Archive for Anju Links

Must listen: Suki Kim, on teaching undercover at PUST

Kurt Achin, who hosts a series of outstanding podcasts for NK News, interviews Suki Kim, who went undercover as a teacher at the experimental Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. PUST teaches an elite, hand-picked group of male students, ostensibly as a strategy to open North Korea to the world, but the regime’s restrictions on both Kim and her students were so severe that Kim calls PUST “a five-star prison.”

Among other verboten topics, Kim wasn’t allowed to mention the internet. At a technology university.

At about 5:30, Kim describes how the PUST leadership urged its teachers never to talk to the press, even after they return to their countries of origin. In other words, PUST saddled them with the censorship of Pyongyang, and told them to carry it with them, wherever they go.

Engagers don’t change Pyongyang, engagers change for Pyongyang.

What struck me the most was Kim’s statement, at about 23 minutes in, about the way young North Koreans learn to lie casually, habitually, and convincingly. Here’s another interview with Kim via NPR. Her book is called, “Without You, There Is No Us.”

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Update: Evan Ramstad reviews Kim’s book for the Minneapolis-Star Tribune.

Kim Il Sung’s creepy quest to live to 100.

The delightfully named Kim So-Yeon was one of Kim Il Sung’s personal physicians before he defected in 1992.

The doctor’s team devised many different ways to ensure a longer life.

“We did a lot of research,” says Kim. “But we only gave him the treatments he had chosen from our list of options.”

One treatment the late leader favored in his later years, according to Kim, was blood transfusions from citizens in their twenties.

Those who had been chosen for the honor of donating blood to the “Eternal President” were fed special nutritious food beforehand.

“He wanted to rule as long as he could. I think he wanted to live a long life for his own satisfaction,” says Kim.

Another favorite, according to Kim, was watching young children do funny or cute things to make him laugh. [CNN]

If you were to ask me to free-associate adjectives to describe Kim Il Sung, “jovial” wouldn’t be one of my choices. So, could this possibly be true? I guess a lot of things could be true of Kim Il Sung, and people who share his genes.

Surprise! The sleeper issue in this year’s mid-terms is … foreign policy.

In a reversal of 2006, it’s turning into a referendum on the President’s passive, too-little-too-late interventionism.

North Korean Gulag survivors call on Switzerland to freeze Kim Jong Un’s slush funds (Alternate title: Cursed are the Cheesemakers).

Switzerland has always been there for North Korea. When North Koreans were starving to death in heaps, Switzerland was there to receive Kim Jong Il’s personal shopper and sell him millions of dollars’ worth of its finest timepieces. When North Korea needed creative new ways to make money — literally! — Switzerland sold it the very same intaglio presses and optically variable ink our Bureau of Engraving and Printing uses to make money. When Kim Jong Un needed a place to spend his formative rumspringa torturing small animals, masturbating to bondage porn, flunking his classes, and developing the personality profile of a school shooter — a school shooter with nuclear weapons — his daddy picked Switzerland. Thanks to Switzerland’s narrow interpretation of U.N. sanctions on “luxury goods,” His Porcine Majesty is now eating himself into a mobility scooter on Emmental cheese.* And when the Treasury Department sanctioned North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank for its involvement in WMD proliferation, it was the Swiss who yodeled that Uncle Sam was starving North Korean babies.

Above all else, when Kim Jong Il needed a place to stash somewhere between $1 billion and $4 billion in personal slush funds, Switzerland and its bankers received his money launderers with open arms. But for one regrettable violation of North Korea’s human rights last year, when Switzerland refused to sell North Korea $7 million in ski lift equipment,** Switzerland has always been there to provide North Korea the watches and numbered bank accounts that starving people need so desperately (and the finest cheeses, of course). Switzerland’s refusal to sell the ski lifts may have delayed the opening of the Masikryeong Ski Resort by several days, but the Swiss people can still take comfort in knowing that, thanks to their government’s laissez-faire policies, the death certificates of 2.5 million expendable men, women, and children (might, possibly) record the hour and minute of their sacrifice with Swiss precision.

The Swiss government has also done its share. Every year, as a token of appreciation for North Korea’s patronage, it refunds the equivalent of 0.7%*** of North Korea’s slush funds to the North Korean government … as humanitarian aid. It’s all part of a reputation for impeccable financial ethics that dates back to the Holocaust. You could say that Switzerland is to kleptocrats what Cambodia is to pedophiles, if this wasn’t so grossly unfair to Cambodia.

For a while, it was fashionable for North Korea watchers to suggest that Kim Jong Un’s Swiss education might have influenced him toward a more libertine style of governance, but things haven’t quite worked out that way. It may be that these scholars were working from a flawed model of Switzerland as a liberal European utopia — a land of cuckoo clocks, alpine meadows, open-air heroin-shooting galleries, and drive-in brothels. This, of course, is a crude stereotype. The real Switzerland**** is the home of Europe’s answer to Gitmo, except that it holds more people (476 men, women, and children) and kills one of them now and then (sound familiar?). It’s a land that values simple things, like racial purity (sound familiar?), and that tolerates all religions except the ones that it doesn’t (hello!).

Actually, until this moment, I’d never realized just how much Switzerland and North Korea have in common. There may be enough similarities that, with a little imagination, you could view Switzerland and North Korea as moral equals.***** One logical reaction to this would be to reject everything that any Swiss person says about North Korea — ever — regardless of its substantive merit.****** Another possible response would be to call for Switzerland to use its financial power to alter how Kim Jong Un uses North Korea’s wealth and rules over its people.

This latter view is now advanced by U.N. Watch, a Swiss NGO. Despite the fact that they are Swiss, perhaps we should suspend logic briefly and hear them out. After all, U.N. Watch is really just publishing a call “by 20 North Korean defectors,” including several survivors of North Korea’s prison camps, for the Swiss Government to block Kim Jong Un’s slush funds. I’ve reprinted the letter in full below the fold, but here is the gist of it:

In conclusion, based on international law and Swiss domestic law, prior Swiss precedents, and the basic principles of morality and humanity, we respectfully urge Switzerland to immediately freeze all assets of the North Korean leadership, whether held in their names or those of their associates, that are located within its territory.

Even better, the Swiss government could make every centime of those deposits available to buy food—provided the distribution of those purchases was better monitored than, say, the Oil-for-Food program, or the World Food Program’s current North Korea operations. There is a catch, of course. Funds that are blocked, as opposed to confiscated, still belong to the North Korean government. But surely Kim Jong Un wouldn’t deny starving people their fair share of his vast wealth out of spite alone.

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* Or so say the unverified rumors. I guess you could verify the exports from trade statistics, but I hesitate to believe that anyone who knows what’s on Kim Jong Un’s table is telling.

** I wish this was a tasteless joke, but the North Koreans really did call this a “serious human rights abuse.” The value of the ski lifts, at $7 million, is almost exactly the same amount as what Switzerland donated to North Korea as humanitarian aid the same year.

*** Actually, it’s impossible to estimate that percentage without knowing how big the slush funds are or where they’re deposited, but if you divide $7 million by $1 billion, you get 0.007, or 0.7%.

**** Disclaimer: Author may not have actually been to Switzerland.

***** Especially if you’re really, really high.

****** Some might say that’s especially so of one who called the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report on North Korea’s crimes against humanity “a massive exaggeration.” The best thing that can be said of most Holocaust deniers is that they’re merely vicarious, post-hoc deniers. This cannot be said of Felix Abt.

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Whether or not this is true of President Obama, it’s an insightful analysis.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

His essential problem is that he has very poor judgment. And we don’t say this because he’s so famously bright—academically credentialed, smooth, facile with words, quick with concepts. (That’s the sort of intelligence the press and popular historians most prize and celebrate, because it’s exactly the sort they possess.) But brightness is not the same as judgment, which has to do with discernment, instinct, the ability to see the big picture, wisdom that is earned or natural.

Mr. Obama can see the trees, name their genus and species, judge their age and describe their color. He absorbs data. But he consistently misses the shape, size and density of the forest. His recitations of data are really a faux sophistication that suggests command of the subject but misses the heart of the matter.

I’m still working out how much of this I agree with as it applies to the President,* but that’s not my real interest in this passage. What interests me is Noonan’s insightful distinction between “brightness” and judgment.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone through a similar analysis while reading scholarly articles about North Korea. So many bright people have constructed intricate, coherent, and rational packages of incentives for North Korea to disarm, to reform, and to better the lives of its people — and still do, to this day, in spite of everything! — while misjudging much more fundamental things: Why do they think Kim Jong Il/Un wants those things as much as they want him to want them? What makes them think he’d go along with their plans? Why should we trust him? What outcomes are their plans likely to have achieved a year after we’ve made the down payments? What kind of behavior are we incentivizing and perpetuating?

Asking bright people such questions can be like asking the gnomes about Phase 2. They repeat Phases 1 and 3 — a little more slowly, this time — and patiently re-annunciate why the plan’s logic is so unassailable, even (especially!) from Pyongyang’s perspective. They’re almost always correct. And it’s almost always irrelevant that they are. In projecting their own reason and altruism onto the little gray men in Pyongyang, some of the world’s brightest people sound as oblivious to the bigger picture — as lacking in judgment — as those missionaries who set off in a shiny new air-conditioned tour bus to read Bible verses to the Taliban … in Korean. The outcomes were not dissimilar.

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* I know I don’t agree with the word “faux.” I think the sophistication is real. I also agree that sophistication is overrated.

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Update: Here’s a good example of what I’m talking talking about. Phase 1, throw money at North Korea. Phase 3, peace! HT: Stephan Haggard.

LiNK Fundraiser in Long Beach on Oct. 25: 5K for Freedom

From LiNK’s site:

5K for FREEDOM is an all ages event raising funds for Liberty in North Korea.

You are welcome to walk, run, bike, rollerblade, jog, push a stroller, or whatever you’d like! This is a non-competitive 5K designed to encourage fun while raising money for a good cause.

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is a non-profit working with North Korean refugees in hiding in China. These are families, grandmothers, children, daughters, etc. They risked their lives escaping North Korea and now live in fear of being sent back by the Chinese police.

LiNK helps these brave souls down to Southeast Asia and then on to safety.  This process is long, hard, costly, and dangerous.  It takes $3,000 per person to complete this journey.  Our goal is to raise enough at this event to rescue one person.  We can do it together!

Scotland has voted to stay in Britain, which is good news for Americans because …

if anyone ever separated these two mobs of chundering hooligans with a border fence, all we’d have left would be Russian dashcam videos.

Warning: The following video contains strong language, hilarious accents, and unintentional ethnic stereotypes.

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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.

Malnutrition and disillusionment take their toll on the North Korean military.

Rimjin-gang reports that the NKPA is finding that after a full generation of hunger and depressed birth rates, there are fewer young North Korean men who meet its physical standards, and many of those who do dodge the draft. I’d assume that draft-dodging in North Korea requires one to have the financial means to pay significant bribes, and if the possession of such financial means is still largely a function of songbun (hereditary political caste), then the disillusionment has entered the middle and upper-middle castes, too.

For those seeking more background on hunger in the North Korean military, see the links at the end of Rimjin-gang’s article.

Former Obama Admin. official: Our N. Korea sanctions are weak and our policy is stuck

The Obama Administration’s North Korea team is stuck. Its thirst for fresh blood is so dire that it recently asked Keith Richards whether he still has the number of that secret clinic in Switzerland.* Don’t take my word for it. Last Friday, former Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a friend and spy of mine was sitting in the audience (thank you). Campbell’s remarks are worth listening to in full, but the money quote — which went unreported in the press despite its significance, and despite the fact that Campbell emphasized it and closed with it — starts at 20:19:

And I must say — I’ll just conclude with this — when we think about our overall tool kit, there is one element of our strategy that I don’t think people fully appreciate. We often think of North Korea — I certainly did — as one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, with almost impossible objective … obstacles for people wanting to travel, invest, or the like.

It turns out, when I was at the State Department, working on Myanmar, or Burma, comparing Burma to North Korea is night and day. Burma has MUCH more in the way of sanctions and challenges associated with interactions. And I do think if we faced a set of further challenges with respect to North Korea, it would be possible for us to put more financial pressure on North Korea.

And I think we need to let our Chinese friends know and understand that some of the things that have been contemplated by the new regime, if followed through on, would entail and involve a reaction that is much more strenuous than [what] we’ve seen in the past. And I think that element of our diplomacy is likely to be necessary as we go forward. [Kurt Campbell, Speech at CSIS, Sept. 5, 2014]

Hallelujah: someone actually read the sanctions regulations for once. From this day forward, you’ll no longer have to take my word for that, either. Campbell may not know that Treasury recently relaxed Burma sanctions regulations, but his point stands — until quite recently, Burma sanctions were comprehensive, reached all kinds of trade and investment that used the dollar-based system, and included strong financial sanctions. Unlike North Korea, Burma is listed as a primary money laundering concern. Unlike North Korea, Burma’s human rights violators were specifically targeted.

Thus, contrary to a widespread misconception, our North Korea sanctions are not maxed out; in fact, they are relatively weak. Those of you in the news business owe it to your readers to challenge that assumption before you print it. Start by asking the “expert” who repeats it whether he’s actually read the sanctions laws or regulations. Factual ignorance is not entitled to a place of equivalence in any policy debate.

It gets worse. Yonhap did quote another part of Campbell’s speech, in which he described how “many U.S. government officials handling North Korea are suffering from ‘fatigue and a sense of exhaustion’ in terms of strategies, after various tools, including pressure, have failed to make progress.” That’s interesting, but without the other part of his quote for context, it could leave you thinking that sanctions have failed as an instrument of policy. What Campbell really said is that we’ve never fully harnessed their potential.

Campbell also said, “We are in a set of circumstances now where it’s not clear fundamentally the way forward.” He observed that Kim Jong Il’s playbook, and the State Department playbook for responding to it, really aren’t working anymore, and that many of the North Koreans we used to talk to aren’t around any more, for various reasons. Efforts by a generation of policymakers to effect changes, including domestic reforms in North Korea, haven’t worked. As a result, sentiment here and in Northeast Asia has shifted, and people in the U.S. and other countries have migrated to the view that reunification, not continued separation, is in the best strategic interests of most of the major players in Northeast Asia. He called for more subversive information operations, including broadcasting, and for stronger diplomatic efforts with China, and especially with South Korea, to pave the way for reunification.

At which point, a gargantuan white mustache sprang from Campbell’s upper lip.

Yes, I’m aware that other former State Department types, specifically Robert Gallucci and Stephen Bosworth, are out there saying very different things. Yet despite the relative recency of Campbell’s tenure and his relatively higher place in State’s hierarchy, the press largely ignored the key part of Campbell’s remarks, but covered Gallucci and Bosworth’s widely.

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I have to think that if the Obama Administration disagreed with Campbell’s assessment, it wouldn’t have just transfused its North Korea team so thoroughly that the reader benefits from a diagram. Notably, Chief Negotiator Glyn Davies will move along to an ambassadorship elsewhere (possibly Thailand), Syd Seiler has moved from the White House National Security Staff to replace Davies, Allison Hooker will move from State to the NSS to replace Seiler, and Sung Kim will be a “special representative,” whatever that means.

The first thing Seiler did was to do no harm, by making it clear that the U.S. would not, contrary to rumors, hints, and China’s increasingly noisy demands, lower the bar on North Korea’s denuclearization to resume six-party talks, something that would effectively recognize North Korea as a nuclear state.

“We are not ideologically opposed to dialogue with North Korea, nor have we placed insurmountable obstacles to negotiations in our insisting that North Korea simply demonstrate it will live up to international obligations and abide by international norms and behavior,” he said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The bar has not been set too high by insisting that denuclearization talks be about denuclearization,” he said. [Yonhap]

That’s a lovely sentence for its elegance and clarity, and under the same circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have put it any differently. Seiler then summarized by saying that, “clearly, the ball is in Pyongyang’s court.” See also.

OFK regulars know that I haven’t been fond of Glyn Davies since this episode several years ago, and that the OFK archives have an elephantine memory. Josh Rogin described Davies as “a nuclear technology and Europe expert, having most recently served as the U.S. permanent representative to the IAEA in Vienna.” By contrast, Seiler has a very deep background in Korea. He’s a graduate of Yonsei University, has a Korean wife, and had nearly three decades of Korea experience at CIA and DNI before he went to the National Security staff. You’d expect such a man to know what a mackerel should cost, and how to haggle for a fair price. It helps that Seiler is no fool, either:

Like his predecessor, he agrees with the South Korean government’s North Korea policy and believes that the North should not be allowed to stall for time or be rewarded simply for talking.

A diplomat who has known Seiler for more than 10 years said, “He knows how the North cheated the U.S. and South Korea in the process of nuclear development.”

A Foreign Ministry official said, “If Russell, an expert on Japan, takes charge of Chinese and Japanese affairs as senior advisor at the NSC, Seiler will have enormous influence in Korean affairs.” [Chosun Ilbo]

If personnel is policy, then, the replacement of Davies by Seiler could herald modestly better policy. (If only we could have Kurt Campbell back….) At State, Seiler joins Danny Russel, his former White House colleague, who is now Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs. The White House says that this shake-up doesn’t foreshadow a change in its North Korea policy, but that’s standard White House talk; the consequence of any other response would be a year of briefings, hearings, interviews, listening tours, and op-ed wars.

Seiler said the U.S. policy on North Korea is composed of three key elements — diplomacy, pressure and deterrence, and that Washington will continue to seek robust implementation of U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions and its own sanctions on Pyongyang.

But he also held out the prospect of easing sanctions.

“If DPRK makes the right choice, returns to the negotiating table and embarks on a credible path of irreversible denuclearization and begins to comply with its international obligations and commitments, the appropriateness of sanctions will of course be reviewed,” he said. [Yonhap]

There’s little good that I could say about the robustness of that enforcement so far, or the quality of the diplomacy that’s been trying to hold our regional coalition together, but one can always hope. And not without some basis:

Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also said that the United States is unlikely to lower the bar for restarting the nuclear talks. Reported personnel changes in the U.S. government rather point to the opposite, he said.

“Overall there is nothing that I can see that suggests the U.S. government is even considering softening its stance on the many issues between Washington and Pyongyang. The new U.S. personnel changes suggest, in fact, the opposite,” he said. [....]

“Neither can be viewed as soft toward the North,” the expert said of Seiler and Kim.

Paal also said that the “secret trip” that American officials reportedly made to North Korea, even if it is true, must have focused only on the three American citizens detained in the North. The three men’s appearance before CNN cameras a week later reinforces this suspicion, he said. [Yonhap]

If Russel, Kim, and Seiler have similar views and work well together, they have the potential to make significant policy changes while a politically weakened administration is otherwise distracted by crises in the Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Gaza. That almost mirrors the situation of Chris Hill in 2006, when he ran away with a politically weakened Bush Administration’s North Korea policy while Bush was distracted by Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And as I’ve noted, there are some signs that the administration could be laying the groundwork for a harder line, although I doubt that it will be more than incrementally harder.

There are alternative theories, too. One that seems plausible to me is that Washington’s tactic of strategic patience, the trend of ‘not doing anything,’ has not changed.” That’s likely because doing nothing is what governments usually do when no single view prevails. And I’m far from certain that any single view prevails.

The Hankyoreh‘s analysis isn’t as plausible, but it’s much richer in amusement. It begins with rumors of another secret diplomatic trip to North Korea and runs feral with them. Although the administration would neither confirm nor deny the rumors, they probably have some basis in fact. Even so, they almost certainly do not mean “that the US will make an effort before the mid-term elections to improve relations with North Korea in order to manage the situation on the Korean peninsula” and ransom out Kim Jong Un’s new hostages. According to what insider or authority, you ask? “[S]ome predict,” says the Hanky, after a three-block sprint from the pojangmacha behind the bus station, gochujjang-stained notepad in hand.

Maybe I shouldn’t be too dismissive of something that’s been tried before, but in light of today’s political environment and North Korea’s conduct since 2012, this is so delusional that it’s adorable. The Hanky really seems to believe that a significant number of Americans (a) cares about North Korea at all, (b) wants better relations with North Korea, and (c) would be more likely to vote for the President’s party if its cuts a pre-election deal with North Korea, rather than much, much less likely. That the President’s pollsters have identified Peace Studies grad students as a decisive voting bloc in Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, Alaska, and North Carolina. That, after the Bo Bergdahl ransom, the President basked in the gratitude of a grateful nation.

I don’t have any special insider knowledge here, but I’ll go out on a limb and express my doubt that the White House would want that experience again between now and November 4th, especially for the likes of a doofus like Matthew Todd Miller, or anyone else who’d be dumb enough to visit North Korea of his own diminished volition. I’d be surprised if there’s a deal at all, and I’d be astonished if its terms are made public before the election, including the Louisiana runoff, is safely in the rear-view mirror.

*  Or so I’ve heard somewhere. It may have been Alex Jones. I lost the link.

North Korea makes #2 on

this list of the world’s most corrupt countries. Of course, much of the information on which this conclusion rests must be speculative. They may have been cheated out of number one.

Does this mean we’re paying for THAAD for South Korea?

The United States has wrapped up its survey of candidate sites for its advanced missile defense (MD) system to be deployed in South Korea, with a final decision likely to be made before their annual defense ministers’ meeting in October, sources said Monday.
Washington has made no secret that it is considering deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, an integral part of its MD system, to South Korea, citing evolving threats from North Korea. [Yonhap]

Does the “it” mean that U.S. taxpayers are going to pay for that expensive missile defense system, even as South Korea — burdened with far less public debt per capita than this country — continues to reduce the size of its own military? Well, apparently it does mean that.

But take some comfort in this — if you’re not South Korean, that is: South Korea, under pressure from the ChiComs and the neo-Soviets not to deploy THAAD, is saying that the system is only for the protection of U.S. Forces Korea. Tough luck, people of South Korea.

For those of you in Europe, some North Korean exiles will give their insider perspectives

of the North Korean government at Leiden University on September 17th and 18th. One of them will be Jang Jin-Sung of New Focus International, author of “Dear Leader.” The names of the other exiles will be withheld “[f]or security reasons.”

I’m sure the “so-called pope” meant no offense, but if KCNA hadn’t norksplained it for me …

I would not have seen it from this perspective: “We would like to ask the pope why he set about his south Korean trip the day when we are making latest tactical rocket test-fire according to our regular plan though there are a lot of days in the year.”

Of course, given His Porcine Majesty’s crowded launch schedule and the absence of forewarning, it’s not exactly easy for His Holiness to squeeze in a visit to Korea in between. Sounds like the rockets were more of that 300-millimeter type.

Japan sanctions Ocean Maritime Management, following the U.N.’s designation …

of OMM, and amid its own ransom negotiations with North Korea. One of the terms of that ransom was the lifting of Japan’s national shipping sanctions, which obviously predated the U.N. designation. [link]

Maybe I’m not as sophisticated and nuanced as Washington Post blogger …

Adam Taylor (or whomever wrote the headline for his post), but unlike Taylor, I can’t quite see Kim Jong Un’s “vulnerable side” through his mass murder and starvation of so many of his pitiful subjects.

Granted, there is some significance in the fact that His Porcine Majesty has sometimes fallen below the aura of infallibility that this regime has built around him, but would anyone see a dominant theme in Hitler’s vegetarianism revealing a compassionate side, or Saddam Hussein’s authorship of romance novels revealing the romantic within?

Open Sources, August 14, 2014

~   1   ~

TWO BY SEA:Two North Korean men swam across the Yellow Sea border to defect to South Korea, a rare way of fleeing the hunger-stricken communist nation, government sources here said Thursday. South Korean marines on guard duty spotted them reaching Gyodong Island, just south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), at around 4 a.m. Thursday, according to the sources. The island is about 2.5 kilometers away from the North’s closest western coast.”

I can’t imagine why anyone would do something that desperate when, according to an upcoming official (therefore, reliable) report, the “true picture of the people of the DPRK” has them “dynamically advancing toward a brighter and rosy future while enjoying a free and happy life under the socialist system centred (sic) on the popular masses and contribute to disclosing the dastardly moves of the US and other hostile forces.” And after all, no less an authority than Hazel Smith has told us that defectors exaggerate and just tell us what the CIA and the NIS want us to hear, ergo there’s no cause for unpleasant talk about sanctions and such.

Still, the absence of talk about a bright and rosy present could be interpreted as concerning. It must take an exceptional talent for doublethink to survive in Pyongyang.

~   2   ~

OVER AT NK NEWS, STAR REPORTER LEO BYRNE has a first-rate investigative report about the M/V Mu Du Bong, its lack of insurance, and North Korea’s scrambles to get it out of port. A must-read.

~   3   ~

ROBERT GALLUCCI CALLS FOR THE U.S. to hold talks with North Korea, but never quite explains what we’d be talking about. North Korea insists it isn’t denuclearizing, which narrows the agenda down to buying our way out of the next provocation. Obviously, that’s simply giving in to blackmail, and that’s a negotiation that never ends until the regime does. It’s a case where I find myself in rare agreement with Glyn Davies.

~   4   ~

HOW NORTH KOREA PICKS its cheerleaders, and how it keeps them in line, politically speaking (as opposed to choreographically).

~   5   ~

ALDERAAN SHOT FIRST: FBME Bank has laid off most of its staff, and its customers are panicking. I don’t blame them.

~   6   ~

AND YET IT DOESN’T: In one of those rare examples of “engagement” I’m rooting for, foreign experts explain how North Korea could become self-sufficient in agriculture. The problem with self-sufficiency that it’s the opposite of dependency. If the regime won’t listen, will these foreign experts try to engage directly with the people through broadcasts and leafleting? I hope so, because the more food North Koreans have, the more freedom they will have.

~   7   ~

CRITICISM FROM A SURPRISING SOURCE: “But, Lord, how did the moral center of the American left get so isolationist and selfish? How did it manage to cede the moral high ground to the right? Why does it see no difference between a moral obligation to save lives by avoiding murder — not just with humanitarian measures — and a kind of militarist lust for yet more adventure?

The criticism works just as well against the isolationist right, if not more so.

~   8   ~

SPEAKING OF WHICH, and just in case this wasn’t already clear, Ron Paul’s Malaysian airliner conspiracy theory reminds us that he’s a babbling neurotic, a cult figure for the dispossessed, a magnet for lunatics, a right-wing Chomsky for B-list polemicists, and a man who has propagated some disturbing, bigoted viewpoints. This calls for another Mitchell and Webb conspiracy sketch.

It’s unfortunate that Paul is so very bananas, because there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the role and size of our government, and how the U.S. projects power abroad. Paul, unfortunately, has an existential and conspiratorial hostility to our government, both at home and abroad, and he carries armloads of crazy to that discussion. Here and there, Paul stumbles over a valid point, but now that we’re getting a glimpse of what the world looks like when America withdraws too much of its power, we’re reminded how ugly a place the world can be. I can see why Paul might not want us to believe what our lying eyes are telling us about that.

Of course, it’s not Ron Paul who really worries me. I can’t help asking myself how far the apple falls from the tree.

~   9   ~

A FEDERAL JUDGE HAS DISMISSED a lawsuit by Japanese-affiliated plaintiffs that would have ordered the removal of a comfort woman statue in a park in Glendale, California, and based on the L.A. Times’s report, the plaintiffs’ arguments are among the most frivolous and pernicious I’ve ever heard:

The opponents — Michiko Gingery, a Glendale resident; GAHT-US Corp., an organization that works to block recognition of the former sex slaves, also known as “comfort women”; and Koichi Mera, a Los Angeles resident — claimed in court records that by installing the statue, Glendale infringed upon the federal government’s exclusive power to conduct foreign affairs, violated the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution and caused opponents to avoid Central Park because the statue made them feel excluded and angry.

“The fact that local residents feel disinclined to visit a local park is simply not the type of injury that can be considered to be in the ‘line of causation’ for alleged violations of the foreign affairs power and Supremacy Clause,” Anderson said in court documents.

Just imagine all the misuses for arguments like that. Don’t you suppose German tourists feel an occasional twinge of discomfort when the walk past the Holocaust Museum? The problem, of course, is that the city and taxpayers of Glendale have now spent money paying lawyers to fight this nonsense. As a commenter at the LAT suggested, they ought to move for Rule 11 sanctions to compel the plaintiffs to pay their attorney fees. HT: Dennis Halpin.

Open Sources, August 7, 2014

~   1   ~

NORTH KOREA, WHICH WAS REMOVED from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008 for promising to give up its nuclear weapons program, is quietly expanding its uranium enrichment capabilities, and not-so-quietly threatening to test more missiles and a nuclear weapon.

~   2   ~

HACK NORTH KOREA has chosen a winning technology for breaking down North Korea’s information blockade:

The winning team, which featured a pair of teenage siblings who flew in from Virginia for the event, presented a prototype of a system that could allow North Koreans to get real-time information more easily inside the country, Mr. Gladstein said.

The team proposed using micro-radio devices the size of credit cards, which they said could pick up signals from the South and which could be delivered into the country by smuggling or balloon drop.

Alongside this, the team would target South Korean satellite television broadcasts aimed at China, which pass over the North. Using what they described as “easily concealable” satellite receivers, North Koreans would be able to directly plug their televisions into the receivers. [Wall Street Journal]

Chad O’Carroll’s report for NK News adds the most delectable detail of all — the winners were “a three person Korean-American team who requested to remain anonymous.” If the winners are reading this, congratulations. I wish you success.

The Human Rights Foundation has put out press releases in the event in both English and Korean, and where it notes that this year’s event is just one part of an ongoing campaign called “Disrupt North Korea.” That campaign could easily be more consequential than anything the U.S. or South Korean governments have ever done to promote reform in North Korea.

~   3   ~

SPEAKING OF SUBVERSIVE COMMUNICATIONS, Radio Free Asia reports that North Koreans have really taken to Kakao Talk. The real killer app for North Korea may be combining satellite communications with chatting and instant messaging.

~   4   ~

ANDREA BERGER ANALYZES North Korea’s links to Hamas and Hezbollah, at 38 North.

~   5   ~

LEO BYRNE INVESTIGATES Kim Jong Un’s Mercedez Pullman limousines, and the sanctions that were likely broken to import them.

~   6   ~

MORE ON THOSE POSSIBLE IMPORTS of North Korean gold, via The New Yorker.

~   7   ~

REUTERS HAS MORE INFO on the arrest of American Jeffrey Fowle in North Korea.

~   8   ~

CHINA EXECUTES alleged North Korean drug dealer:

A North Korean national has been executed in China for smuggling and trading drugs, court documents showed Thursday, following the executions of three South Korean drug dealers in the country this week.

A 32-year-old man identified by his surname Oh was executed for selling 3.75 kilograms of methamphetamine he had smuggled into China from North Korea between October and November 2010, according to a district court in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of Jilin Province. [Yonhap]

This will be used to support arguments that the China-North Korea relationship is under strain, and that may be the case, but I take nothing from the Chinese government at face value.

~   9   ~

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S FOREIGN POLICY is now almost as unpopular as George W. Bush’s was at the same point in his presidency. Obama wouldn’t have to replicate Bush’s interventionist excesses to recover from this. He could start by ignoring Gaza; he could then direct the State Department to concentrate on alliance diplomacy in Asia, direct Treasury to strengthen sanctions against North Korea and Iran, and direct DOD and CIA to arm and train the Ukrainians, and to support a reawakening and broad autonomy for Sunnis in Iraq and Syria.

If the President chooses not to recover from his de facto isolationism, then foreign policy deserves to be one of the top issues in this year’s mid-term elections.