Archive for Anju Links

Roberta Cohen in the WaPo, on preventing a massacre in N. Korea’s gulag

Writing in The Washington Post, Roberta Cohen, Co-Chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, writes about how to prevent the execution of “standing orders at North Korea’s political prison camps (the kwanliso) to kill all prisoners in the event of armed conflict or revolution.”

It was Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder, who gave the kill-all order. His son Kim Jong-il reaffirmed it. Ahn Myong-chol, a former guard, testified before the U.N. commission that, in the event of upheaval, the guards are “to wipe out” all inmates so as “to eliminate any evidence.” He said that drills have even been held “on how to kill large numbers of prisoners in a short period of time.” Guards in other camps, as well as former prison officials, have confirmed this account.

Cohen then makes several recommendations to address this danger, starting with imposing accountability on those responsible now. First, she calls for the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s (COI) report to be brought before the U.N. Security Council for a resolution that would impose targeted sanctions, in line with the COI Chair’s recommendation.

The law firm Hogan Lovells recently issued a report concluding that the COI’s findings could amount to genocide. I made a similar (but less refined) argument nine years ago.

Unfortunately, we’ve only seen the first signs that our U.N. Ambassador and noted genocide-prevention expert Samantha Power is interested in leading (or joining) a push for any such resolution. And without U.S. leadership, who will lead? Ban Ki-Moon?

The voice of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should be heard, too. Because Ban is Korean, he is often excused from taking the lead on human rights issues in North Korea, but when crimes against humanity are found and atrocities warned, he should be expected to use every tool at his disposal.

I’ll go a step further. Korean history should remember Ban Ki-Moon as a bystander in the greatest humanitarian tragedy in the history of the Korean people – one whose toll, once counted, will almost certainly (even greatly) exceed even the terrible human cost of Japan’s occupation.

Cohen also calls on the Congress to pass, and for the President to sign, H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act. The House is expected to vote on the bill this afternoon.

Cohen’s next call is an appeal to “humanitarian and military forces” to consider the urgency of saving the camps’ prisoners in their contingency planning. It’s one of those important questions that always seems too unlikely and hypothetical to plan for until it actually happens. By the time the hypothetical is a reality, of course, it’s too late to plan. Here is how she puts it:

Bringing the prisoners to safety must be part and parcel of any strategy developed to respond to a collapse in North Korea. While protecting civilians and securing nuclear weapons will appropriately be uppermost concerns in a time of chaos, it is in the camps that the most acute cases of hunger, disease and ill-treatment will be found. It is essential that humanitarian organizations and military forces focus now on how to rescue survivors.

Of course, the U.S. and South Korea do have a set of operational plans for a collapse in North Korea, called OPLAN 5029. The plans are classified, so for all we know, Combined Forces Command has already formulated detailed plans of the very sort Cohen recommends.

Who would come to the rescue? In a private e-mail, which she gave me permission to quote, Cohen said that her intent is to encourage U.S. diplomats to talk to their Chinese counterparts about planning for a sudden collapse with the minimum possible loss of life, meaning that Cohen is thinking of a benevolent entry by Chinese forces, who are much closer to the camps geographically than anyone else. Cohen knows that for now, the odds are against this, and she points me to this piece at 38 North, arguing that China will never cooperate.

Cohen isn’t alone in suggesting that China should have a role in stabilizing a post-collapse North Korea; Bruce Bennett of RAND also suggested as much based on the simple mathematics of stabilization operations. South Korea has been cutting back its active duty military, and doesn’t have sufficient reserves to occupy and stabilize North Korea today (though it seems entirely possible that South Korea could assemble that reserve force if it had the political will to do so). One potential complication of inviting a Chinese intervention, however, aside from China’s general lack of a benevolent incentive, is the possibility that once in, it won’t get out again so easily.

What about a rescue by U.S. and ROK forces? The most optimistic view I can offer here is that if there is a general mutiny of North Korean forces, and if we were confident that the operation would be unopposed, it might be possible to reach the camps with aircraft operating from ships offshore. The idea would be to provide protection and deliver essential humanitarian supplies until larger forces can arrive to evacuate the prisoners and rescuers.

(Nor should we overlook the immense public interest value in showing the world images of the camps and the state of the prisoners. There are still people who deny the Holocaust, after all. Noam Chomsky minimized and dismissed, and arguably denied, reports of the Cambodian genocide, and if you deny this denial – as Chomsky now does — then read what Chomsky himself wrote about the subject as it was being revealed to the world.)

The hardest part of such an operation would not be getting in, but getting the rescuers and prisoners out safely. That would require an open road to a port or a large airfield. ROK forces may well lack the equipment, the logistical sophistication, and the will to carry out that kind of operation alone. A small force in such a remote area would find itself dangerously exposed. There are more factual contingencies in this topic than one could possibly discuss within the Post‘s word limits, but the logistical and military obstacles would be severe, to say the least.

Camps Overview with boundaries

One wonders how likely it is that such a collapse would precede a massacre of prisoners. One of the most overlooked means the regime uses to control its people is mutual internal isolation. Simply sending a message from one city to another can be difficult, and sending an unmonitored message would be a near impossibility. In the event of unrest, Pyongyang would certainly flip the “kill switch” for Koryolink, cutting off North Korea’s only legal cell phone network.

In addition, the North Korean Army (NKPA) answers to a completely different command than the Ministry of Public Safety forces that control the camps. Because the camps are widely dispersed, the NKPA units controlling the roads and ports near different camps would fall under different corps commands. That means a separate contingency plan would be needed for each camp.

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 11.38.11 AM

[via Global Security. Note that this map includes the VI Corps, which was reportedly abolished after a 1996 mutiny, but you get the general idea.]

Sadly, there may be no militarily practical way to prevent a massacre without the cooperation of at least some of the North Korean forces in control of the area near any given camp. At best, we may only be able to prevent massacres in some of the camps.

Which brings us to the paramount importance of information operations, which should be designed to cause the MPS to disobey kill orders, or to hesitate as long as possible before deciding to obey them. What should our message to the guards and wardens in the camps be? As Cohen says, “Guards might think twice about carrying out an order to commit a massacre if they know they would be held accountable.” They must know that if they carry out orders to massacre prisoners, they will be tried and held accountable.

But there must be a positive incentive, too; after all, the guards must already suspect that they’ll face trial for what they’ve already done if the regime falls. As difficult as this may be to accept, we must be willing to consider offering guards who protect the lives of prisoners at least a partial amnesty for their crimes against the prisoners up to that point in time. (An offer of a full amnesty creates a perverse incentive to mistreat prisoners now, before the act that qualifies the guard for amnesty.)

In the end, as with so many problems in North Korea, this may be a problem with no external military solution. The liberation of North Korea must inevitably depend on the liberated themselves. Planners should always be prepared to seize opportunities that present themselves, of course, but sometimes, one must make one’s own opportunities. The most plausible opportunity to save the prisoners of North Korea’s gulag may be to encourage and support North Koreans — most likely, among the security forces — who would rebel against central authority, and to incentivize acts of mercy to North Korea’s most vulnerable people.

This all sounds impossible now – even wildly hypothetical – but it’s certainly not fanciful; thus, the existence of OPLAN 5029. The idea of a popular uprising in Syria or Libya sounded equally impossible at the beginning of 2011. And unless people speak of impossible things — even when these impossible things are also inevitable — they will be unready when those things come to pass.

North Korea’s camps have long been one of the main tools employed by the Kim regime to hold on to power. One day, their dismantling will give rise to a new Korea in which monuments will be erected not to the Kim family but to its victims, which have been abandoned by the international community for too long.

To this day, we are still debating why we did not bomb the railroad tracks to Auschwitz, or why we did not arm the Poles and Jews who rose against the Nazis in Warsaw in 1943 and 1944. That’s why the discussion Roberta Cohen has started this week is such an important one.

 

Kim Jong Un stages missile test for the hard-of-hearing

“QUIET” NORTH KOREA has tested another missile to celebrate the anniversary of its survival of its invasion of South Korea. Based on the range, it was probably a SCUD, which makes the test a violation of UNSCR 1695, 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, in case you’re keeping track. According to Yonhap:

Saturday’s firing is the 15th rocket launch, and the sixth ballistic missile launch, by the North this year, which the international community condemned as a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

I think Yonhap meant to say that this is the 15th missile launch; after all, North Korea has probably fired at least 100 artillery rockets.* His Porcine Majesty was present to oversee the festivities in person. Knowing that our current Secretary of State can be a bit hard of hearing, he spoke in our direction:

“He examined a firing plan mapped out in consideration of the present location of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces’ bases in South Korea and under the simulated conditions of the battle to strike and destroy them before guiding the drill,” the KCNA said in an English dispatch.

AP correspondent Hyung-Jin Kim adds:

North Korea routinely test-fires missiles, artillery and rockets, but the number of weapons tests it has conducted this year is much higher than previous years. Outside analysts say this indicates that North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, is handling things differently than his late father, Kim Jong Il, who sparingly used longer-range missile and nuclear tests as negotiating cards with the outside world to win concessions.

I suspect John Kerry already regrets his characterization of North Korea as “quiet.”

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* Correction, July 28: An earlier version of this post stated that “North Korea has fired well over 100 of its 300-millimeter rockets.” While crunching the numbers on this, I realized that not all of these rockets were necessarily of the new 300-millimeter type, and that some of the artillery fired in the big barrage of July 14th was old-fashioned tube artillery. I suppose now you’re going to want to see the numbers crunched. The dates are hyperlinked to my sources.

  • 2/21     4     300-mm rockets
  • 2/27     4     SCUD missiles
  • 3/3       2     SCUD missiles
  • 3/4       4     300-mm rockets
  • 3/16   25     FROG rockets
  • 3/23   46     FROG rockets
  • 3/25     2     Nodong medium-range missiles
  • 6/26     3     300-mm rockets
  • 6/29     2     SCUD missile
  • 7/2       2     300-mm rockets
  • 7/3       2     300-mm rockets
  • 7/8       2     SCUD missile**
  • 7/13     2     SCUD missile
  • 7/14  >100  Rockets and artillery
  • 7/27     1     SCUD missile

** According to this N.Y. Times report, “North Korea has conducted 13 rocket and missile tests this year, launching a total of 90 projectiles, most of them fired from sites on the country’s east coast. Ten of those missiles were ballistic, including two Rodong missiles that were fired from Sukchon, north of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on March 26 and flew 403 miles across the country before landing in waters off the east coast.”

I’ll be doing a Reddit AMA Sunday night, 7-9 p.m. Eastern time

Here’s the url; meanwhile, I’m reading all about what an AMA is and how not to make mine like Woody Harrelson’s.

Update: Try this link if the other one doesn’t work.

H.R. 1771 scheduled for a House floor vote on Monday

It’s on the calendar. And while I doubt there will be serious opposition in the House, we’ll need Kim Jong Un’s help to pass the Senate this year. But if not this year, next. Eventually, he’ll do something stupid, and when he does, we’ll be ready.

By itself, passage in the House would be a major symbolic victory. No one will ever be able to say there’s no alternative to standing by and watching a nation be slaughtered, strangled, and starved to death.

You hear a lot about how polarized this Congress is politically, but the Foreign Affairs Committee is a haven from that. The (relative) partisan and ideological balance in this bill’s support reflects that even in the Congress, there’s still a place where the two parties can work together. Royce himself has called our North Korea policy “a bipartisan failure.” H.R. 1771 represents a bipartisan recognition that we need a better strategy.

I can’t overstate my appreciation for so much hard work by Korean-American and other groups that mobilized to pass this bill: the Federation of Korean Associations, the North Korean Freedom Coalition, the Korean Church Coalition (which ran an outstanding event to support this bill two weeks ago), and of course, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

[The Korean Church Coalition, 2014 Leadership Conference, Washington]

Finally, I can’t overstate my appreciation to Chairman Royce for delivering, and to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s talented, overworked, underpaid, and often unrecognized staff members — of both parties, and in the Asia Subcommittee — who did the hard work that made this bill possible.

Open Sources, July 25, 2014

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NK NEWS has an extensive report about H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act. Your correspondent is interviewed at length, as is Christine Hong, to provide an opposing view. I have to say, I’m rather pleased with that choice myself, because it gives me an opening to present a short list of the neocons who’ve co-sponsored H.R. 1771: Elliot Engel, Loretta Sanchez, Karen Bass, Linda Sanchez, Chaka Fattah, Gerry Connolly, Jim McDermott, Jim Moran, Tulsi Gabbard, Carol Shea-Porter, Marcy Kaptur, Colleen Hanabusa, Alcee Hastings, and Joseph P. Kennedy III. Seriously — does this woman ever do any research before opining?

The more legitimate criticism is that Congress will simply fail to move it, but then, there are rumors about town that the next Congress could be a more favorable environment for it, particularly as the President’s credibility on foreign policy continues to weaken among members of both parties..

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DEAR YONHAP REPORTERS: Please stop calling North Korea “an impoverished nation.” North Korea is undoubtedly a nation with many impoverished people, but the government of an impoverished nation wouldn’t be able afford an underwater hotel, a new ski resort, a new water park, a $1.3 billion-a-year ballistic missile program, nuclear weapons, and other things that cost far more than the cost of satisfying all of those international aid appeals.

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THE ASAN INSTITUTE HAS PUBLISHED a must-read comparison of human rights violations and sanctions against Syria and North Korea:

This paper compares the human rights violations and crimes against humanity in North Korea and Syria as described in the COI reports. It finds that the consistency, purpose, and scope of human rights violations in North Korea are worse than those during the early stages of the Syrian uprising before the situation deteriorated into a civil war. However, unlike the case of Syria, not a single US Presidential Executive Order, EU Council Regulation, or UN Security Council Resolution has dealt with human rights violations in North Korea. [Asan Institute]

And of course, both of these crimes dwarf Gaza, yet get a fraction of the attention … for some reason. Asan’s analysis is extensive, methodical, carefully documented, and even presented with graphs and charts. Read the whole thing, and don’t read me to conclude that sanctions against Syria are unwarranted – they’re warranted – read it to conclude that the absence of human rights sanctions against North Korea is inconsistent and indefensible.

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AT FOREIGN POLICY, an examination of North Korean-Iranian WMD cooperation:

One particular area of concern for the global powers negotiating with Iran is that North Korean technicians will provide Iran with advanced centrifuge technology. Pyongyang has apparently mastered production of the P-2 centrifuge. These are much more efficient than the P-1 centrifuges that Iran currently uses, and they are more proven than the IR-2m that Iran is trying to develop, apparently due to technical difficulties with making the P-2 type and shortages of key raw materials.

If North Korea was willing to build Syria a nuclear reactor, why wouldn’t it share centrifuge designs with Iran? Note that at least someone in the current administration shares the suspicion that these regimes are cooperating in their nuclear weapons development.

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A FEW OF YOU E-MAILED me this “exclusive” AP report by Eric Talmadge on agriculture in North Korea, and while I don’t see anything particularly novel or exclusive about the information it reports, I do credit Talmadge with skeptical and balanced reporting, questioning what he’s told, and introducing extrinsic facts to give his readers a clearer idea of the truth of the story. That’s probably the best we could ask for, with one important exception — readers should not be left to guess whether Talmadge drove himself to Changpyong-ri, or whether he was escorted there by government minders.

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SO NOW THAT 30% OF MY TRAFFIC is coming from Europe, does that mean I have to stop posting things like this? (h/t)

I’ve never had a visit from Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan. Does that mean I can start making fun of those places instead? Do you suppose people in Tajiks and Kyrgyz are good sports?

No, I suppose not.

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THE FAA HAS BANNED U.S. commercial flights over North Korea, although based on this regulation, it’s not clear to me why that alters the status quo. It may be that FAA issued an advisory, reminding operators of the existing rule.

Test something louder, Dear Leader. John Kerry still can’t hear you.

With the world erupting in the greatest cascade of escalating conflicts since 1975 and President Obama’s approval rating on foreign policy at negative 21.2% — 11% lower than his overall (dis)approval rating — John Kerry eked out some time over the weekend to tempt fate with a dubious boast:

I just came back from China, where we are engaged with the Chinese in dealing with North Korea. And you will notice, since the visit last year, North Korea has been quieter. We haven’t done what we want to do yet with respect to the de-nuclearization. But we are working on that and moving forward. [John Kerry, Meet the Press, July 20, 2014]

If you’re in Seoul or certain parts of Washington, that clapping sound isn’t applause; it’s the smack of palms against foreheads. Kerry’s observation rubs a lamp that wiser men do not touch for fear of the genies they would rather not summon. One may as well compliment a politician’s moderate views during primary season, or announce one’s arrival in the cellblock by telling the gang leader that he seems a decent enough fellow. As if on cue, yesterday, North Korea threatened South Korea and the United States with “practical retaliatory actions of justice.”

As South Koreans are keenly aware, North Korea has not been quiet. Under the direct supervision of His Porcine Majesty, it has been testing SCUDs in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, along with massive barrages of artillery rockets. The U.S. and U.N. responses to this have been negligible.

At best, Kerry’s comment suggests poor coordination with one of our most important allies that still hasn’t been attacked this year. At worst, it suggests dangerously wishful and complacent thinking. It clearly means that Kerry neither knows nor cares much about North Korea. Such revelations cause unease among our allies, which is why the State Department had to “clarify” Kerry’s remarks yesterday:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is clearly concerned about North Korea’s provocative actions and did not mean to downplay the seriousness of the issue when he said Pyongyang is “quieter” than before, a government official said Monday.

“The secretary and we all have been very clear in condemning North Korea’s aggressive actions when they occur. We’ve talked recently about the ballistic missiles and how those were in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a regular press briefing.

“So I think the secretary has been very clear about our concern with North Korea’s activity,” she said in response to a question whether Kerry’s statement is a correct assessment of the situation. “He wasn’t trying to convey something different than we’ve conveyed in the past.” [Yonhap]

Concern, however, is no substitute for a coherence in matters of policy. Under Kerry’s tenure, the Obama Administration has shown a lack of seriousness about enforcing existing U.N. Security Council sanctions, even after North Korea was caught in flagrante delicto. It has imposed targeted financial sanctions on Zimbabwe, Russia, and Belarus – and grudgingly enforced tough financial sanctions against Iran – while its tepid trade sanctions against North Korea are stuck in the 1970s. Treasury has sanctioned and blocked the assets of the top leaders of these nations, but none of the top leaders of North Korea.

Our government has designated Burma and Iran to be primary money laundering concerns, a potentially devastating measure that is the financial industry’s equivalent of a sex offender registration, isolating them from a community where reputation means everything. It has made no such designation with respect to North Korea, the world’s most prolific state sponsor of money laundering, counterfeiting, drug dealing, and illegal proliferation.

Most unforgivably, it has offered no policy response whatsoever to a U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s finding that Kim Jong Un’s regime is committing crimes against humanity. Kerry is as deaf to the cries of the North Korean people as he is to roar of Kim Jong Un’s rockets. That is why North Korea continues to defy the Commission of Inquiry and all those who support its recommendations.

It’s as if this administration has no North Korea policy at all.

Meanwhile, as gravity of the threat from North Korea builds, President Park is so convinced that a North Korean provocation is imminent that she has directed her military commanders to return fire immediately if fired on by North Korea. This puts us one ill-advised temptation away from the miscalculation that could start Korean War II.

But perhaps, Koreans wonder, this isn’t what Kerry meant:

[C]ritics said [Kerry’s] assessment is far from reality. 

While characterizing the North as “quieter,” Kerry might have referred to the fact that the provocative nation has not carried out a nuclear test or a long-range rocket launch — the two main types of provocations Pyongyang has used to rattle the world.

Even without such major provocations, however, the North has continued to rattle its saber in recent months, firing a number of rockets, missiles and artillery rounds off its coast with some launches in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Last week, the council issued a statement condemning the North’s ballistic missile launches.  [Yonhap]

To claim success for Kim Jong Un’s failure to nuke off is to confuse coincidence with causation. There is no evidence that Kerry’s diplomacy has resulted in serious movement toward disarming North Korea. There is more evidence that the Obama Administration itself is moving away from denuclearization as an objective.

One could just as well claim that the House’s introduction last April of tough financial sanctions targeted at Kim Jong Un’s financial jugular may be deterring him from a nuclear test. Or, it could simply be that North Korea’s nuclear tests will conform to their previous interval of three to four years. A test of something louder would at least get the attention of everyone else in Washington who would otherwise forget that North Korea exists. One can hope that this time, Congress might just respond with more credible policy options than John Kerry has to offer.

U.S. should ask Mexico to search the M/V Mu Du Bong

Last week, I linked to a piece by investigative journalist Claudia Rosett (third item), noting the travels of the North Korean freighter Mu Du Bong from Cuba into points unknown in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, thanks to intrepid Miami Herald reporter Juan Tamayo, we learn that the Mu Du Bong has run aground in the Mexican Gulf Coast port of Tuxpan, not far from Veracruz. The ship is said to be empty, but there are a number of suspicious aspects of its behavior.

The 430-foot Mu Du Bong grounded Monday on a reef about seven miles from the Mexican port of Tuxpan, according to shipping industry officials. The job of pulling it off the reef will be complicated and take several days, they said.

The ship was empty and planning to pick up cargo in Tuxpan when it ran aground because its captain “lost his bearings,” according to a report by the Agence France Presse. Tuxpan is known as one of Mexico’s main sugar exporting ports.

Port administrators told El Nuevo Herald aid they did not know whether the Mu Du Bong was entering or leaving the port. An official at the Captain of the Port’s office said no one there was authorized to give information on the case. [Miami Herald]

Like the Chong Chon Gang, the North Korean ship that was caught carrying weapons from Cuba through the Panama Canal last year, the Mu Du Bong had its automatic location beacon switched off for several days, creating a potentially unsafe condition for other ships.

The Mu Du Bong crossed the Panama Canal into the Caribbean June 15. Its transponder signaled June 25 that it was near the port of Mariel, and on June 29-30 that it was in Havana, according to a Forbes magazine article Sunday that first reported its voyage.

For the next nine days its transponder fell silent, Forbes reported. It started working again on July 10, showing the ship was in Havana and then sailed north into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the magazine article.

One shipping industry official called the freighter built in 1983 “an ugly old rust bucket” and said photos of the ship’s deck show an odd mast surrounded by wires that could be some sort of jerry-rigged crane or an antenna. [....]

The Forbes report said shipping records show the two vessels share the same commercial agent, Ocean Maritime Management Company Ltd. U.N. experts who investigated the Chong Chon Gang incident said that company “played a key role in arranging the shipment of the concealed cargo of (Cuban) arms and related materiel.” [Miami Herald]

The Mu Du Bong’s shipping agent was Ocean Maritime Management, the same company that arranged for the voyage of the Chong Chon Gang.

Mu Du Bong

[Image source]

In other words, four months after a U.N. Panel of Experts report laid out conclusive evidence of OMM’s deliberate and premeditated violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department has not sanctioned OMM or any other entity under Executive Order 13551 over the Chong Chon Gang incident, or added it to the list of Specially Designated Nationals. Meanwhile, OMM is still acting as an agent for suspicious North Korean shipping traffic to Cuba.

Under a recent U.N. Security Council resolution, Mexican authorities have the legal authority to inspect the Mu Du Bong.

Moreover, in the effort to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to or from the Democratic People’s Republic or Korea or its nationals of any banned items, States are authorized to inspect all cargo within or transiting through their territory that has originated in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or that is destined for that country.  They are to deny permission to any aircraft to take off from, land in or overfly their territory, if they have reasonable grounds to believe the aircraft contains prohibited items. [UNSCR 2094]

I don’t know whether the U.S. government is currently pressing the Mexican government to assert that right, but a U.S. government with a genuine interest in enforcing U.N. Security Council sanctions would be pressing for an inspection of the Mu Du Bong.

A number of analysts quoted in various press reports doubted that the Mu Du Bong could be carrying weapons because its bills of lading list only civilian goods. But by the same faulty argumentum ad ignorantiam logic, North Korea has no concentration camps because it denies having them, and O.J. is still looking for the real killer. At page 92 of this U.N. Panel of Experts report, you can see the bills of lading for the Chong Chon Gang. They mention 210,000 bags of sugar, and nothing about MiGs or missile parts. The real answer is that we won’t know what the Mu Du Bong is carrying until the ship is inspected.

Update: I changed “press” to “ask” in the title of this post. Better to ask nicely the first time, and “press” only if asking nicely doesn’t work, right?

Update 2: More on this story via Reuters.

Open Sources, July 18, 2014

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THAT’LL SHOW ‘EM: The State Department is sending the International Civil Aviation Organization a strongly worded complaint about North Korea’s rocket launches. Oh, and the U.N. Security Council issued a press release of disapproval:

[You can change the puppets, but the strings still move the same way.]

Somewhere in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un is asking his generals how many divisions the ICAO has, and Park Geun-Hye is asking her Foreign Minister whether she should send him to Xi Jinping’s throne with 1,000 taels of gold or 5,000.

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HOW NORTH KOREANS ARE CONDITIONED not to ask “why.”

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HOW NORTH KOREA obtains and distributes consumer goods, according to a recent defector.

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SUE MI TERRY’S article, “A Korea Whole and Free,” is now available at Foreign Affairs. Hat tip to this piece in The National Interest, which discusses some of the things I hope the ROK Army is preparing to do to stabilize the North if things do fall apart. I hope the lesson we learn from Syria is that even the most peaceful, democratic revolution can turn into hell on earth if we don’t support those who share our values and our interests.

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THOSE WHO ADVOCATE for North Korea’s referral to the International Criminal Court would be well advised to consider its institutional decline in Africa, and the growing reliance on ad hoc courts as a replacement. That’s particularly worthy of consideration in North Korea’s case, because (1) everyone knows that China would veto an ICC referral, and (2) South Korea, as a highly developed nation, can afford to support an ad hoc tribunal.

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THE CHOSUN ILBO keeps you up on the latest unconfirmed rumors about State Department kremlinology. I suppose Sung Kim will end up in some position of influence over North Korea policy, and given his background as a Chris Hill crony, we have little reason to expect that he’d exercise it with much competence.

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KIM JONG UN’S BORDER CRACKDOWN catches a woman who was smuggling out “sensitive internal documents.” May God help her … and her family.

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PARK SANG-HAK AND seven fellow defectors have launched more leaflet balloons against North Korea:

“Since the start of this year, the North fired missiles and artillery shells on dozens of occasions, firing away (money) worth three months of food for North Korean people,” Park Sang-hak, the head of the activist group Fighters for Free North Korea, said. “We decided to launch the anti-Pyongyang leaflets since the government did not take any action.” [Yonhap]

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IN A RARE CASE of rising humanitarian spending, North Korea has increased its spending on used medical supplies, including radiology equipment (meaning, x-ray machines?). The new spending may or may not move North Korea up from near last place in global rankings for health care spending. Yonhap speculates that importing drugs could give North Korea a means to reverse-engineer and re-export the drugs. Or, that the new imports may have been necessitated by the recent apartment collapse in Pyongyang, which would suggest that North Korean hospitals were unprepared to treat survivors of the disaster.

Obviously, it remains to be seen where the equipment would be installed and how equally its benefits would be distributed, but I can think of a lot of worse things North Korea has imported recently.

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AFTER ALL THE INK THAT HAS BEEN SPILLED over it and all of the money that’s being spent on it, I still have no idea how President Park plans to reunify Korea, but she’s established a blue-ribbon committee to carry out those cryptic plans.

Is Orascom facilitating crimes against humanity in North Korea?

New Focus International is reporting that North Korea has distributed cell phones to its secret police, and that the secret police are using them to hunt down potential refugees:

The distributions of cell-phones are being made as part of efforts to aid agents of the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of People’s Security in preventing people escaping the country.

As part of the process of organising an escape, North Koreans intending to flee the country often make contact through cell-phones with those who have already made it.

The surveillance authorities are acutely aware of this, and the distribution of cell-phones is seen as a direct response to counter such attempts at reaching the outside world.

In June, our sources described, ‘This kind of cell-phone use and distribution is supposed to be illegal. The authorities are very much on edge about preventing escapes and seeking out channels of communication to the outside that they are handing out cell-phones to security agents.’

When a North Korean individual is discovered to have attempted phone calls with someone over the border in China, surveillance agents in the local area communicate via cell-phone in order to move quickly to cut that channel. [New Focus International]

That North Korea’s secret police would have the best comms Pyongyang can obtain for them isn’t surprising. Nor is it surprising that the secret police would use those comms to hunt down those who would flee their Fatherland for food and freedom.

It is still legally significant that these specific facts are being reported by New Focus, because in most U.S. sanctions regulations, such as those against Iran and Cuba, facilitating censorship or human rights abuses is a basis to block the assets of any entity that knowingly involves itself in such contemptible conduct. Because our North Korea sanctions regulations are among the weakest on the books today, there is no similar provision in effect with respect to North Korea. Section 104(a) of H.R. 1771 would weld this loophole shut by imposing mandatory blocking sanctions on any company that knowingly facilitates censorship or severe human rights abuses.

[This is what North Korea does to people who help others to escape.]

It’s frustrating that New Focus doesn’t say more about what sort of cell phones the security forces are using to help us sort the cats from the mice, but it is possible to make some educated guesses.

Potential escapees, traders, smugglers, and defection brokers illegally use cell phones that operate on Chinese networks — networks that reach a few miles into North Korea. Koryolink, a subsidiary of the Egyptian conglomerate Orascom, is widely believed to be the only authorized provider of cellular communications services in North Korea. It is possible, but unlikely, that North Korea’s secret police would use any other cellular network but Koryolink to communicate. If my assumption and New Focus’s reporting are both correct, Koryolink is on notice that the Inmin Poan Bu and the Kuk-Ga Anjeon Bowibu are using its service for purposes that could one day be punishable by the blocking of assets, and by criminal and civil penalties. Even the risk of blocking sanctions would likely be a deal-breaker for Orascom’s Board of Directors. After all, Orascom is already having trouble repatriating its alleged profits from North Korea.

That means that if H.R. 1771 passes, some hard decisions will be necessary for Koryolink to have a future, just as it will be true of other investors who have overlooked ethical concerns about their investments in North Korea. First, Koryolink (or Orascom’s directors) could very quickly and publicly decide that supplying the regime’s security forces is a legal and financial risk they aren’t prepared to accept. Then, Kim Jong Un would have to decide whether he’s willing to allow his security forces to be denied Koryolink’s services so that his other minions can keep it.

The other implication of New Focus’s report would be the use of Koryolink to isolate North Koreans, roll back the gradual marketization of its economy, and restore its fractured information blockade. Many supporters of engagement with Pyongyang take a see-no-evil approach to investment, justifying their actions with arguments that those investments contribute to the greater good by reforming the bigger system. If Koryolink is an instrumental tool in Kim Jong Un’s border crackdown, it would do much to undercut that argument.

Unlike most “engagement” deals with the regime in Pyongyang, I harbor a degree of ambivalence about Koryolink. I think it’s unlikely that they have anywhere near the number of subscribers they’ve claimed, and I suspect their phones are both closely monitored and (as with all resources in North Korea) distributed to loyalists, and those who can afford to bribe their way through the usual restrictions. Still, I recognize the potential benefit in allowing North Koreans, including elite North Koreans, to have the capacity to communicate from city to city about news, prices, and ideas, or to spread the word should there be a popular disturbance or a military mutiny in one of the provinces. The likelihood that the system is heavily monitored and equipped with a kill switch greatly mitigates these potential benefits.

Ultimately, however, what I don’t know about Orascom outweighs what I do know, and the things we know the least about are its financial arrangements in North Korea and the extent of its partnership with the state’s machinery of oppression. Those, too, could be deal-breakers. Perhaps they should be.

Open Sources, July 14, 2014

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NORTH KOREA FIRED A MASSIVE BARRAGE OF ROCKETS over the weekend, this time in the Sea of Japan,* near the disputed inter-Korean maritime border.

“North Korea fired off about 100 artillery shells in a northeast direction into the East Sea for about 30 minutes from 11:43 a.m. from a place hundreds of meters away from the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Goseong, Gangwon Province,” JCS spokesman Um Hyo-sik said.

“They landed in the sea, some 1 to 8 kilometers north of the Northern Limit Line (NLL),” he said, citing the de facto inter-Korean maritime border.

While it is unknown exactly which launchers the North used to fire the shells, the South Korean military said most of them were likely fired from the North’s 122-meter or 200-meter launchers.

“Some of them flew some 3 kilometers, and others at the maximum of 50 kilometers,” a JCS officer said, requesting anonymity.

“It is not unusual for Pyongyang to carry out such a shelling on its east coast, but it is rare that the North has done that near the military demarcation line,” he noted.

[Update: And also, two SCUDs into the Sea of Japan.] North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.

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I GUESS I’M PLEASED AT HOW FEW media outlets fell for that rather obvious parody story that North Korea had claimed to have won the World Cup. A long-time reader (thank you) alerted me to the story over the weekend, asking me if it could be true. It took about five minutes of investigation for me to note that neither the Rodong Sinmun nor KCNA made a similar claim.

It took less time than that to spot some obvious red flags in the video itself. Anyone even vaguely familiar with North Korean dialects (or the distinctive manner of speech of its news announcers) would have seen a few things amiss with the supposed video of the broadcast, which appears to be an overdub of North Korean news clips by an unconvincing South Korean voice actress.

Also, the reference to South Korean player Jong Tae-Se (the In-min Rooney, because his past connection to North Korea) would have been a dead giveaway to any South Korean soccer fan.*

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CLAUDIA ROSETT:

[L]et’s hope U.S. authorities are keeping a close eye on a North Korean cargo ship called the Mu Du Bong, which late last month called at Cuba, then vanished from the commercial shipping grid for more than a week. This past Thursday, July 10, the Mu Du Bong reappeared at Havana, then began steaming north of Cuba, and as of this writing is cruising the Gulf of Mexico, not all that far from the Mexican port of Tampico — or for that matter, the coast of Texas.

If you were to ask me what North Korea’s most likely nuclear delivery system was, I’d say it’s commercial shipping.

~   4   ~

THOSE REPORTS THAT KIM JONG UN was seen walking with a limp weren’t completely persuasive to me because I couldn’t find any video, but if you’re interested in knowing as much as I know, read this and this. I suppose it’s worth keeping an eye on, but if Baron Harkonnen could rule Geides Prime from the comfort of his suspensors, I suppose the same is true of Kim Jong Un ruling North Korea.

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MAAZEL TOT: Lorin Maazel has died. Maazel, as you recall, attracted the wrath of this site for comparing North Korea’s crimes against humanity to Gitmo, which was an extraordinarily stupid thing for any person to say, regardless of your views about Gitmo. Which is still open for some reason, more than five years after Barack Obama’s inauguration.

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AUSTRALIA IS SAID TO BE CONSIDERING “a bill that may penalize North Korea for its human rights abuses,” but the Korea Herald doesn’t quote any Australian government sources for the report, and politicians are very accomplished at leading people to the conclusions they want those people to draw, without actually articulating those conclusions themselves.

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A MIG-17 CRASH TEMPORARILY GROUNDED North Korea’s entire fleet of 100 aircraft for several weeks, according to the Joongang Ilbo. The article notes the growing maintenance problems this aging fleet is creating for the NKPAF.

~   8   ~

Our Defense Secretary, who concedes that ISIS itself poses an imminent security threat to the United States, must deny that uranium seized by ISIS is a threat, at least for now. I don’t which of these things confounds me more — (a) that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction after all, (b) that a six-year war failed to eliminate them as a threat, or (c) that we stabilized this country only to walk away and let it collapse into anarchy.

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THE AMERICAN INTEREST LOOKS at the money laundering risks associated with the large-scale holding of “big bills” — that is, large-denomination notes for Swiss francs, Canadian dollars, and other secondary “reserve” currencies.

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EUROPE SEEMS TO HAVE FALLEN OUT OF LOVE with President Obama, but in the New York Times, Clemens Wergin, foreign editor of Die Welt, argues that Obama’s foreign policy is too European.

While Mr. Obama’s new style of diplomacy — soft power and nonintervention — was at first seen as a welcome break with the Bush years, five years later a dismal realization has set in. It turns out that soft power cannot replace hard power. On the contrary, soft power is merely a complementary foreign policy tool that can yield results only when it is backed up by real might and the political will to employ it if necessary. [....]

Barack Obama wanted America to learn from Europe’s soft-power approach. But while Europeans are loath to admit it, they know that European soft power often doesn’t work either — and that it is a luxury that they could afford only because America’s hard power always loomed in the background. And when they dropped the ball, America would pick it up.

And therein lies the lesson to our American friends who seemingly want to become less involved and more European: There is no second America to back you up when you drop the ball.

Read the whole thing. I also thought this piece in MacLean’s was well-written and well-reasoned.

* Earlier versions of this post misspelled Jong’s name, and incorrectly stated that North Korea’s shells fell into the Yellow Sea. They actually fell in the Sea of Japan. Thanks to Yang for the correction.