and as long as its model of survival is based on terror and secrecy, it will still pose an existential threat to the United States, to Americans’ freedom of speech, and to the security of the entire world. As the Sony cyber terrorist threat, the Bangladesh Bank theft, and the horrors in Syria have shown us, North Korea isn’t just a Korean problem, it is, as President Trump said recently, “a humanity problem.” If you really think the solution to this is as simple as “talk to them,” at least review the record on just how many times President Obama and his predecessors tried to do exactly that.

That’s why, in the medium term, the U.S. may well decide that it must strike first to prevent a direct North Korean nuclear threat to the American people. The more Washington trusts Seoul, the more value it sees in maintaining an alliance with Seoul to help disarm Pyongyang peacefully, and the less likely war is. The less Washington trusts Seoul, the less certain it is whose side Seoul is on, and the less certain it is that a warning to Seoul wouldn’t also be a tip-off to Pyongyang, the less likely President Trump is to warn Seoul of a preemptive strike. You don’t have to tell me the risks of this. There are people in South Korea I love. Not that it should matter; the people on both sides of the DMZ who would suffer are human beings. We should want all of them to have a chance not only to survive, but also to live.

[Korean refugees flee south, 1950. This photo, by Max Desfor, won a Pulitzer Prize.]

There are times when I suspect that it requires a Ph.D. to harbor the madness that we can ever have peace with a “responsible” nuclear North Korea. Thankfully, the first 2,000 names in the telephone directory have a firmer grasp on reality than this. Only 35 percent of them support preemptive strikes, but just 11 percent of them support the idea of accepting that North Korea will keep building nukes. Overwhelming majorities want us to enforce sanctions (80 percent) and continue our diplomatic efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear program (81 percent). They hold uniformly dim views of North Korea (78 percent “unfavorable” and 61 percent “very unfavorable”). Majorities are “very concerned” about North Korea having nuclear weapons (65 percent) but would still support the use of force if an Asian ally got into a “serious conflict” with North Korea (64 percent).

Each week that passes diminishes our chances to prevent another war in Korea. There is no more time to be wasted on the palliative policies of engagement and talks that have produced no positive results, and which have done so much to bring us to the present crisis by paying Pyongyang to nuke up. For now, there is no chance that talks will achieve our key aim of disarming Pyongyang, but it would be a grave error to rule out talks entirely, because the time will come when diplomacy will be essential to preventing war. If sanctions and political subversion bring Pyongyang to the point where it fears (and Beijing also fears) that its regime will collapse — and to achieve the necessary pressure to disarm Pyongyang, they must — then we must leave Pyongyang a diplomatic escape that, while distasteful to it (and in some regards, to us) is still preferable to war. But for now, our choice increasingly comes down to making sanctions work or accepting that war is inevitable.

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The U.N. Human Rights Council needs reform (again)

Again, the idea of a U.S. withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council is under consideration. Americans, especially American conservatives, tend to fixate on the Council’s fixation with Israel. For reasons I’ll make clear enough below, that fixation is not just silly, it’s cynical. Still, I think leaving the HRC just yet would be a big mistake. I might have answered that question differently ten years ago, before the U.N. Commission of Inquiry proved that the HRC is capable of doing good and altering the global consensus in ways that not only have the potential to help the people of North Korea, but to do so in ways that also align with our own interests (a point I’ll return to below). Before that, I couldn’t have argued that the HRC’s influence was, on the whole, positive, or even potentially positive. Institutions like the HRC require careful tending. Without it, they become worse than useless. If you wonder what I mean, read this resolution. Once I’d read about it, I was glad we had at least threatened to leave:

In a resolution (A/HRC/34/L.14) on human rights and unilateral coercive measures, adopted by a vote of 32 in favour, 14 against and zero abstentions, the Council calls upon all States to stop adopting, maintaining or implementing unilateral coercive measures not in accordance with international law, international humanitarian law, the Charter of the United Nations and the norms and principles governing peaceful relations among States; and rejects all attempts to introduce unilateral coercive measures, as well as the increasing trend in this direction, including through the enactment of laws with extraterritorial application. The Council requests the High Commissioner, in discharging his functions in relation to the promotion and protection of human rights, to pay due attention and to give urgent consideration to the present resolution; and also requests the High Commissioner to organize for the thirty-sixth session of the Council the biennial panel discussion on the issue of unilateral coercive measures and human rights, and prepare a report on the panel discussion for submission and presentation to the Council at its thirty-seventh session.

In English, that means that governments should not sanction other governments for human rights abuses unless all members of the Security Council (including China and Russia) agree. The votes:

In favour (32): Bangladesh, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

Against (14): Albania, Belgium, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Netherlands, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and United States of America.

The HRC’s fixation with Israel is only a symptom of the deeper problem. This vote is much more probative of what the deeper problem is — the Council’s (lack of) membership standards, and the hostility of many of its members to the very idea of holding abusers accountable. In many cases, sanctions are the only way despots can be held accountable in the short term. That hostility isn’t hard to explain when you realize that the HRC’s current members include Bolivia, China, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and numerous other states that should never pass a Universal Periodic Review. As they taught us to say in lawyer school at such moments, res ipsa loquitur.

Liberals who value the U.N. as an institution must acknowledge this for what it is: a cynical takeover of a human rights institution by some of the world’s most despotic states, which seek to sit in judgment over their betters. The issue that underlies all of the HRC’s troubling votes is who is allowed to sit on the HRC at all. Beneath that issue, in turn, must be the establishment of basic standards for membership. After all, the despot’s favorite strategy against his critics is moral equivalence — to obliterate the meaning of human rights standards by equating every sin with every other sin. If all sins are equal, and if all states commit sins, then China and Saudi Arabia are qualified to fill the HRC’s agenda with resolutions condemning Switzerland for conditions in its immigration detention centers, or Israel for walling out bus bombers. Then, the HRC becomes a parody of itself. Such an institution is not only not worth having, it’s worse than nothing. When we reach that point, it’s time for some careful tending and hard bargaining, including threats to withdraw.

In America, there is a long-standing argument between so-called “realists” and Wilsonians over the proper role of human rights in our foreign policy. So-called “realists” tend to advocate for the U.S. doing whatever supports its immediate, short-term interest, but when that involves supporting despotic regimes, “realism” comes with long-term costs. Anyone who has lived in South Korea knows how anti-Americans have fetishized every difficult or flat-out wrong choice the U.S. has made during its long (and overwhelmingly beneficent) involvement there. But the opposite can also be true.

I believe that it is usually in our long-term interest to take the side of persecuted peoples, because people tend to have long memories about who supported them in their darkest days. A case in point here is one of the states that voted against the cynical resolution I cited above, and one we seldom hear about: Albania. (Our successes are seldom as well-publicized as our failures.) Once one of the world’s most despotic states, Albania now enjoys friendly relations with the United States. Pro-American sentiment is strong, largely because its people remember the U.S. role in ending the slaughter in Kosovo. It can’t hurt, either, that former dictator Enver Hoxha often demonized the United States. As a partial consequence of this favorable publicity, Albania has become a valuable ally. While not a perfect democracy, it has evolved rapidly into a representative government with regular free elections. Its human development index has risen steadily in recent years, to the point where it is now considered a middle-income country. Albania is an example of a nation whose favorable memories of U.S. intervention paid long-term dividends by creating a friendly government that pursues friendly policies, and whose people are far better off than they were under a previous hostile and oppressive regime.

How we use our influence at institutions like the HRC and the Security Council can be an important instrument of our national power to advance those interests. Time has convinced me that there is no universally correct answer to the argument between self-described realists and Wilsonians. Not every society (case in point, Egypt) is presently capable of self-government. In such places, forcing an immediate transition to Jeffersonian democracy can only end in one form of despotism or another. Yet even in those places, our objective should be to use whatever influence we have to catalyze the evolution of a society, to prepare it for self-government as quickly as its economic, educational, and cultural conditions allow.

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North Korea calls U.S. Ambassador to U.N. “a political prostitute,” usual suspects fall silent

The regime that called President Obama a “wicked black monkey” and an “ugly subhuman,” and called Justice Michael Kirby “a disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality,” has responded to Ambassador Nikki Haley’s statement at the U.N. last week that Kim Jong-un was not rational:

KCNA Commentary Brands U.S. Representative at UN as Political Prostitute

    Pyongyang, March 11 (KCNA) — The U.S. representative at the UN Haley known for her capricious political savvy has now gone helter-skelter.

    At a press conference on March 8 that followed a session of the UN Security Council on discussing measures to counter the DPRK’s ballistic rocket launch, she said they are not dealing with a man of reason, meant the supreme leadership of the DPRK, not content with such words as “blame” and “no negotiations”.

    Her wild words are just sophism of political and diplomatic half-wit devoid of the ability to analyze and judge things and express oneself.

    She is no more than a crafty woman who rose to the post of representing the U.S. at the international body for her worldly wisdom and disguise.

(Update: Come for the sexism, stay for the racism!)

    In the past she posed herself as a white for her political purpose and at the 2010 election of state governor she was fined for hiding the case of lobbying only to be branded as political swindler and criminal.

    She is pointed as a political prostitute even from ordinary people for her chameleon-like nature.

    At the presidential election last year she opposed the present owner of the White House, saying that certain is the point that no support will be given, and flattered Rubio, key election rival, saying only when he is elected, every day will be pleasant.

    But no sooner had the present chief executive taken office than she twisted his arm to sending her to the UN to represent the U.S. She is, for sure, a matchless political prostitute.

    She has only pursued successful career and financial benefits, with no heed given to conscience and morality. Now she has become an idiot unable to judge whether it is realistic and reasonable or not to trumpet about the “north Korea’s denuclearization first”.

    We have no interest in dealing with such human rejects as Haley, wagging her tongue without elementary concept on the reason. -0-

On behalf of Gloria Steinem, Christine Ahn, Code Pink, and Women Cross DMZ, who were not available for comment, I condemn this vile sexism. Still, on occasions like these, North Korea becomes a useful reagent for separating liberals from the alt-left. To liberals, tolerance and the rejection of racism, sexism, and homophobia are among the highest social imperatives. The alt-left wields these imperatives as cudgels, but invariably falls silent when a totalitarian enemy of America offends them.

The North Koreans might have offered a better criticism of Haley by pointing out — without the use of nasty, sexist language — that she was muted in her criticism of Donald Trump when his most offensive statement about women came to light (for which, it must be said, Trump offered some form of apology for the first time in his campaign). One might attribute Haley’s response to partisanship or opportunism. One might also say that for Haley, as for most Americans, last November was about choosing which candidate she disliked less. (That Haley expressed this openly certainly wasn’t partisan, and may or may not have been opportunistic, depending on your interpretation.)

The fact that Gloria Steinem isn’t running for office, and that Ahn and the Code Pink crowd know they’re on the political fringe here in America, doesn’t mean that their silence isn’t its own form of opportunism. It’s just that their opportunistic silence is meant to avoid disfavor in another capital, in another hemisphere. Yet by their selective silence, they again show their hypocrisy and their tolerance of intolerance. Some of them seem to define themselves by their hatred of America, which they reveal by associating themselves with its most repugnant enemies. Others may be simply deluded. In all cases, all that is necessary for misogyny to triumph is for women to fall silent. Yet in the end, there is no equivalence here. You have every right to hate what Donald Trump said about women, but if you have a shred of principle in you, you should hate what North Korea does to women far more.

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Yay, it happened! Jim Rogers got burned by hyping North Korea!

And just like that, crackpot investment advisor Jim Rogers joins the distinguished company of Hyundai Asan, Volvo, Yang Bin, David Chang and Robert Torricelli, Chung Mong-Hun, Roh Jeong-ho, and Orascom’s Naguib Sawaris, all of whom won Darwin Awards in North Korea. I’ve previously written about Rogers and his enthusiasm for North Korea and its worthless currency. That OFK post caught the eye of a New York Times reporter, who has just published a story on the relationship between Rogers and his self-described business partner, a Chinese entity called Unaforte:

“It’s very exciting. The kid has been opening up North Korea,” Mr. Rogers said in an interview, referring to Kim Jong-un, the country’s ruler.

But North Korea can be a murky place to tread — as Mr. Rogers’s experience shows.

A Hong Kong company called Unaforte that is involved in several North Korean businesses named Mr. Rogers as a shareholder a year ago, according to a corporate filing. Investing in a North Korean business like that would probably violate American sanctions if it happened now, though experts say it was legal at the time. [NYT, Patrick Boehler & Ryan McMorrow]

In this case, “experts” means me. Rogers’s investment came just a month before President Obama signed Executive Order 13722, which imposed sectoral sanctions on North Korea’s transportation, mining, energy, and financial services industries. That E.O. was enough to drive investor and fund manager James Passin out of North Korea. Before that, however, our threadbare North Korea sanctions probably didn’t prohibit what Rogers did. Still, staying one step ahead of the law doesn’t mean one isn’t stepping in something.

Mr. Rogers said he gave Unaforte $100 as a token of good will but never expected that it would name him as a shareholder. Asked about his stake in the company in October, he interrupted an interview with The New York Times to call Unaforte and told the English-speaking sister of its founder that the company had agreed he could not be a shareholder.

Speaking into his phone, Mr. Rogers said, “I know I have told you, ‘Never, never, never.’”

Unaforte no longer lists Mr. Rogers as a shareholder in its filings but will not release shareholder records that might show more details about the shares given to Mr. Rogers. Officials at Hong Kong’s corporate registry said they were investigating whether Unaforte is complying with the city’s disclosure laws. Unaforte did not respond to emailed questions for comment. [NYT]

The Times chronicles how Rogers quickly distanced himself from Unaforte once its reporters started asking questions (“I make speeches for hundreds of people.”). At one time, Unaforte featured Rogers prominently in its promotional materials. Its founder, Zhao Chunhui, calls himself “Jim Rogers’s business partner in China.” Then, a Unaforte website marketing its North Korea investments — a bank, an office park, and a stake in a gold mine — “went offline after The Times began to ask about its businesses.” On March 17, 2016, two days after President Obama signed EO 13722, Rogers wrote to Unaforte, asking “that it return his $100 and take back an unspecified number of shares.”

To make matters worse, Unaforte also drew a mention in the latest report of the U.N. Panel of Experts, for setting up a bank in the Rason Special Economic Zone. Sorry, my WordPress installation doesn’t read hanja:

221. A Hong Kong, China, company, Unaforte (?????????), with a Yanbian branch (?????) established the First Eastern Bank (????) in Rason in 2014 as a subordinate enterprise to provide financial support and loans to Chinese investors in mining and real estate projects in Rason (see annex 15-11). The bank is licensed by the Central Bank of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (see annex 15-12) and provides loans to Chinese individuals and companies in the Rason area. In its promotional materials, Unaforte claims: “The [First Eastern] Bank is fully independent and does not require proof of identity. It is not subject to the jurisdiction of China or [the] Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and is not required to report to the Chinese government or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea government!” (see annex 15-13). The Panel notes that foreign nationals holding accounts in banks of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would be a violation under resolution 2321 (2016).

Under sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council last year, the Far Eastern Bank must now be closed. Specifically, Paragraph 31 of UNSCR 2321, adopted on 30 November 2016, requires Member States to close all existing representative offices, subsidiaries or banking accounts in the DPRK within 90 days. UNSCR 2270, paragraph 33, requires Member States to “prohibit in their territories the opening and operation of new branches, subsidiaries, and representative offices of DPRK banks,” to “prohibit financial institutions within their territories or subject to their jurisdiction from establishing new joint ventures,” except with a U.N. Committee’s advance approval, and requires member states “to close such existing branches, subsidiaries and representative offices, and also to terminate such joint ventures [and] ownership interests.”

Previously, Leo Byrne of NK News also reported on Unaforte’s exports of gold jewelry to Hawaii. The gold was allegedly mined in North Korea; thus, exports to the U.S. could have violated a 2011 executive order prohibiting imports from North Korea, except pursuant to a Treasury Department license. Rogers comes across looking like a fool, a charlatan, and a generally amoral person, but from a strictly legal perspective, not even he can be faulted for ex-post facto sanctions violations. There’s no evidence that Rogers knew of the gold jewelry exports to the U.S., but if he did, that might be his greatest legal risk.

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U.N. report: SWIFT banking network violated North Korea asset freeze

Since last year, this blog has covered SWIFT’s continued provision of financial messaging services to North Korean banks, despite suspicions that North Korea was involved in stealing almost $100 million from the Bangladesh Bank by hacking into SWIFT’s messaging software. Later, I wrote about an effort in the last Congress to ban North Korean banks from SWIFT, mirroring a sanction that was one of our most effective measures against Iran. SWIFT is effectively the postal service of the financial system, sending instructions between banks to credit and debit accounts to facilitate payments. Losing SWIFT access makes it slow, costly, and inefficient for a bank to operate.

The U.N. Panel of Experts’ latest report, released over the weekend, now confirms that SWIFT continued to provide services to three North Korean banks — Bank of East Land, Korea Daesong Bank, and Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation, the object of this recent Justice Department indictment — long after those banks were designated by the U.N. and the U.S. Treasury Department. Worse, the Belgian government authorized that. Generally speaking, both sets of designations require the freezing of any of the target’s assets, and prohibit any action that facilitates the target’s transfer of property or interests in property.

248. In response to inquiries by the Panel, SWIFT confirmed to the Belgian authorities that it provided financial messaging services to designated banks of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. As part of its procedure for doing so, SWIFT requests authorization from the Government to receive the moneys owed for the services. Upon receipt of such authorization, SWIFT receives payment for its services from the designated banks.  The payments are then entered in its books and recorded as revenue. The Belgian authorities have authorized SWIFT to receive the amounts set out in tables 13 and 14 from designated banks in exchange for the provision of financial messaging services, the provision of the SWIFT handbook, training in the use of the SWIFT network and maintenance costs.

SWIFT stopped providing services to four other North Korean banks — Amroggang Development Banking Corporation, Daedong Credit Bank, Tanchon Commercial Bank, and Korea United Development Bank — not because SWIFT was even minimally principled, but because “those banks themselves requested SWIFT to do so.”

Paragraph 8(d) of UNSCR 1718 requires all Member States, and all persons subject to their jurisdiction, to “ensure that any funds, financial assets or economic resources are prevented from being made available by their nationals or by any persons or entities within their territories, to or for the benefit of” designated entities. The whole point of financial messaging services is to make economic resources available. I can’t for the life of me see how financial messaging on behalf of designated North Korean banks is anything but a clear violation of 1718.

The unavoidable fact of SWIFT messaging is that it enables banks to effect financial transfers. Thus, messaging services that facilitate designated banks’ financial transactions violate a Member State’s duty (in this case, Belgium’s) to “prevent” the funds “from being made available” to designated entities, per paragraph 8(d) of UNSCR 1718 (2006), paragraph 11 of UNSCR 2094 (2013), and paragraph 10 of UNSCR 2270 (2016). To authorize the acceptance of payment from designated DPRK entities would permit those entities to purchase goods and services and access the global economy, which would contravene the plain meaning of an asset freeze. That’s exactly what Belgium and SWIFT did here. Bear in mind that last summer, the Justice Department indicted Dandong Hongxiang for using an off-the-books ledger system to move funds for one of the very same banks.

Then, there is the question of whether SWIFT provided “financial services” to North Korean banks. In relevant part, Paragraph 11 of UNSCR 2094 requires Member States to “prevent the provision of financial services . . . by their nationals or entities organized under their laws . . . of any financial or other assets or resources . . . that could contribute to” activities prohibited by the Security Council’s resolutions. By citing Paragraph 8 (d) of UNSCR 1718 (2006), this provision specifically applies to entities that have been designated by the Security Council.

Now, I take it that SWIFT’s highly-paid lawyers and lobbyists (at least, more highly paid than me) have gone to great lengths to persuade people that financial messaging services aren’t “financial services.” In paragraph 249 of the Panel’s report, Belgium cites domestic and EU law to that effect. At best, that’s a valiant effort to make chicken salad from chicken shit. To its credit, the Panel didn’t buy that, although it focused on a different angle — the receipt of fees by SWIFT from North Korean banks.

The Panel notes that, in the absence of a determination by the Committee that these payments fall under the exemptions in paragraphs 9 (a) and/or (b) of resolution 1718 (2006), the receipt of funds from a designated entity is a violation of the asset freeze pursuant to paragraph 8 (d) of resolution 1718 (2006) and paragraphs 8 and 11 of resolution 2094 (2013).

Myself, I’m much less concerned about the minuscule fees SWIFT received — a few thousand dollars — than the (undoubtedly, much larger) sums SWIFT’s messaging services helped those designated banks to move.

With U.N. resolutions, we’re lucky if many states’ officials read them at all. For the resolutions to have any chance to work as intended, thousands of officials in hundreds of member states have to interpret and apply them consistently. Not all of those officials are banking lawyers. Pedantic interpretations of resolutions that fly in the face of their plain meaning are a recipe for exceptionalism. That’s what happens when a Member State’s interpretation of its domestic law is allowed to contravene the plain meaning and purpose of the resolutions.

Belgium, of all places, now finds itself cast as a unilateralist rogue state defying U.N. resolutions and flirting with money laundering. Given SWIFT’s influence on both sides of the Atlantic, it probably saw itself as above the law. There is nothing on SWIFT’s website reacting to that revelation at the time of posting. But with the truth of SWIFT’s enabling of dirty North Korean banks now revealed, it’s hard for me to believe that it will be business as usual. At a bare minimum, I’d expect SWIFT to disconnect the three designated banks. The next move may well be up to Congress. For SWIFT, that’s a lot of risk to take to feed the hand that bites them.

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Update:

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