Archive for Appeasement

Max Fisher’s criticism of the Sunshine Policy is spot-on

Washington Post alumnus Max Fisher, now writing at Vox, presents a graph and data showing how, despite all of its abhorrent behavior, North Korea’s trade (most of it with China and South Korea) has grown, and how that leads to more abhorrent behavior.

The way it’s supposed to work is that North Korea’s belligerence, aggression, and horrific human rights abuses lead the world to isolate it economically, imposing a punishing cost and deterring future misdeeds. What’s actually happening is that North Korea is being rewarded with more trade, which is still extremely small, but growing nonetheless, enriching and entrenching the ruling Kim Jong Un government, even as it expands its hostile nuclear and missile programs. [….]

But it turned out that North Korea was just exploiting the Sunshine Policy as a con. The greatest symbol of this was the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a big production center just on the North Korean side of the border, where South Korean companies and managers contract with North Korean workers. The idea was that this daily contact would ease cultural tension and that the shared commercial interests would give the countries a reason to cooperate. In practice, though, the North Korean government stole most of the workers’ wages, big South Korean corporations exploited the ultra-cheap labor to increase profits, and North Korea didn’t ease its hostility one iota.

The Sunshine Policy ended in 2007, correctly rejected as a failure by South Korean voters. But the trade continued, as did the work at Kaesong. South Korean corporations, which have even more political power there than do American corporations in the US, have come to enjoy this trade as a source of revenue and cheap labor, and push to maintain it. That drop you see in 2013 is actually because North Korea shut down Kaesong for a time as a political provocation — it was the South Koreans, paradoxically, who wanted to reopen the facility that directly funds the North Korean weapons occasionally used to kill South Koreans. [Vox, Max Fisher]

Those South Korean corporate profiteers have since allied themselves with “progressive activists,” who vary from the anti-anti-North Korean to the pro-North Korean, to call on President Park to lift sanctions on the North. It must be the most unlikely alliance since 1939.

I’m not sure how Fisher’s analysis of the problem could have been better, unless he’d driven home the point that the Sunshiners justified their policy by predicting that this preferential trade would catalyze economic reform and liberalize North Korean society. Clearly, that hasn’t happened; in fact, I could make a strong case that the opposite is closer to the truth. In their desperation to catalyze reform, Sunshiners have perpetuated the status quo instead.

PUST’s un-Christian attacks on Suki Kim

Ms. Kim’s recollections about PUST and North Korea have obvious public interest value for citizens and policymakers, but it’s hard to believe she told us much that an astute observer wouldn’t have guessed anyway. I think the most valuable thing Suki Kim may have taught us is how invested those who “engage” Pyongyang become in imposing a code of omerta to conceal the truth from us, regardless of the ethical cost.

But the author, Suki Kim, may have provoked even more anger among the university’s Christian educators. They have denounced Ms. Kim for breaking a promise not to write anything about her experiences and said her memoir contains inaccuracies, notably her portrayal of them as missionaries, which could cause them trouble with the North Korean authorities. [….]

Dr. Kim sent her what she described as a series of angry and distressed emails when he found out about her plans to publish the book. At least two of her former fellow teachers also wrote, imploring her to scrap the idea.

In a telephone interview from China, Dr. Kim sought to rebut the entire book.

“I am really upset about the attitude, her writings, her telling lies, her cheating us,” he said.

He was especially critical of what he called the erroneous assertion that the other teachers were missionaries. “We are educators,” he said.

If the North Korean authorities thought that the school was seeking to convert the students to Christianity, Dr. Kim said, “we would have trouble.”

“They know we are Christian, we do not hide that,” he said. “But we are not missionaries. Christians and missionaries are different.” [N.Y. Times]

As you analyze whether any “engagement” project with North Korea is beneficial, ask yourself who changed who. The evidence that PUST has made Pyongyang more like America is far from clear, but it’s very clear that the PUST administration has taken on some very North Korean characteristics.

I must put Miss Kim’s book on my list now.

Kirby: “strategy of non-criticism” gained only “crumbs” for Japan, S. Korea

In an op-ed for CNN.com, Michael Kirby talks about North Korea’s crimes against humanity, the history of the U.N.’s attempts to “engage” Pyongyang on human rights, and the broader failure of strategies that sought to transform North Korea though scented candles, mood lighting, and Marvin Gaye music alone:

The strategy of non-criticism, attempted friendliness and deference was singularly unsuccessful in securing either the goal of peace, national reunification or human rights compliance. For example, the meetings in Pyongyang in September 2002 with Japan’s prime minister at the time, Junichiro Koizumi, and in September 2000 with then-President Kim Dae-Jong of ROK, were not long-term substantive successes.

In the case of the Japanese prime minister, a tiny number of abductees were returned with an acknowledgment of a state policy of abductions by the DPRK that was said to have been abandoned. However, when the bones of some of the Japanese abductees, said to have died in DPRK, were returned to Japan, they were found to have no DNA match to the families of the abductees. In some cases they were probably animal bones — an affront to Japan and to the abductees’ families.

Negotiations with ROK actually coincided with the clandestine development of nuclear weapons at the very time of the promotion of the “Sunshine Policy” by President Kim.

Whilst such strategies are sometimes rewarded by minor concessions, objectively such measures can only be assessed as “crumbs” when measured against the violations and international crimes reported by the COI. [Michael Kirby, CNN]

These days, true liberals sound like neocons when it comes to North Korea. In America, most of those who still keep faith with the discredited and unrealistic premises behind the Sunshine Policy are hard-left progressives, or people who call themselves “realists.”

Kirby appeals to China and Russia to support the recommendations of the U.N. General Assembly and refer Kim Jong Un’s regime to the International Criminal Court:

Unlike earlier totalitarian states and oppressive conduct, the world cannot now lament, “if only we had known…” Now, the world does know. And the question is whether the world will respond effectively and take the necessary action. [….]

The world has therefore reached a moment of truth over DPRK. The international community and people everywhere will be watching closely the United Nations’ consideration of the COI report. I am hopeful that the outcome will be positive.

The human rights of the people of DPRK demand it. The peace and security of the Korean peninsula and its region require it.

If When China does veto a Security Council resolution, the world’s civilized nations must do more than shrug their shoulders helplessly. They should be ready to move on to a discussion of alternatives, including financial isolation, travel bans on regime officials, and a special tribunal under the authority of the General Assembly. My friend, Professor Sung-Yoon Lee, adds this:

“High-profile actions at the U.N. that pit China and the DPRK on one side against the ‘civilized’ nations of the world on the other have implications on how states and multinational corporations conduct trade and business with the DPRK,” he said.

“Divestiture was a powerful tool the world used against South Africa’s apartheid regime. Likewise, deterring European states and companies from selling North Korea luxury goods in violation of several UNSC resolutions can only put pressure on the Kim regime.” [CNN]

Perhaps the most important role Justice Kirby can play is to keep this issue in the public eye, and to impose political and reputational costs on Pyongyang and its enablers.

Claudia Rosett hopes the Obama Administration won’t screw up Iran …

policy with a bad deal the same way the Clinton and Bush Administrations screwed up North Korea policy with their own bad deals. Rosett isn’t the only one making the comparison:

“Like North Korea in the 1990s, Iran will use a weak deal as cover to get nuclear weapons,” said Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, a prominent skeptic of the negotiations. [CNN]

The historical record yields little cause for optimism, and the common thread that runs through much of that record is Wendy Sherman. In an exquisite understatement, CNN says that President Obama wants a nuclear deal with Iran to burnish his legacy because he “lacks a defining foreign policy triumph.”

No doubt, George W. Bush was thinking the same thing in February 2007, and I doubt that Bush’s presidential library devotes much space to Agreed Framework II. That may help explain why most observers agree that Obama isn’t about to stick his neck out for Agreed Framework III, and why the President himself shows no interest in doing so. If his policy shifts, it will shift in the opposite direction, either at Congress’s initiative or (ironically) the U.N.’s.

If the shape of the Iran debate is any indication of where the North Korea debate is headed, the Republican takeover in the Senate suggests that Congress will be skeptical about agreements and more active on sanctions legislation. Whether you believe that Congress will push North Korea policy depends on whether you believe Yonhap’s American experts, who say nothing will change, or the Joongang Ilbo‘s sources in the Korean foreign policy establishment, who worry that “[s]anctions on the North could be tightened.” As if that’s a bad thing.

The actual answer will depend on events. If Kim Jong Un does something stupid enough, or if U.N. action builds a big enough head of steam, Congress will put a bill on the President’s desk. The President probably won’t veto it, but the real question will be whether he enforces it.

Chris Hill’s North Korea legacy in three concise paragraphs

Here, via Yonhap, where Hill takes credit for the idea of blowing up the cooling tower at Yongbyon.

The North’s destruction of the cooling tower briefly raised hopes for real progress in the six-party talks aimed at ending the North’s nuclear program, but the negotiating process later reached a deadlock over how to verify the North’s declaration of nuclear materials, facilities and activities.

In exchange for blowing up the tower, the North was removed from the U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism. Six-party talks were convened one more time later in 2008, but the negotiations have since been stalled. That has reinforced criticism that Pyongyang abuses the negotiations only to win concessions.

Since then, the North has conducted two more nuclear tests, in 2009 and 2012,* as well as a series of long-range rocket launches in an effort to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland with nuclear warheads.

If only he could have snuck in a reference to those scantily clad women enriching uranium.

I guess when you have as much in your career to defend as Hill does, you’re eventually going to have a write a book, but judging by this sample, Hill’s diplomatic legacy will still exceed his literary talents.

The high-level calls had another unhelpful impact on our efforts. They became part of the toolbox, meaning that whenever there was an impasse on the ground, the idea of ginning up a telephone call quickly emerged on the to-do list. Senior phone calls also had still another negative impact on our efforts: Washington bureaucrats went operational. Thus we began to receive missives offering such nuggets of advice as “Never ignore Hashimi!” Of course, we had been in regular contact with him, but he wasn’t the great hope that some of these veterans of the early years had thought. Some of the Washington micromanagement extended to offering me advice as to who from the embassy I should bring along for meetings with Maliki and others. It all added up to an impression that Washington wanted out of Iraq. [Politico]

That Hill’s paragraphs are dangling, forced-together assemblies of mismatched bits of plastic and surface-printed particle board isn’t a bad metaphor for his Ikea diplomacy with North Korea. Like Ikea, Hill’s products look just fine until you scratch them, and hold up well enough as long as no one tries to climb or stand on them.

By the way, has anyone noticed that the same administration that couldn’t convince Nuri Maliki to sign a SOFA agreement a few years ago was able to push him completely out of office and choose his successor this year? (It deserves some credit for the latter achievements, amid the larger disaster it helped create.) Also, am I the only one who wonders whether our soldiers in Iraq are covered by a SOFA today?

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* This is an error. It’s actually 2013. I notified the reporter, who posted a correction.

What Bob King should have said about travel to North Korea.

Ambassador Robert King, whose title is Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, has written to The Washington Post in response to Anna Fifield’s reporting on North Korea’s efforts to market itself as a tourist destination (which may be more accurately described as the efforts of foreign collaborators to sell North Korea as a fine place to go slumming).

King wishes that Fifield had given more emphasis to what should be obvious to anyone with good sense — that “[t]ravel to North Korea carries significant risks.” Fifield’s separate report on Matthew Miller’s “trial,” however, ought to have made that point clear enough; indeed, it recounts the history of North Korea’s hostage diplomacy in greater detail than King’s letter does. Unfortunately, to people without good sense, those risks are a feature, not a bug.

King argues that the actions of Matthew Miller, Jeffrey Fowle, and Kenneth Bae would not have warranted arrest in any ordinary place, and they “are being used by North Korea for propaganda purposes.” If that message was meant for Americans, again, he was stating the obvious. A more effective message might have been, “If you go, you’re on your own.”

If King’s message was meant for Pyongyang, it was probably received like an enfeebled appeal to Kim Jong Un’s sense of fair play. And if Pyongyang was not King’s intended audience, why would he have said this?

If North Korea wants to increase tourism, particularly from U.S. tourists, it must reduce the risk of traveling there. Granting clemency to those three Americans would be a start.

If what? In the same spirit, if ISIS wants to improve the quality of its media relations, not chopping the heads off journalists on video would be a start.

When Congress created King’s position, it gave him a very specific mandate, and that mandate did not include serving as a special advisor to the Pyongyang Chamber of Commerce. It does include supporting “international efforts to promote human rights and political freedoms in North Korea,” a topic never even came up in King’s letter. If King had wanted to send a powerful and effective message to American citizens and to Pyongyang that was consistent with his mandate, he would have argued that tourists who go to North Korea help sustain a system that murders, starves, and terrorizes the North Korean people. In suggesting how Americans should respond to that, he might have taken his direction from Desmond Tutu, who said,

“In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime.”

… or from Martin Luther King, Jr., who said,

Any solution founded on justice is unattainable until the Government of South Africa is forced by pressures, both internal and external, to come to terms with the demands of the non-white majority. The apartheid republic is a reality today only because the peoples and governments of the world have been unwilling to place her in quarantine.”

… and who also said,

“We can join in the one form of non-violent action that could bring freedom and justice to South Africa – the action which African leaders have appealed for – in a massive movement for economic sanctions […] If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil; if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for that racial tyranny, then apartheid would be brought to an end. Then the majority of South Africans of all races could at last build the shared society they desire.”

In South Africa, a system of racial apartheid determined, based on hereditary characteristics, where and how a person lived. In North Korea, a system of political apartheid called songbun determines, based on hereditary characteristics, not only where and how a person lives, but also whether a person lives at all, because a North Korean’s songbun is often determinative of whether he or she receives food rations, wages, medical care, and a job with safe working conditions (start at page 75).

Certainly much of what gave the opposition to apartheid its popular appeal was its racism, our own guilt about racism, and our desire to earn a degree of absolution from that guilt. Say what you will about apartheid — and even in its waning days, it was a revolting thing to witness — but I doubt that even John Vorster would have compared the President of the United States to a monkey or killed babies because they were suspected of being racially “impure.”

The other main difference between South Africa and North Korea is that South Africa sat on top of some of the world’s largest diamond, platinum, and gold deposits. North Korea exports coal, pine mushrooms, meth, and refugees. It sustains itself on its fragile links to the global financial system. Whose hub is in New York City.

Instead of using his voice to articulate a vision and strategy for carrying out his mandate, however, King has squandered much of his tenure angling to go to Pyongyang to plead for the release of Miller, Fowle, Bae, and other hostages. King is supposed to “engage in discussions with North Korean officials regarding human rights,” but he’s not a hostage negotiator — or for that matter, an issuer of travel advisories, or just another cog in the East Asia Bureau. When King is reduced to being any of these things, Pyongyang has succeeded at more than taking three Americans hostage. It has taken what should be an important part of the Obama Administration’s North Korea policy hostage, too, and effectively neutralized both King and his mandate. Who says terrorism doesn’t work?

Perhaps the question of what King discusses in Pyongyang is academic anyway, as North Korea doesn’t seem interested in talking to him about anything.

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Are the North Koreans just assholes, or do they have a strategy? Assistant Secretary of State Danny Russel is almost certainly correct when he says of Pyongyang, “This is the way that they play…. They use human beings, and in this case American citizens, as pawns.” (I swear, there is a word for that sort of thing somewhere.) I don’t doubt that the list of North Korea’s ransom demands is long. Cash, oil, and de facto recognition as a nuclear state probably appear on it. The production of hostage videos for propaganda use, and a longing for the pleasure of Joe Biden’s company, are probably lesser motives.

Pyongyang’s immediate objective, however, is about what’s happening in the U.N. General Assembly now, as the General Assembly considers the report of the Commission of Inquiry for Human Rights in North Korea. In February, that report documented, in extensive detail, North Korea’s crimes against humanity, including the operation of a system of horrific concentration camps. Before this month is over, the General Assembly is scheduled to vote on whether to refer that report to the Security Council. The State Department has begun discussions “with South Korea and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to bring foreign ministers of U.N. member countries” about what to do in response to that report. John Kerry will also participate in those discussions, which is a modestly hopeful sign, assuming that Kerry’s participation isn’t just a half-hearted concession to bipartisan public pressure:

The group of 14 people, who undersigned the letter, included former U.S. Assistant Secretaries of State Morton Abramowitz and Lorne Craner; Victor Cha, chief analyst on Korea at the CSIS; and Roberta Cohen, co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

The group also welcomed the U.S. interest in co-sponsoring a draft resolution on North Korea currently being written by Japan and the European Union, and called on the U.S. to ensure the resolution condemns the North’s human rights violations “in the strongest possible terms.”

They also urged the text contain language urging the Security Council to consider new targeted sanctions against those who are most responsible for crimes against humanity, prioritize the commission’s call for immediate access to North Korea’s prison camps for human rights monitors and humanitarian groups, and endorse the creation of a field-based office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. [Yonhap]

Bob King should be at the front and center of America’s public and private leadership of a global response to the COI’s report, both in the U.N. and elsewhere. Maybe, behind the scenes, he is, but as a public diplomat, he sounds far more concerned about hostage negotiations, and about helping Pyongyang raise its Travelocity ratings. It’s worrisome that the official in charge of leading the administration’s response to North Korea’s crimes against humanity betrays no vision or sense of mission about the concrete terms of that response.

Does Bob King agree with Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King, Jr. that economic pressure is a necessary instrument to change an evil regime that shows no inclination to change — at least for the better — on its own? Or does he believe, despite the risks of travel to North Korea, that tourism to North Korea advances positive change in some meaningful way? I have no idea what he thinks, and if I don’t know, it’s safe bet that almost no one else does, either.

North Korea tries to censor a British TV series

In the case of “The Interview,” North Korea used its Japanese hostages to get to Sony pictures. Now, it’s using its diplomatic relations with Britain to get to “Opposite Number.

Those who “engage” Pyongyang always say they will change it, but Pyongyang always changes them instead.

Obama’s soft line on North Korea sanctions has failed.

AT LEAST ONE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER thinks North Korea has never been nastier to the United States, and if its racist attacks on President Obama aren’t proof enough of that, maybe this message from North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador, Ri Tong-Il, is:

He accused the United States of using its military power to deliberately subvert any dialogue between North and South Korea — which is also a standard North Korean assertion. But in a variant of that theme, he said the American behavior “is reminding us of the historical lasting symptom of a mentally retarded patient.” Asked later to explain the analogy, Mr. Ri said, “The U.S. has been doing it for over six decades on our doorstep.” [N.Y. Times]

I don’t think I’ll ever get over my amazement that North Korea, a flagrant violator of U.N. Security Council resolutions that keeps 100,000 men, women, and children in political prison camps, is a member of the United Nations in good standing.

“Ambassador” Ri also threatened that Pyongyang would continue its nuclear weapons development if the U.S. continues its “threats” against North Korea, and demanded that the Security Council conduct an emergency session to review joint U.S.-South Korean training exercises.

Consider the absurdity of this. It’s the equivalent of Dennis Rodman telling his agent that unless he quits nagging him about going back to rehab, he’ll have no choice but to keep drinking and sue for breach of the peace … in Judge Joe Brown’s court.

Meanwhile, as John Kerry claims credit for keeping North Korea quiet, North Korea continues its quiet progression toward the development of an inter-continental ballistic missile, and a pad to test it from:

Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told reporters Tuesday he believes North Korea has continued to make “steady progress” in both its missile technology and nuclear capability.

So we find ourselves in a place where the sanctions we’ve imposed are woefully insufficient to slow or stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, or to force it to negotiate away its nukes. Our State Department still says it isn’t interested in talks with a North Korea that rejects the premise of nuclear disarmament, and North Korea insists that it isn’t disarming. Intelligence estimates vary on North Korea’s capacity to miniaturize and deliver a nuclear weapon, but time clearly isn’t on our side. We also know that North Korea will sell any weapon it possesses to any willing customer, including helping listed state sponsors of terrorism with their nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

In his inauguration speech, President Obama promised to reach out his hand to rogue states if they would unclench their fists. In the years since then, the President has given North Korea the closest thing there is to immunity from sanctions for its attacks on South Korea, its missile tests, its nuclear tests, its arrests of harmless tourists and tour guides, and its proliferation and weapons smuggling.

I suppose I shouldn’t overstate my point here, because I’ve never seen that much significance in North Korea’s displays of good will or temperamental moderation for external audiences. In fact, my point is that in the North Korean context, gestures and atmospherics mean next to nothing. By now, it should be clear that those who counseled the President that he could move us closer to the realization of our nation’s interests by avoiding confrontation with Pyongyang, and by building a reserve of good toward it have sent him on a fool’s errand. North Korea is never meaner than when, fairly or unfairly, it perceives us to be soft.

Congress marks 20th anniversary of Agreed Framework I, asks how that’s working out

The House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee commemorated the 20th anniversary of Agreed Framework I by calling Ambassadors Glyn Davies and Bob King over for a hearing this afternoon, and it was a tough day for Team Foggy Bottom.

If you want to see how congressional oversight should work — if you want to see a well-informed, well-prepared legislator completely, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantle 20 years of bad policy — then watch Subcommittee Chairman Steve Chabot’s opening statement. Chabot made great use of John Kerry’s description of North Korea as “quiet,” and his critique of State’s obtuse position on North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism was devastating:

Chabot isn’t a mesmerizing speaker, but he’s an effective one, and in the ten years I’ve been watching these things, I don’t know when I’ve ever seen a more effective opening statement. His questions of Ambassador King made it clear that the Administration has done nothing about the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report, and nothing King said suggested that that’s about to change.

Your comedy gold, however, came from Scott Perry of Pennsylvania questioning Ambassador Davies about what everyone but the State Department calls “strategic patience.” Skip to 1:06, where he begins by asking Glyn Davies about what, exactly, he’s accomplished.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Davies’s reaction to this was arrogant and snippy. Perry threw him off-balance, and off his diplomatic demeanor.

If you have time, watch the whole hearing, and strain your ears for any inkling that State has anything to show for its efforts, any confidence in its plans — indeed, any plan at all. Davies, in particular, sounds weary and resigned. They’ve all been running out the clock ever since the Groundhog Day Agreement failed.

Sherman (D-Cal.) was (as always) mercurial, and less hawkish than in the past; Bera (D-Cal.), who ordinarily comes across as very bright, didn’t seem confident in his knowledge of the subject, and Connolly (D-Va.) didn’t get anyeonghasseyeo quite right, but his questions were insightful and penetrating. He tried to get Davies to react to the House’s passage of H.R 1771, but Davies wouldn’t bite.

Members of both parties sounded unimpressed with State’s performance, both on nukes and human rights. The idea we’ve fought for years is that North Korea policy has to be a zero-sum competition between those objectives. But what if State can’t get anything done on either? What Congress saw today was a State Department that ran out of ideas 20 years ago, and that had no record to defend.

The hearing began just as Treasury announced its new round of Chong Chon Gang sanctions, something I at least partially foresaw in this morning’s post (and which I’ll say more about tomorrow). So if even I foresaw it, why couldn’t someone have at least let Davies announce them in his opening statement? Given the strong bi-partisan pressure for tougher sanctions, having that news to deliver might have helped Davies’s day go better.

Update: Yonhap’s take, here.

Nuclear blackmail watch

As Pyongyang may be about to nuke off, and then again may not be, Glyn Davies is pleading for Agreed Framework III.

A U.S. envoy on Tuesday suggested Washington could accept “reversible steps” from North Korea on denuclearization in order to jump-start frozen negotiations.

“What they do, quite frankly, in the initial stages would be perfectly reversible steps that they would take, declaratory steps,” said Glyn Davies, the Obama administration’s special envoy for North Korea policy. He emphasized, however, that Pyongyang could only return to the long-paralyzed six-party process if it accepted the “fundamental premise” that the negotiations were focused on the permanent shuttering of its nuclear weapons program.

If only they had another cooling tower to blow up.

Davies was responding to a reporter’s question on whether the United States was still demanding from Pyongyang concrete proof of its commitment to irreversible denuclearization as a precondition to returning to the negotiations, which also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

“Davies’ answer suggests that if the six-party talks were to begin, the first actions the U.S. and its partners would demand would be aimed at limits that curb the D.P.R.K.’s nuclear and missile potential,” said Daryl Kimball, Arms Control Association executive director, in an email.

Potential reversible steps that the North could take to gain the confidence of other countries could include a pledge to suspend nuclear and missile testing. A stillborn U.S-North Korea agreement reached on Leap Day 2012 involved such a promise of a testing moratorium; Pyongyang was seen to quickly break faith with Washington when it weeks later unsuccessfully attempted to send a rocket into space.

Although Davies is being coy with us, a careful parsing of his words doesn’t allow the reader to tell whether he’s demanding complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear program — the position of the United States until now — or settling for something more like a freeze, which can be unfrozen at any time.

The insistence on “permanent shuttering” — or whatever words Davies actually used — is the closest thing we’ve seen to a denial of previous reports that it was willing to soften its disarmament demands. It isn’t much of a denial.

Let’s go with a wild assumption here that North Korea would sign any deal premised on CVID (the more likely outcome is that the deal would be silent about it, and both parties would walk away with different understandings). Any such deal would come at a heavy up-front cost in aid. Congress, however, has already prohibited most forms of aid to North Korea, and prohibits all aid to North Korea unless Congress approves it in a specific appropriation. Good luck getting this Congress to approve one in an election year.

Yay, nuclear blackmail! Obama Admin caves on N. Korea denuclearization, human rights in face of nuke test threat (Updated)

The Nuclear Threat Initiative Newswire, citing Yonhap, reports that the Obama Administration, South Korea, and Japan have agreed to a major shift in its policy toward talks with North Korea, “easing its conditions for returning to nuclear talks,” out of fear of a new nuclear test on the eve of mid-term elections in South Korea and the United States.

Since before Obama’s inauguration, North Korea has repeatedly said that it would never give up its nuclear weapons programs. Until now, the administration had taken the position that the purpose for having the six-party denuclearization talks was denuclearization, and that there was no point in returning to talks unless North Korea agreed that the talks were leading toward North Korea’s denuclearization at some point. Here is how Secretary of State John Kerry put it in February:

We have yet to see evidence that North Korea is prepared to meet its obligations and negotiate the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Let me be clear: The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state. We will not accept talks for the sake of talks. And the D.P.R.K. must show that it will negotiate and live up to its commitments regarding denuclearization. [John Kerry]

In Washington, however, “let me be clear” is politispeak for “here comes a talking point I’m going to repeat until I abandon it under political pressure.” And true to this rule, NTI reports that we will abandon that talking point — sorry, principle — in favor of a return to one of the most memorable flops in the history of North Korea diplomacy:

Washington, along with allies Seoul and Tokyo, now wants North Korea to accept a moratorium on its nuclear weapons development in order for the frozen six-nation, aid-for-denuclearization negotiations to be resumed, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Monday, citing an informed diplomatic insider.

The negotiations involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States were last held in December 2008. They propose to reward Pyongyang’s gradual and irreversible denuclearization with timed infusions of economic assistance and international treaties.

“Two principles have been set,” said the source. “The first is to make practical progress in denuclearizing North Korea and the second is to prevent the North from sophisticating its nuclear capability.”

Yay, nuclear blackmail! Now that the administration thinks the North Koreans are about to test a nuke, it’s floating this trial balloon, signaling that it’s ready to drop long-standing U.S. demands from disarmament to a freeze.

Fortunately, there are no signs that the North Koreans are ready to take this deal, but if they were smart, they would, because accepting it now — after demonstrating their leverage over Obama — could put them on a path toward de-facto recognition as a nuclear state. The administration will insist, of course, that the eventual goal of the talks is still denuclearization, but North Korea has never been more forceful in insisting that it will never give up its nukes, or more ferocious in reacting to any such suggestion. At its moment of diplomatic triumph, Pyongyang almost certainly would not sign off on place-holder language adopting, for example, the September 19, 2005 joint statement (which North Korea unilaterally reinterpreted into meaninglessness within a day of signing it).

If the administration is really desperate for a deal — and it certainly looks desperate — it will simply obscure that question within a cloud of inky unwritten commitments. That seems to be the plan this time, too. The offer on the table now is a revival of the ill-fated Groundhog Day Leap Day deal of 2012, which promised aid (and other things we’ll get to later) in exchange for a freeze (not a dismantling) of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Because nothing was reduced to writing, however, the Leap Day “deal” began to unravel almost immediately, as it became clear that the parties walked way from it with at least three different understandings. Would the WMD moratorium would be in effect while talks continued? Which would arrive first, the IAEA monitors or the aid? You’d think that a competent diplomat would have said what a competent lawyer would say: “Get it in writing.” In the end, there wasn’t even a written agreement that the North Koreans would shut down the Yongbyon reactor; the North Koreans omitted any mention of that when they announced the deal. Just 16 days after it was “agreed,” the Leap Day deal collapsed when North Korea announced a long-range ballistic missile test. The Obama Administration now proposes to pour its entire North Korea policy into this leaky vessel.

(Also, it has to be awkward to offer food aid right after the World Food Program found major deficiencies in its program to monitor the distribution of that aid. Aid monitoring conditions made up a large part of the 2012 deal. Congress would also have a say, as its last Appropriations Act put strict limits on aid to North Korea. A new aid package might require a special appropriation, which seems extremely unlikely.)

It would be bad enough if this offer had been a long-standing element of a policy that laid out a progression toward disarmament. It’s far worse that it is revived now, as a policy shift offered in response to (and therefore, as an incentive for) blackmail. Instead of a coherent policy that focuses economic, financial, humanitarian, diplomatic, and subversive pressure in an integrated campaign to change the security calculations (or failing that, the personnel composition) of the regime in Pyongyang, the administration appears to have no coherent North Korea policy at all. It looks passive, reactive, unplanned, and uncoordinated. The signals being sent from Seoul and Tokyo are equally confusing and uncoordinated — so much so that that topic merits its own post — but the real point is that if the U.S. doesn’t coordinate those policies (and it isn’t) then North Korea will divide us from our allies with clever inducements, and entropy will prevail. Deal or no deal, our diplomats are being outsmarted, bluffed, and blackmailed by a man who has never met a foreign leader or diplomat, but who has met Dennis Rodman three times.

What else did the U.S. agree to in the 2012 Leap Day deal? “[T]o take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality.” (As an aside, who believes that the United States and Pyongyang are equals in any conceivable way?) Pyongyang will certainly understand that as a concession that the U.S. will sit back and do nothing of consequence later today, when Justice Michael Kirby goes to the Security Council to call for action to address the world’s worst human rights crisis. Sidelining that issue until the world forgets about it again would, by itself, be a very big win for North Korea and China.

Everything about this report sounds like a trial balloon (or a lead balloon — choose your own metaphor). Within a day or two, the administration may well deny this report — and they’ll certainly deny how I characterize it here — but I doubt that Yonhap reporters simply invented it. Far too many elements of this story fit with other things we’ve seen.

For instance, it would explain the conspicuous silence of Samantha “Genocide Chick” Powers in the face of the U.N. report finding that North Korea is committing crimes against humanity. It would explain all of those suspicious diplomatic moves last month (same link, below the embedded video). It would explain why Bob King, our Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, is saying that human rights and nuclear issues will remain separate, allowing the State Department to sideline the entire human rights issue, as it did in 2007. It would explain those “secret” talks between North Korea and Japan, given that Abe was Prime Minister in 2007, when the State Department betrayed him by sidelining the abduction issue in Agreed Framework 2.0. It would explain why the administration has kept its North Korea sanctions sluggish, incremental, and thus easily evaded.

And of course, the timing is right — second-term administrations do deals like this when they’re weakened politically, when they lack the political energy to implement anything more plausible, and when they really just want to buy time and make a quiet exit. But for the victims of North Korea’s pathology — North Koreans, South Koreans, Japanese, Syrians, and eventually Americans — there is no escape.

 

[Note: This post was edited after publication, including correction of the date of the 2005 Joint Statement. Thanks to a reader for pointing that out.]

Update, 24 April: This statement from the White House sounds (sort of) like a denial of the Yonhap report.

“Given the recent North Korean statements threatening new type of nuclear tests, new type of missile tests, it’s clear that North Korea is not signaling any interest in what we would consider to be credible and authentic negotiations,” Evan Medeiros, Obama’s key aide on Asia policy, said at a Foreign Press Center briefing here. “In that context, you know, we’re looking for some sign they’re actually committed to denuclearization.”

He was referring to efforts to restart the six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Last held in December 2008, the negotiations also involve South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

The statement could just as well be a recognition of North Korea’s clear signals that it’s not interested in denuclearization, and appears ready to proceed with a test. One wonders what the White House would be saying now if the North Koreans sent a signal they were receptive to the deal. A separate report lends credence to that view:

The top nuclear envoys of the United States and China held in-depth talks last week, bridging their differences on ways to resume long-stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, according to China’s foreign ministry Monday.

Obviously, I don’t know who gave in to whom, but I have my own ideas about that. The subject of those talks was preconditions for restarting talks. Overall, it suggests that the administration was ready to lower the bar, but for North Korea’s own disinterest in talking.

If Kaesong “wages” aren’t used to pay workers, what are they used for? (The Unification Ministry won’t comment.)

In yesterday’s post about Kaesong, I argued that by any reasonable definition, its North Korean workers are forced laborers, and that the best evidence we have suggests that the vast majority of their “wages” are probably stolen by the Pyongyang regime, through a combination of direct taxation and confiscatory exchange rates. My argument relied heavily on a recent study by the economist Marcus Noland, who has done an excellent job researching questions that most journalists have overlooked, addressing the ethical implications of the answers, and arguing for a voluntary code of ethics that could go a long way toward address those implications.

Noland has done a good enough job discussing the ethics of Kaesong’s labor arrangements that I see no need to add to it. I do, however, see some important legal implications that no one else has addressed in depth.

The first set of legal issues arises from long-standing suspicions that Kaesong manufacturers are sneaking components or finished goods from Kaesong into U.S. markets, a benefit that the South Korean government sought when it negotiated its Free Trade Agreement with the United States, and which it raised again as recently as last October. Because the two sides couldn’t agree on the inclusion of products from Kaesong, they agreed instead to Annex 22-B of the FTA, on “Outward Processing Zones.” Annex 22-B, however, is nothing more than an agreement to keep talking. It’s fair to say that Congress would not have ratified the FTA without the understanding that Kaesong products were excluded from it.

That means that despite the FTA’s ratification by the Senate, by its own terms, it lacks supremacy over a statute that specifically excludes goods that are “mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor.”

You’re entitled to question the administration’s determination to enforce this law, but as it turns out, an obscure Customs regulation at 19 C.F.R. 12.42 allows private petitioners to oppose the landing of goods made with forced labor in U.S. ports. The U.S. cotton industry has been especially effective at using this provision to tie up Uzbek cotton in customs warehouses, and to raise political pressure against the import of cotton from Uzbekistan. If human rights organizations became aware of specific Kaesong-made goods being imported into the United States, Noland’s study now gives them a strong evidentiary basis to tie those products up in customs warehouses, too. This, by itself, might be enough to make the export of those products to the United States unprofitable.

Finally, depending on the amount of Kaesong labor embodied in a product, its import to the United States could violate complex country-of-origin labeling rules, or could be receiving a lower-tariff status under the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, from which Kaesong products were ostensibly excluded (after much contentious negotiation).

Nor does the administration seem inclined to defend Kaesong imports. In 2011, President Obama signed Executive Order 13,570, which banned North Korean imports from the U.S. market. Any violation of that executive order carries the severe penalties of Section 206 the International Emergency Economic Powers Act — 20 years in prison, a fine of $1,000,000, and a civil penalty of $250,000. Despite a recent spike in suspicious travel by U.S., South Korean, North Korean, and Chinese diplomats, the North Koreans are a no-show, tensions with North Korea are back on the rise, and the Obama Administration is hinting about strengthening sanctions, not weakening them.

~   ~   ~

These still aren’t the questions that cause the greatest discomfort at the South Korean Unification Ministry. That question is this: If the money paid into Kaesong isn’t going to the workers, just where is that money going? As Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen recently said, “Precisely what North Koreans do with earnings from Kaesong, I think, is something that we are concerned about.”

Cohen is concerned because his department enforces the regulations and executive orders that implement U.N. Security Council sanctions against the North’s WMD programs. Those resolutions limit unrestricted cash flows to North Korea, in order to deny its WMD programs of funding. The latest of those resolutions, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2094, was passed in 2013 and says this:

“11.  Decides that Member States shall, in addition to implementing their obligations pursuant to paragraphs 8 (d) and (e) of resolution 1718 (2006), prevent the provision of … any financial or other assets or resources, including bulk cash, that could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, or to the evasion of measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution ….;

[….]

“14.  Expresses concern that transfers to the DPRK of bulk cash may be used to evade the measures imposed in resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), and this resolution, and clarifies that all States shall apply the measures set forth in paragraph 11 of this resolution to the transfers of cash, including through cash couriers, transiting to and from the DPRK so as to ensure such transfers of bulk cash do not contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, or to the evasion of measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution;

“15.  Decides that all Member States shall not provide public financial support for trade with the DPRK (including the granting of export credits, guarantees or insurance to their nationals or entities involved in such trade) where such financial support could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, or to the evasion of measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution;

The use of the words “could contribute” is burden-shifting language, like the language in Paragraph 8(d) of Resolution 1718 (2006) that required member states to “ensure that any funds, financial assets or economic resources are prevented from being made available” to persons and entities involved in North Korea’s WMD programs. You can’t “prevent” unless you know where the money is going in the first place, and if you aren’t asking, you aren’t preventing. The Security Council’s clear intent was to force member states and companies under the jurisdiction of their laws to move beyond feigning ignorance and make reasonable inquiries. The Unification Ministry’s Sergeant Schultz act doesn’t work anymore.

Past precedent gives us reason to share Undersecretary Cohen’s concern. As early as October 2000, Noland wrote here that North Korea’s revenues from the Kumgang Tourist project, which he estimated at $450 million per year, were being deposited into a Macau bank account controlled by the notorious Bureau 39, for “regime maintenance,” despite the lack of “real systemic implications for the organization of the North Korean economy or society.” For all we know, North Korea could be using its Kaesong revenues for even more sinister purposes.

There is also the broader problem that a steady stream of cash dulls the economic pressure that is the outside world’s principal lever for disarming North Korea.

“The fact is, South Korea and China are providing North Korea with a considerable amount of unconditioned economic support,” said Marcus Noland, a Korea expert at the Institute for International Economics in Washington. “As long as that support is forthcoming, North Korea will not feel as much of a need to address the nuclear issue, and attempts to isolate the North economically will have less and less credibility and effect.” [WaPo 2005]

The Congressional Research Service also discusses the tension — some would say, schizophrenia — attendant in alternating between economic subsidy and economic pressure. No wonder South Korea has clung so dearly to the pretense that Kaesong wages really are paid to the workers. Unfortunately for the Unification Ministry, the evidence contradicts this cherished falsehood — it’s impossible to deny that Kaesong is a subsidy to Pyongyang. The U.N. Security Council, however, has chosen economic pressure, most recently with the active support of South Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations (at the time UNSCR 2094 passed by a vote of 15-0, South Korea was a non-permanent member of the Security Council).

But what does South Korea know about what Pyongyang is doing with its money? I posed the question to the Unification Ministry in an e-mail and on their Facebook page. Here, in relevant part, is what I asked them:

Recently, I read a report by the economist Marcus Noland indicating that most South Korean investors at Kaesong don’t actually know how much of their nominal wages the North Korean workers there actually receive, and that the North Korean government likely keeps most of the money. First, can the Ministry comment on that? If you deny this assertion, can you explain the basis for your denial?

Second, this assertion also raises the question of where the money is going. A series of U.N. Security Council resolutions requires Member States to ensure that their money isn’t being used to finance North Korea’s WMD programs. A senior U.S. Treasury official and a report by the Congressional Research Service recently raised concerns about how North Korea uses its revenue from Kaesong.

Can you describe what if any financial checks, precautions, and transparency are in place to ensure that North Korea isn’t using Kaesong earnings for illicit purposes, to facilitate human rights abuses, or to buy weapons to threaten people, including U.S. troops, in South Korea?

Also, I’m wondering if you’ve sought an advisory opinion about Kaesong from the U.N. 1718 Committee’s Panel of Experts.

So far, the Unification Ministry hasn’t responded. I’ll update this post if they do, but I’d be astonished if they had extracted enough financial transparency measures from the North to answer the question in good faith.

Incidentally, one of the interesting points I gleaned from the last U.N. Panel of Experts report is that the POE gives advisory opinions on transactions with North Korea. If the Unification Ministry isn’t asking for one, it may be because it doesn’t want to know the answer.

Largely because of South Korean domestic politics and government subsidies, Kaesong has outlasted a few of my predictions of its demise. It will face more challenges this year and next, as we appear to be entering a new cycle of North Korean provocations, and as South Korea’s present leader appears unusually disinclined to tolerate them. The fact that Kaesong’s workers are functionally slaves deserves to be one of those challenges. So does the likelihood that the entire enterprise consequently violates a series of Security Council resolutions designed to protect South Korea’s own security.

Samantha Power, North Korea is your Rwanda

Now that anyone who cares has digested the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report on North Korea, the conversation has turned to a more practical question: So what? The E.U. and Japan are reportedly drafting a resolution for consideration by the Security Council that would (1) condemn North Korea for its crimes, (2) call “for its leaders to face international justice,” (3) impose travels sanctions on specific leaders deemed responsible, and (4) refer the COI report to the International Criminal Court.

The wording of the draft resolution has led to a difference of opinion between the E.U. and Japan. The E.U., stereotypes notwithstanding, favors “strong wording,” while Japan would sacrifice the strength of the wording to achieve “global consensus.” You probably won’t be shocked to see me siding with the Soft Reich here. Sacrificing important language to mollify China is a case of arranging deck chairs on the Titanic if I’ve ever seen one. China will veto the resolution anyway. This U.N. action isn’t going to change China’s behavior. It’s only a stepping stone to economic, diplomatic, and reputational costs that could cause Chinese companies to withdraw from North Korea. In which case, why not force China to veto something as compelling — and as injurious to China’s reputation — as possible?

Park Geun-Hye, who is in the The Hague for a conference on nuclear terrorism, has met with Xi Jinping there, and has called on him not to veto the resolution. Although a number of unnamed U.N. officials are congratulating themselves on the toughness of their response, it’s almost certain that China will veto anything that gets to the Security Council.

Surprisingly, South Korea has announced its support for a resolution that provides for the prosecution of North Korean officials. Not surprisingly, the Obama Administration has taken no position on a resolution. Its Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, Bob King, released a mealy-mouthed statement supporting calls for “accountability,” but supporting nothing more specific than “a field-based mechanism for continued monitoring and documenting human rights abuses in the DPRK” to “carry on the investigative work of the Commission and support the work of the Special Rapporteur.” (Meaning, apparently, another decade of investigation.) Bob King, bless his heart, has been about as effective a Special Envoy as the Obama Administration let him be. I might call its North Korea policy unsound if I saw clearer evidence of any policy at all, but more on that in a moment.

In a few years, no one will remember who Bob King is, but the reputation of Obama’s U.N. Ambassador won’t escape a mortal moral wound so easily. Words Power wrote in the pages of The Atlantic in 2001, about the Clinton Administration’s reaction to the Rwanda massacre, are just as applicable, and just as compelling, in the context of North Korea today as they were to Rwanda in 1994:

Did the President really not know about the genocide, as his marginalia suggested? Who were the people in his Administration who made the life-and-death decisions that dictated U.S. policy? Why did they decide (or decide not to decide) as they did? Were any voices inside or outside the U.S. government demanding that the United States do more? If so, why weren’t they heeded? And most crucial, what could the United States have done to save lives?

Power fired a volley at a cluster of non-decisions by Clinton that might have slowed the killing, non-decisions that in all fairness seem harder than the non-decisions this Administration is making now:

In March of 1998, on a visit to Rwanda, President Clinton issued what would later be known as the “Clinton apology,” which was actually a carefully hedged acknowledgment. He spoke to the crowd assembled on the tarmac at Kigali Airport: “We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred” in Rwanda.

This implied that the United States had done a good deal but not quite enough. In reality the United States did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements. It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.S. officials shunned the term “genocide,” for fear of being obliged to act. The United States in fact did virtually nothing “to try to limit what occurred.” Indeed, staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective.

By contrast, no one is suggesting U.S. military intervention in North Korea — only a combination of clear-eyed diplomacy, aggressive information operations, and a more serious and sustained application of the financial pressure that the administration has toyed with. It’s hard to see what’s so gut-wrenching about any of those options.

You really should read Power’s entire lengthy article just to contrast her strident scholarship with the passivity and dysfunction of the administration she serves as its U.N. Ambassador today — not to mention Power’s individual silence about North Korea — in the middle of a slow-motion genocide. (North Korea is a genocide to the same extent that Cambodia was a genocide; in both cases, victims are or were culled based on political and social classifications.) Power explains why the Clinton Administration knew exactly what was happening in Rwanda, exactly as Power herself and the President she serves must know what is happening in North Korea today.

[Samantha Power bursts into tears while visiting Rwanda]

So why the passivity and dysfunction this time? My educated speculation, based on recent diplomatic movements, is that the administration probably thinks it’s on the cusp of a new deal with the North Koreans. After John Kerry’s visit to Beijing earlier this year, China engaged in a round of “shuttle diplomacy” with both Koreas. Last month, a Chinese Vice Foreign Minister visited Pyongyang to urge it to return to talks. Japan, whose current Prime Minister was sidelined by Agreed Framework II in 2007, has engaged in its own secret talks with the North, which may explain why it favors softer resolution language now. Today, North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator is in Beijing, where he may meet “secretly” with unnamed U.S. officialsOFK readers have not been allowed to forget that the chief U.S. negotiator is Glyn Davies, who in 2007 asked a colleague at State to airbrush some of the strongest language out of its annual human rights report about North Korea, asking it to “sacrifice a few adjectives for the cause.” 

(For its part, North Korea, which was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, is threatening another nuke test if the U.S. continues “using the North Korean human rights issue to undermine its regime.”)

The speculation has reached the point that the President himself is being asked if the six-party talks are about about to restart. Cyclical history certainly favors a deal now. This is a weakened second-term administration like Clinton’s in 1994, after his party lost Congress, and like Bush’s in 2007, after his party lost Congress. But as we’ve learned so many times before, the prospects for any deal with North Korea last only as long as North Korea’s reasonable fear of significant adverse consequences. What matters is that the problem is papered over and left to the next president to deal with.

The design to stall Security Council action now is probably China’s design at much as North Korea’s; after all, North Korea has survived plenty of Security Council resolutions (thanks to China’s failure to enforce them). The Obama Administration’s plan probably calculates that after a brief kerfuffle at the Security Council, the COI and its after-effects will fade from the public consciousness and it will sign its piece of paper. It will be 1994 all over again.

In more ways than one.

Bosworth and Gallucci: Let’s pay Kim Jong Un to pretend to disarm, and we can pretend to believe him.

Writing with Robert Gallucci in The New York Times, Stephen Bosworth writes that the North Koreans, contrary to countless public and private statements that its nukes are non-negotiable, are ready to enter disarmament negotiations in good faith, and that we should give them shiny objects for doing that:

The North Koreans — who are longtime participants in government-to-government talks and well plugged-in to their country’s leadership — stated that if dialogue were to resume, their nuclear weapons program would be on the negotiating table. They provided preliminary thinking on a phased approach that would start with a freeze of their program and end with denuclearization.

That process, they said, would have to include steps by America, such as the conclusion of a peace treaty to replace the temporary armistice that ended the Korean War, and the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on the North by the United States since the end of that war. [Robert Gallucci and Stephen Bosworth, New York Times]

Note well the words “such as.” In the language of My People — legalese — this translates to “including but not limited to.” And with respect to sanctions, the North Koreans appear to understand them as little as most American ex-diplomats and academics do. They’re going to be awfully disappointed when they see how little there is to lift, especially given that most remaining U.S. sanctions are mandated by the U.N. Security Council and can’t be lifted unilaterally.

We stressed that Pyongyang needs to indicate clearly the concrete steps it would take both before and immediately after a return to the negotiating table. The North Koreans told us that they were prepared to enter talks without preconditions and would consider some confidence-building measures once talks begin.

Maybe they can blow up another cooling tower; if they start the construction now, it might even be ready in time for the deal. If we front them some “development aid” now, it might even be enough to finance the construction (win-win, people!).

You can already see that I don’t believe what Bosworth and Gallucci are saying, but so what? The more interesting question is whether they do, and in Bosworth’s case at least, there’s reason to doubt it. Here’s what he told us a few months ago:

The former U.S. point man on North Korean diplomacy, Amb. Stephen Bosworth, is making the rounds in Seoul this week with a sharp message: it’s time for the countries pushing North Korea to denuclearize to acknowledge they may never be able to get a verifiable deal.

For years, the stated goal of U.S. and other countries that are trying to end North Korea’s nuclear pursuit has been “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” or CVID in dip-speak.

The problem is that following North Korea’s revelation in November 2010 to a visiting U.S. scientist of an operating uranium enrichment program, even if countries could persuade North Korea to accept an aid-for-denuclearization deal, there’s no way to verify they are sticking to it.

“Because of the nature of that technology, it would be almost impossible to verify North Korea’s compliance with any ban on enriched uranium production,” Mr. Bosworth said. Uranium enrichment can happen in small facilities whose activities are hidden from satellites, forcing verification experts to take North Korea’s word on compliance.

[….]

Instead, he recommends that South Korea, the U.S. and other countries negotiate a “standstill agreement” in which North Korea halts tests of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles – something that could be monitored.  [Evan Ramstad, Wall Street Journal]

So what are the North Koreans (and Bosworth) selling us this time if disarmament is an implausible goal? Bosworth has admitted that this a deal that we can never verify, and in his Times op-ed, he concedes that “[t]he North Koreans have not abided by many of their past commitments.”

But as he and Gallucci ask, not unreasonably, what’s wrong with just talking? Answer: the cover charge. We’ve seen this cycle repeat itself too many times to doubt that the first round of talks will be about paying, which throws away the very leverage we’ll need to get a good deal and make it work. They believe that the best way to disarm North Korea is to legitimize, stabilize, finance (you know that’s coming) and perpetuate a regime whose downfall would, mostly likely, result in verifiable disarmament, but whose perpetuation equates to a nuclear North Korea whose nuclear and chemical weapons technology will continue to provoke crises around the world.

But even if this deal could be negotiated, it would be dead on arrival at Capitol Hill. During my stint there, I visited nearly every congressional office of either party and several key committee offices to talk about North Korea policy. Given the weakness of its foreign policy cred today, it’s doubtful that the administration would invest in this deal. If it did, it would not be a replay of the government shutdown that split the Republicans; it’s the Democrats who would split this time. Congress killed Agreed Framework I by defunding it after we caught North Korea cheating. When Chris Hill came to Congress to sell Agreed Framework II, he promised that it would not be a deal where North Korea pretended to disarm, and we’d pretend to believe them. That’s a promise that Bosworth couldn’t make to sell Agreed Framework III. He wouldn’t be the one making it, of course, but even a Democratic Congress would have to demand robust verification.

(A tangent: One reason why the Times still prints these anachronisms is the success of their proponents at pretending that better alternatives don’t exist (the unteachability of its editors is another). What a gift it must seem to them at times like these to read calls from the other extreme for President Obama to consider preemptive airstrikes. This call is from an unlikely source — two German authors, who remind me that as little as I like the insufferable sanctimony of the new Germany, I still like the old Germany much less.)

Bosworth and Gallucci are right about one of their arguments — North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and missile programs full-bore, and the Obama Administration shows no hint of a coherent and decisive policy to reverse or arrest that trend. Their answer to that, however, is the classic definition of insanity.

To Bosworth and Gallucci, sanctions are an obstacle; in reality, they’re a vehicle. Talks can’t work unless Kim Jong Un (or his replacement, should sanctions dethrone him) is prepared to disarm. Everyone either knows that he isn’t, or should. Negotiations won’t work without leverage, sanctions are the best leverage we have, and our sanctions against North Korea are much too weak to give us that leverage. As I’ll explain in greater detail in a future post, our North Korea sanctions are a shadow of the targeted sanctions that are working in Iran, or the broad and blunt ones that aren’t working in Cuba, to name two. (If you can’t wait, read the statutes and regulations yourself.)

Despite some early and hopeful signs, it’s far from clear that sanctions have put life-altering pressure on Kim Jong Un, despite the fact that he sounds desperate to get them lifted. He still has the money and materials to keep building amusement parks, ski resorts, and missile sites. All outward signs tell us that he sees sanctions are a mere annoyance, and the sanctions that annoy him most are probably those on luxury goods imports, which are logically unrelated to disarmament and, aside from being a general pressure tactic, are aimed at his obscene starvation of his own people. If these are the sanctions Kim Jong Un wants us to lift, a logical counter would be to offer to ask the Security Council to suspend them, but only temporarily, and in exchange for lifting all restrictions on the delivery of food aid. That would seem to be a good early test of the North’s seriousness about accepting some transparency, a sine qua non of effective diplomacy. But, as at least Bosworth knows, that sine qua non is lacking here.

Joel Wit: Agreed Frameworks “Worked Very Well”

Fortunately, Sung Yoon Lee is there to remind us of the reality of Mr. Wit’s sterling record. Depending on your perspective, you may wish to avert your eyes:


Watch Kim Jong-un Orders Rockets Ready to Strike United States on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Some viewers may judge Wit a bit too boastful about the length of his experience dealing with the North Koreans, but on closer examination, he understates his experience almost as much as he overstates his success. According to some reports, Wit was meeting with Kim Gye Gwan in January 2007, and seemed familiar with the terms of Agreed Framework II, which the North Koreans and Chris Hill signed the following month.  It’s reasonable to infer that Wit was, at the very least, greasing the wheels for Hill’s deal.  As late as February 2008, after North Korea was caught lying about its HEU program, after North Korea refused to provide a full disclosure of its nuclear programs as agreed, and even after the Israeli Air Force destroyed the reactor Kim Jong Il was building for Bashar Assad, Wit was quoted as saying that “the level of cooperation is very good, better than I have seen it in 10 years.”  (Wit was an avowed denier of North Korea’s HEU program, at least before the North Koreans showed Sig Hecker an underground complex filled with thousands of centrifuges.)  In his eagerness to bolster the length of his experience dealing with North Korea, Wit also takes responsibility for a longer list of misjudgments and failures.

So if Wit’s approach is the right one, why, after all these years of brilliantly successful diplomacy, is he on the PBS News Hour talking about North Korean nuclear blackmail?

 

North Korea’s cash-for-summit demands put 2010 attacks in a new light

WERE THE 2010 ATTACKS North Korea’s way of making good on extortion?  Stephan Haggard, not widely know for his hard-line views, cites an article in the Chosun Ilbo revealing that Kim Jong Il wanted a summit with Lee Myung Bak, but at a price.

The sticking point was money. How much? According to the Chosun Ilbo, $500-600 million in rice and fertilizer aid, which had effectively been cut from the first of the year, and perhaps some cash too; that was about the price that Kim Dae Jung paid for the first summit. Negotiations continued through November at Kaesong, when the North Korean delegation even presented a draft summit declaration including a resumption of aid.  [Stephan Haggard, Witness to Transformation]

The Chosun Ilbo story adds this important piece of evidence:

In January 2010, after the secret contacts ended and North Korea realized that it was impossible to extract any aid from Seoul, it vowed to launch a “holy retaliatory war” against the South and fired multiple artillery rounds at the Northern Limit Line, a de facto maritime border on the West Sea.  [Chosun Ilbo]

Haggard makes a compelling (if circumstantial) argument that the attacks were meant to demonstrate that North Korea’s extortion should be taken seriously. We now know that two months after Lee refused to pay up, North Korea sank the Cheonan.

Wondering if I could make this case a bit less circumstantial, I decided to consult my archives and see what else North Korea said and did in the months between Lee’s refusal to pay and the Cheonan attack. I didn’t find what I expected.  Although there were certainly some menacing acts and words by North Korea, the threats were nowhere near as extravagant or as frequent as those issued in early 2009, after President Lee cut off aid, and as President Obama warmed up his chair.  What’s interesting, however, is that in early 2010, North Korea was facing a severe popular backlash against The Great Confiscation.

In November, of course, North Korea followed up with the Yeonpyeong attack.

Let me take Haggard’s point a step further:  if he’s correct in his inference, this course of conduct would be a good fit for the legal definition of “international terrorism.”  Some commenters have suggested that the 2010 attacks — particularly the Cheonan attack — are not a basis (not that another is needed) to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, but fresh evidence of a motive to extort merits reconsideration. The key element is that the violent act must have been intended to influence South Korean government policy, and some of North Korea’s statements from 2009 provide additional evidence of North Korea’s intent.  The evidence is circumstantial, but somewhere in North Korea are people with direct evidence, and one of them is probably thinking about defecting.

This Just In: North Korea fails to absorb any of Dennis Rodman’s tact, class, gentility, or gravitas.

So yet again, we learn that visitors do not change North Korea. The tricky part is getting out before North Korea changes the visitor.

Since I broach the engagement-versus-isolation debate, it’s been argued enough times that I seldom hear any new arguments, but this one by Michael Totten, in response to the reliably trite Nick Kristof, is a terrific deconstruction of mirror-imaging by both the North Koreans and the Americans who don’t understand how they think.

The answer to the debated question, of course, is “both,” but we’ve gotten the mechanics of it exactly backwards.  By engaging North Korea’s regime on its terms — lots of cash, no questions asked — we’ve provided it the financial and political means to isolate and immiserate its people, the ones we should have been finding ways to engage in spite of the regime.

What would be the death blow for totalitarianism in North Korea?  Aid workers from free societies — kindly Bible-thumping missionaries from Missouri and Busan, side-by-side with German hipsters with pierced lips and eyebrows — all passing out humanitarian aid in the bleakest quarters of Hamhung and Wonsan, unimpeded by the regime’s minders.  That will only be possible when the regime is so constricted financially that it is forced to allow that to save the residue of its elite.

Update:  Via Spencer Ackerman, Rodman can’t even keep his Koreas straight, so he may also be ignorant of how conditions are for most of the North Korean people.  Kudos to Ackerman for trying to shift the focus back to that.

Breaking: North Korea Still Poor, Ignorant, and Run by Narcissistic Assholes

I’ve never expected anything good to come from a Bill Richardson visit to Pyongyang, and this visit fulfilled my expectations. A lot of journalists, bloggers, and academics in Washington and New York made a big deal out of this. (It was good for our traffic.) But in the places that really count — in Chongjin and Hamhung and Uijongbu and even in Pyongyang — it didn’t change a thing.  It will not reduce the black market price of corn, it will not improve conditions in the camps, it will not save a single kkotjaebi from an early and lonely death, it will not crack open the borders or let in the truth, it will not slow the crackdowns on defections or South Korean soap operas, and it will not reduce the risk of a nuclear test or an attack on South Korea. It did not free Ken Bae or any of the Japanese or South Korean abductees or signal a Pyongyang Spring. But there was one delightful surprise in this — it did cost Kim Jong Bill his cred.

Maybe this post isn’t a complete waste of time after all.

Just a few years ago, Richardson was in the running for Secretary of State. Sure, we hard-line types have always loathed Richardson, but the appeasers loved him, and he was at least respected by the center-left swing voters of the North Korea Industry. Judging from the tone of the commentary coming from the swing voters now, Richardson has lost them. I usually agree with Don Kirk, so I’m not surprised that he sees the trip as a failure. On the other hand, when the New York Times scores your “engagement” trip 1-0 Pyongyang, your wardrobe has malfunctioned. At least one swing voter, Nir Rosen, was inspired to completely rethink engagement and aid in this thoughtful essay. Stephan Haggard admits to scratching his head at the futility of it all. With few exceptions, those who didn’t criticize the trip ridiculed it.

Worse for Richardson, even the North Koreans gave him the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. Consider: KCNA is reporting today that a Vice-Premier met with a visiting Chinese delegation led by a Vice-Minister of Commerce. What North Korean of any stature met Richardson? The Rodong is touting that Kim Jong Un received a gift from the Chicoms; but characterized the Richardson visit as one to pay “tribute,” and said nothing about who greeted him. (As for Schmidt, KCNA reports that some North Koreans taught him a thing or two about technology.) Moving on to quasi-official media — that is, a certain foreign-owned news service that employs KNCA “reporters” — AP Pyongyang says they “met with officials,” but doesn’t identify anyone of significance. Why, when Richardson visited in 2010, he at least rated Ri Yong HoThat’s no way to treat your favorite tool. 

We know Richardson’s score, but how did the North Koreans do? That depends on what you think they wanted, and that question gets to the heart of a long-standing debate about the motivations and pathology behind North Korea’s foreign policy. Is it (a) all about domestic reenforcement, are they (b) trying to improve relations with and extract aid and investment from us, or do they (c) really want a Grand Opening to the world? (These theories aren’t mutually exclusive — myself, I’m 85% (a), 0% (c), and 15% (b), provided that (b) supports (a) and excludes the possibility of (c). Still with me?)

Let’s take these theories in inverse order, starting with (c). Schmidt’s pleas notwithstanding, the North Koreans certainly didn’t show any hint that they intend to open their society or economy in any meaningful way.  (The better reporting on the subject strongly suggests the very opposite.) They may want their own people to think that Google and the U.S. recognize them as global technology leaders, but that would only reenforce a North Korean sense of self-reliant isolation.  Also, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because that goes back to (a).

If (b) or (c) were true, you’d think the North Koreans would have at least empowered a proponent of (b) and (c) in America’s public debate in America about the utility and timing of the visit. The most obvious way to do that would have been to release Ken Bae, who is currently doing time in a North Korean jail for being dumb enough to believe (c).* Releasing Bae would have swung the argument in Richardson’s favor with a certain percentage of the audience. True to my previous prediction, however, the North Koreans aren’t letting Mr. Bae go just yet, at least until his captivity helps ensure that Susan Rice gives in to the Great Wall of China and abandons all hope of getting the U.N. to sanction it for that missile test.

Also, if (b) or (c) were true, this was a huge lost opportunity for the North Koreans. Imagine the reaction here if Kim Jong Un showed up unexpectedly, shook the hands of Richardson and Schmidt, and spent just five minutes talking about some hobby of his — say, Starcraft or the NBA or bondage porn or assassinating your siblings — in front of David Guttenfelder’s fully erect lens. This wouldn’t have made the visit any less meaningless, but it would have caused a mediagasm of talk about how enlightened and open-minded Kim Jong Un is as the dying went on unimpeded and safely out of our sight. That didn’t happen — praise be to Zeus — because sending His Porcine Majesty to meet some has-been ex-governor would have lowered His stature. Not that further proof is really needed, but this tells us that North Korea isn’t terribly interested in (c) or even that much (b), no matter how fervently some of us may want it. It is also is our segue to (a).

A lot of us hard-line types have been talking about what a great propaganda victory this was for North Korea, but we seldom explain our argument very well.  How, specifically, does facilitating propaganda that Kim Jong Un is the Man of the Year, the Sexiest Man Alive, and the object of global respect, fear, and adoration stabilize the North Korean regime? Why, indeed, is KCNA filled with reports about delegations from Juche societies in Burkina Faso and Ecuador? Could any North Korean possibly believe that for the rest of the world, excluding Korea bloggers, it’s all about North Korea?

Oddly enough, I believe the answer is “yes.” Unfortunately, this isn’t a uniquely North Korean phenomenon.

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[Hat Tip]

This is one of those things that’s about 50% less mysterious to me for having lived in South Korea. For most Americans, it really isn’t all about Korea, but Koreans continue to expend finite diplomatic and financial resources on billboards, front-page newspapers ads, wines, and essay contests about two uninhabited lumps of guano that South Korea already occupies. The Tokdo Complex is diagnosed by one’s sincere and emphatic belief that people all over the world obviously care much more deeply about Korea than they do about other places, and therefore they must care deeply about Tokdo than they do about Darfur, Tibet, or less explicably, Camp 22. Now, as the former owners of Dokdo Sushi in Rockville, Maryland must realize by now, we really don’t. But the emotional roots of the Tokdo Complex must run deeper than 1945 and must also appeal to a powerful psychological need. If I’m right about that, North Korea’s propaganda machine feeds this, and probably also believes it to a certain extent. I can even believe this propaganda is an effective adhesive for people who latently despise the regime and His Porcine Majesty, and who would actively participate in its violent overthrow if they saw any prospect that this could be accomplished successfully.

What I can’t explain is why the Tokdo Complex doesn’t apply to China’s moves on Mount Paektu, its lease of Rajin to China, or China’s treatment of North Korean women like comfort women, or worse. All of these things seem like important matters of territorial integrity, nationhood, sovereignty, and humanity, yet they hardly exist in the public consciousness of South Koreans. For that matter, I’ve never known of a place so obsessed with the atrocities of the past, yet so apathetic about the atrocities of the present.  If you can explain that, then for God’s sake, do.

 

* Assuming, of course, that Ken Bae’s purpose for being in North Korea really was to be a tour guide.  I don’t really know what he was doing there or why he was arrested. He’s not my client.