Archive for Anju Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s nice, but it’s Michelle Obama that Kim Jong Un really needs to hear from.

I’m sure she has plenty of good advice to offer His Porcine Majesty. As for the letter James Clapper delivered for Mrs. Obama’s husband, there’s blessed little information about that.

Video: Sung-Yoon Lee at The Korea Society

If you think he’s a good writer, just see how well he speaks.

It’s also nice to see Stephen Noerper helping The Korea Society to rebuild its reputation and gravitas after the Don Gregg years.

In related news, William Newcomb, formerly with the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.N. Panel of Experts, will be at the Korea Society on Friday, to speak about “Sanctions Fact and Sanctions Fiction.”

Camp 15: The Theresienstadt ploy?

The Daily NK reports that Camp 15, described by refugee-journalist Kang Chol Hwan in The Aquariums of Pyongyang and by more recent witnesses to The Washington Post‘s Chico Harlan, is no more, and that the prisoners have been sent to other camps:

Detainees held until recently at North Korea’s notorious political prison camp in Yodeok County have been moved to two alternate camps, an inside source from North Hamkyung Province has alleged to Daily NK.

“That political prison camp that used to be in Yodeok County in South Hamkyung has already been broken up. There’s not a trace of it left,” the source, who is with the military in the northerly province, claimed in conversation with Daily NK on the 7th. However, the disbanding of Camp 15 does not seem to have brought liberty for many of its inmates. According to the same source, “The political prisoners who were there have been divided up and moved to camps 14 and 16.” [….]

“It seems that closing Camp 15 was the next step after they closed Camp 22 at Hoeryong in June 2012,” the source went on to propose. “The majority of the buildings and facilities they used have been razed.”

The Daily NK reports that Camp 15 is in such a remote area that relatively few local residents are in a position to corroborate or witness anything, but the report is consistent with a previous report published in The Chosun Ilbo. I’ve long feared, and recently speculated openly, that North Korea might be preparing for a sham inspection of a camp to try to refute the allegations of camp survivors, in the same way the Nazis fooled the Danish Red Cross in 1944 with a sham inspection of the concentration camp at Theresienstadt.

It is widely believed that the goal of the North Korean authorities in closing down Yodeok is to allow international observers to visit the site in order to popularize the notion that “North Korea doesn’t have any political prison camps.” In keeping with this hypothesis, Pyongyang recently granted permission for the UN’s point man on North Korean human rights, Marzuki Darusman, to visit the country, and made a video casting doubt upon the testimony of Shin Dong Hyuk through his father.

Meanwhile, on October 28th the NIS, South Korea’s state intelligence agency, reported to the National Assembly that a prison camp at Mt. Mantap in Kilju County, the area of North Hamkyung Province that houses North Korea’s underground nuclear test site, has recently been substantially expanded. The NIS reported that North Korea were planning to move the residents of Yodeok to the expanded camp. The expansion has not been independently verified.

The most recent available imagery from Google Earth was taken in May of this year, and shows the camp to be intact.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 7.01.16 AM

Other online sources also show an intact Camp 15. In the coming days, I’ll try to find out what I can about this story, and what evidence supports the report. If the camp has really vanished with “not a trace of it left,” that will be visible in the imagery. On the other hand, it hardly seems to serve North Korea’s purpose to show foreign visitors a lot of empty rubble. There would have to be a lot of new construction, too.


Donald Gregg’s weird, surreal, sad spectacle

In all the stages of North Korea’s reaction to U.N. action on the Commission of Inquiry report, none was quite so surreal as an event held on Monday, October 20th, at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. There, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea and Cheonan conspiracy theorist Donald Gregg moderated a “conversation” about human rights with North Korean diplomat (I use the term advisedly) Jang Il Hun.

If that seems about as wise as inviting Larry Flynt into a papal conclave, the video and transcript of the event must be seen to be believed. There is probably more vibrant debate in most sessions of the Supreme Peoples’ Assembly than there was between Gregg and Jang, who at one point even thanked Gregg for his “complimentary remarks” about North Korea. Gregg’s role that day was to suborn mendacity, prompting Jang to tell lie after flagrant lie.

Thankfully, at around the 35 minutes mark, a few audience members were allowed to question Jang, whose answers said little but revealed plenty. Also thankfully, the New York Times lede couldn’t have been the sort of publicity Gregg must hoped to create:

One of North Korea’s most senior diplomats warned on Monday that if any effort was made to charge the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, the North would take unspecified “countermeasures.” [N.Y. Times, David E. Sanger]

Jang’s threat of “all countermeasures” was directed at the United States, for what he described as the Obama Administration’s pursuit of “regime change.”

As you know, my people (inaudible) our supreme leadership are very dear to their hearts. And we hold him in highest esteem, hold our respected Martial Kim Jong-un in highest esteem. And by saying about the leadership of, we thought that it was directed our leadership at the highest level, and we could not stand — we could no longer sit idle, just watching and responding back, and we have to — we think we have to take action on our own in response to such a political plot. [Jang Il Hun, Council on Foreign Relations,  Oct. 20, 2014]

Isn’t it wonderful when diplomats can bring civilized people together to resolve their differences rationally? Incidentally—and stop me if you’ve heard this somewhere—President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.”

Although Gregg sold the event as a discussion about human rights, that turned out to be a bait-and-switch for Gregg to advocate for sidelining human rights in any diplomacy with North Korea. For example, Gregg invited Jang to agree with the statement of a former TASS bureau chief about U.S.-Soviet talks in the 1980s, saying, “If human rights had entered into that discussion, no progress would ever have been made.” (Incredibly, an embarrassed-looking Jang corrected Gregg—they were discussed!) Gregg also took pains to get Jang to say that China and Russia (good role models, to be sure) have never raised human rights in their discussions with the North Koreans. Later, Gregg’s co-discussant, Jerome Cohen, added, “I don’t think discussion of human rights is the best way to start our bilateral discussion on a positive note.”

In any event, Jang made it clear enough that the discussion would be a waste of time when he called the U.N. debate about human rights in North Korea a “very great fuss about human rights violations, as they call it,” and adding this in reference to a potential ICC referral:

[W]e cannot — we can no longer stand at this kind of maneuvers pursued by the United States and the European allies. Our position has been very consistent and well-known. We totally rejected the resolution on human rights against my country offered by — sponsored by the European Union and Japan at the U.N. Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly every year. We totally reject. We totally and categorically reject the contents of the report. None of such violations exist in my country, and in no way can they exist, also. [Jang, CFR event,  Oct. 20, 2014]

Jang even appears to have retracted North Korea’s alleged admission that it has labor camps, although his statement is so confusing and contradictory that it’s hard to be sure.

She just mentioned about the labor camp. We totally rejected the existence of the — whatever form it takes, the camps. The terminology — I don’t like it. And some press carries the story about the briefing done by colleagues at the United Nations a few days ago. And they report as if they found a new labor camp. But it doesn’t simply exist in my country.

We call it reformatory, right? And (inaudible) at the time that we mentioned about (inaudible) through labor, detentions (inaudible) but the Western media says that he admitted to the existence of labor camp. That’s not true. I was there. I listened to him. So any camp of any kind does not exist in my country.

We have the same system, I think, like the United States and other countries that they — what we call reformatory is a prison. It’s a normal prison, as in other countries that the prisoners are detained, like American citizen (inaudible)

Worse, Gregg may have contributed a falsehood of his own, although I suspect it was more likely a bias-assisted misunderstanding than a deliberate lie. In his very first question of Jang, referring to the head of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, Gregg asked, “How would you respond to Mr. Kirby’s statement that under Kim Jong Un there has been an improvement in the human rights situation in North Korea?” Gregg repeated this assertion several times.

Really? And did Kirby even say that? As to the first, Human Rights Watch has said, “There has been no discernible improvement in human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea … since Kim Jong-Un assumed power after his father’s death in 2011.” These people will also tell you that things haven’t gotten better, and may have gotten worse. The Commission of Inquiry certainly didn’t point to any improvements when it said this:

“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” the Commission — established by the Human Rights Council in March 2013 — says in a report that is unprecedented in scope.

“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,” the report says, adding that “Crimes against humanity are ongoing in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place.” [….]

“There is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association,” the report says, adding that propaganda is used by the State to manufacture absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader and to incite nationalistic hatred towards some other States and their nationals. [U.N. Commission of Inquiry, Feb. 17, 2014]

I searched far and wide for evidence that Kirby had said that human rights had improved in under Kim Jong Un. I didn’t find it, but I found where Kirby said that they hadn’t:

Please do not think North Korea is a cuddly, cute sort of a case, with a leader with a bad haircut who is nonetheless loveable and is going to go in the right direction because he’s a young man. This is not a situation where a young person is going to bring a new broom, if his is a new broom it is a violent new broom. Things have not improved. [Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 3, 2014]

Since the CFR event, commenting on North Korea’s so-called “charm offensive,” Kirby said,

“This is the moment of truth and it is extremely important that it should not be traded away for a little bit of charm…. A few honeyed words expressed in the last few weeks by the representative of North Korea facing the reality of the outrage of the international community hasn’t improved one iota the position of human rights on the ground.” [Kyodo News, Oct. 23, 2014]

He expanded further on conditions in the North at this event, on October 27th. Start at 5:40:

Listen carefully, and I think you’ll see exactly what Kirby said that Gregg misunderstood. In that clip, Kirby doesn’t quite deny saying what Gregg claims he said, but what Kirby does say isn’t compatible with Gregg’s alleged quotation of him.

Questioning both the accuracy of Gregg’s quotation and the truth of the assertion, I e-mailed Ambassador Gregg to ask for the source of his quote. I’ll give him credit for this much—he sent a prompt and courteous reply, and gave me permission to print it. Here is his response:

I was the commentator at the meeting of 16 April 2014, when Michael Kirby presented his report to the Council on Foreign Relations.

I commented that the report was a “call to action,” not to try to overthrow North Korea, but to get them to change their draconian internal policies. I8 then asked Kirby whether his report indicated any changes in the severity of North Korean policies during the very long period that the report covered.

According to my notes, Kirby replied that “there is a reduction in the number of prisoners and things seem easier under Kim Jong Un.” [E-mail message from Amb. Donald Gregg, Oct. 24, 2014]

I found no evidence of such a statement on CFR’s site; indeed, I found no record of the event. Maybe it was off the record. Gregg also referred me to a third person he said could corroborate the Kirby quote. He didn’t, and I’m not going to bring his name into this. Kirby didn’t respond to my request for comment.

The last sentence in Gregg’s quote contains three claims—two assertions, and the claim that Justice Kirby made them. I’ll take them one at a time. First, the best available evidence does suggest that the number of prisoners in the camps has fallen. More recent scholarship reduced estimates of the number of prisoners in the camps by about half—from 200,000 to about 100,000.

Now, let me tell you why: (1) newer information suggests that the 200,000 estimate may have been too high; (2) the population of one camp, Camp 18—always the country club of North Korean gulags—appears to have been “released in place,” with the fence lines removed (see update); (3) conditions in the remaining camps have worsened, causing a rise in death rates and a consequent reduction in prisoner populations; and (4) most ominously, perhaps tens of thousands of men, women, and children simply vanished from Camp 22, without a trace, when that camp was closed down in 2011, before Kim Jong Un came to power. Three years later, not one witness or survivor has come forward to explain their fate.

Thus, (1) doesn’t suggest an improvement, (2) does, and (3) and (4) both suggest that with respect to this important part of North Korea’s human rights picture, things are far worse than they were four years ago. Recent satellite imagery also tells us that several camps, including Camp 12 at Cheongo-Ri, Camp 14 at Kaechon, Camp 16 at Hwaseong, and Camp 25 at Chongjin have been expanded.

But aside from the deaths and disappearances of thousands of people, how else might “things seem easier under Kim Jong Un?” Border crackdowns mean fewer refugees are getting out, less information is getting in, and it’s more dangerous for hungry people to receive money from their relatives in the South. The vast majority of North Koreans continue to live at the edge of starvation despite improved harvests. Kim Jong Un’s spending on luxury goods has tripled since his coronation even as the World Food Program may is considering pulling out of North Korea for lack of funding. Today, Kim Jong Un is exporting food his hungry subjects should be eating.

In his email response to me about his statement that human rights in North Korea has improved under Kim Jong Un, Gregg also volunteered this curious statement:

As you note, I used this quote when presiding at the 20 October meeting with Jang Il Hun. Jang did not reply to it one way or the other.

In fact, Jang seized on Gregg’s claim (see video at 12:15), no doubt describing Kim Jong Un’s heroic efforts to feed the “more than 82 percent of households [that] do not have acceptable household food consumption during the lean season:”

So it’s no surprise that the many changes are taking place in my country that will contribute to the improved enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by our people. Maybe one can (inaudible) recently visited my country and they have witnessed that every day we witnessed changes that are very inductive to the further development of my society, thus leading the promotion and protection (inaudible) ski resort, horse track, pleasure parks all over the country are springing up every day, and all for the enjoyment of the pleasant lives of our people. [Jang Il Hun, Council on Foreign Relations,  Oct. 20, 2014]

Yes, $300 million worth, in a year when the World Food Program was asking foreign governments to donate $200 million to feed 2.4 million hungry North Korean women and children for two years.

And what about the North’s stultifying repression? Jang argued that juche is a substitute for human rights, thus nationalizing and expropriating the very idea of individual rights into a collective holding of the state—an argument strikingly similar to Christine Hong’s, incidentally. Jang boasted, “We also guarantee the sovereignty of the country which crystallized interests of the people with our strong military force,” because what are human rights without the right to be starved so that your overlords can build more missiles?

Still, the most surreal moment must have been when Gregg, in his best James Dresnok impersonation, actually read an excerpt from North Korea’s own human rights report. Start at the 14 minute mark:

Granted, I’ve seen Americans do similar things before, but those Americans were in Pyongyang wearing prison uniforms, and the bravest of them were flashing the Hawaiian good luck sign.

Inadvertently, Gregg highlighted the greatest obstacle to the very dialogue he promotes, setting Jang up to “clarify” the “difficult issue” of Pyongyang reneging on the Leap Day Agreement, and prompting Jang to say that the deal-breaking “satellite” launch had been planned months before, “in celebration of Kim Il-sung’s birthday.” (But of course!) Jang added that because North Korea was “under serious threat, including the imposing of tougher sanctions … in response, we had no other choice but to take countermeasures.” In any event, Jang said that Pyongyang is waiting Obama out—as if it expects the next POTUS to be friendlier.

So, if I understand Gregg’s position, the U.N. shouldn’t raise the issue of North Korea’s crimes against humanity (despite the deaths of millions, and testimony of dozens of witnesses confirming horrific atrocities) because the inquiry (which Pyongyang boycotted) was one-sided and the evidence (the testimony of dozens of witnesses, corroborated by satellite imagery and other extrinsic evidence) contradicts Pyongyang’s official positions (which aren’t subject to verification, so take their word for it) and things are getting better anyway (a misstatement based on a likely misquote) and member states should relegate the issue to a bilateral dialogue instead (where Pyongyang will say that there’s nothing to discuss, because it’s all lies), but only after other states first engage in dialogue with Pyongyang about nuclear weapons (which Kim Jong Un says he’ll never relinquish, despite four separate U.N. resolutions prohibiting them) and a freeze of missile tests (except for April 15th, February 16th, and other important holidays) which North Korea says it needs because Barack Obama wants to overthrow the regime (by talking about human rights).

One brilliant exchange at the end of the event, at the 52-minute mark, almost redeemed it. Gary Bass, whom Sanger describes as “a Princeton University professor who has written extensively on human rights and national security,” was allowed to question Jang on the camps and satellite imagery at some length. Start at 52 minutes:

Someone buy that man a beer, if only for the priceless expressions on Gregg’s face during that exchange. As Gregg wrote in his email to me, “I was disappointed that Jang did not have better answers to the barrage of questions that came at him. I told him in advance of the meeting that he would be under heavy disapproval from those focused entirely on human rights issues.” Gregg finally saved Jang by circling back to his apocryphal quote of Kirby, leaving Bass unable to extract a straight answer from Jang, but having made his point.

I’m sure Gregg is a nice enough person, and he’s had an extraordinary career, but it’s hard to reconcile how a man with Gregg’s background could become … this. If diplomats of Gregg’s present caliber had represented us in 1945, they’d have landed in Berlin on the way to Yalta to fetch Ribbentrop, because engagement.

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Update: I see someone else came to a similar conclusion.

Video: LiNK’s fall fund-raising campaign

How much should we worry about N. Korea’s missiles? Basho explains.

My post on North Korea’s alarming progression toward a nuclear missile capability inspires a knowledgeable reader and friend to send me an extended comment. Because he has asked me to withhold his name and where he works, we’ll call him “Basho, an observer of Things, and international affairs raconteur.” Without saying more, I’m confident that Basho has a basis to know what he’s talking about. I print his comments in their entirety, unedited except that I embedded his hyperlinks.

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There are tested and fielded road mobile missiles in the DPRK inventory. The biggest threat to us is the question of whether they have a tested, capable, and fielded, road mobile ICBM. The surmised vehicle that may have an intercontinental capability (defined as a missile capable of 5,500 Km or more range) is the KN-08. (link)

Western ‘experts’ have said until relatively recently the ICBM threat from nK is negligible because the north Koreans are not capable of making a small enough nuclear warhead to fit on an airframe like the KN-08. In Spring ‘14 the north Koreans put the launch vehicles on display with mock up missiles. (The transporter vehicles were sold by PRC to north Korea as ‘lumber trucks’).

The United States Forces Korea (USFK) commander’s comments a few days ago indicated that the north Koreans are able to miniaturize a nuclear warhead, which would be essential to fitting a nuke to one of their missiles. Just a year or two ago, our experts and analysts were testifying to Congress that the north Koreans couldn’t field anything like that for years. Oops.

The South Korean MOD’s comments supporting this supposition may not be that credible – I get the sense they’re just jumping on Gen. Scapparotti’s comments to garner more support (i.e. funding) for missile defense.

The public comments also come at a curious time considering the tensions related to the potential fielding of THAAD to ROK. Airing these conversations publically has more to do with influencing that discussion than any real technological satori.

Other road-mobiles that *could* be nuclear-capable:
Musudan IRBM, possibly just shy of being considered an ICBM (link)

- Nodong MRBM (this is potentially the missile that will be tested as an SLBM)

Public analysts frequently reduce their reporting to the trees rather than the forest,  whether ‘they’ might have something or not, reporters seem to totally gloss over any analysis related to what the real risks are if the north Koreans do have something. That’s a bit frustrating. While we shouldn’t overreact, prudent man theory indicates we should acknowledge the risks of the worst case.

The newest threat is whether the north Koreans will have a nuclear-capable submarine fleet capable of launching missiles. Granted, their submarines are largely Cold War diesel-electrics but they present a threat to the region and, possibly, the United States.

Diplomacy. As for the diplomatic strains between the three-party group (Japan,ROK, US), I would offer that Japan and, to a lesser extent, South Korea are both pursuing diplomatic options with China and nK because of the lack of leadership by our executive and diplomatic efforts. The DOD is heavily engaged with South Korea on the potential employment of THAAD accompanied by the implications of missile defense for Seoul, and the handover of military authority from the U.S. Forces Korea to the South Korean military – two huge topics.

As for Japan, I don’t think our mil-to-mil relationships have ever been stronger. The Japanese have agreed to host a second missile defense radar in their country that will not just protect Japan, but also bolster missile defense for the US and our allies in the Pacific region.  The governments of Japan and the United States just signed agreements on space surveillance tracking that will advance scientific research. Also, Japan has committed to buying several more Aegis missile defense destroyers over the next few years.

Because of their recognition of the regional threats, and interest in respecting common global interests, I’m not terribly worried about them holding bilateral talks with north Korea on other issues (e.g. kidnap victims, etc.). They’re only doing bilateral talks as a result of the vacuum of US leadership.

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.

~   ~   ~

* 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.

~   ~   ~

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

~   ~   ~

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.

~   ~   ~

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.

~   ~   ~

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.