Here’s the latest from Professor Lee and me on the policy implications of the Commission of Inquiry’s report. The theme is that sanctions can be a tool to make Kim Jong Un’s misused wealth a source of funding for the U.N.’s underfunded aid programs — assuming Kim Jong Un allows the aid to be monitored.
Archive for Sanctions
Yesterday, Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN) released this advisory to banks around the world to be on the lookout for deceptive financial practices designed to move the ill-gotten wealth of 18 former Ukrainian officials, including Viktor Yanukovich. The chilling effect of this will likely be that banks around the world refuse to move large sums of money for mysterious figures linked to these 18 people, for fear of losing their access to the financial system. Although the advisory says “U.S. financial institutions,” in financial regulation, that term is understood to mean any financial institution when it’s accessing the U.S. financial system. As a practical matter, that’s just about every bank on earth, especially when you consider that around 80% of international transactions are denominated in dollars.
Nothing about that troubles me. You’ve probably seen the pictures of Yanukovich’s palace by now and made the sensible inference that he didn’t pay for that on a civil servant’s salary. That wealth is likely derived from kleptocracy, something Treasury has gotten increasingly good at blocking as it moves through the financial system. So nothing here should be read as a dig against Treasury. It’s only doing what the political leadership is telling it to do.
Yet, weeks after the U.N. Commission of Inquiry issued a report that makes North Korea’s crimes against humanity pretty much undeniable — and months after even I knew that the Commission would say as much — the Obama Administration has done exactly nothing about it. It hasn’t even committed itself to push for a vote in the U.N. Security Council.
Let’s unpack what that tells us about the priorities of the Obama Administration. Kleptrocracy that hasn’t resulted in mass starvation is now a higher enforcement priority than kleptrocracy that may have killed 2.5 million people, and that perpetuates one of the world’s top threats to both the global financial system and the global counter-proliferation system. Massive non-lethal corruption is a top priority. Crimes against humanity — including murder, rape, extermination, mass starvation, racially motivated infanticide, and the operation of gulags — are not a priority for the Obama Administration, period.
Either (1) John Kerry really thinks he’s this close to Agreed Framework III, (2) we’ve outsourced our North Korea policy to our friends in Beijing, or (3) nobody gives a damn.
~ 1 ~
THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO CAME to this event on Capitol Hill yesterday and helped make it a huge success. We filled the room well beyond its capacity. There was an energy in the room that went beyond the question of numbers. It was who was there — young, old, in-between, conservatives, liberals, and a variety of ethnicities, including a very sizable Korean-American contingent. I don’t have words to express my admiration for the leadership of Suzanne Scholte, Greg Scarlatoiu, and Judy Yoo of the Federation of Korean-Americans. Human Rights Watch also made a very welcome contribution to the discussion.
~ 2 ~
ADRIAN HONG, in The Christian Science Monitor:
We teach our children the heavy legacies of humanity’s grave past injustices: Nanjing. Auschwitz. The Killing Fields. Rwanda. Srebrenica. Darfur. Implicit in such education is the belief that had we been alive, or had we been in positions of influence while the great atrocities of the past century had been perpetrated, we would’ve acted decisively to stop them.
But the moral clarity with which we judge those who preceded us is elusive when we see our world today. Museums and memorials to the fallen victims of yesterday’s tyrants are meaningless if they do not translate to stands against the perpetrators of brutality today.”
~ 3 ~
ANDREW W. KELLER, an American lawyer in Korea, writes in The American Thinker:
The United States Congress should pass H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013, which is currently in committee. Sanctions restrict the export to and import from North Korea of goods and technology for the use, development, or acquisition of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Sanctions also ban the export of luxury goods to North Korea, a tactic that could help undermine the North Korean regime, which bribes its VIPs in Pyongyang with imported luxury goods while people in the countryside starve.
~ 4 ~
THE WASHINGTON POST writes a strongly worded denunciation of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, and of the isolationist escapism of too many Americans recently:
The urge to pull back — to concentrate on what Mr. Obama calls “nation-building at home” — is nothing new, as former ambassador Stephen Sestanovich recounts in his illuminating history of U.S. foreign policy, “Maximalist.” There were similar retrenchments after the Korea and Vietnam wars and when the Soviet Union crumbled. But the United States discovered each time that the world became a more dangerous place without its leadership and that disorder in the world could threaten U.S. prosperity. Each period of retrenchment was followed by more active (though not always wiser) policy. Today Mr. Obama has plenty of company in his impulse, within both parties and as reflected by public opinion. But he’s also in part responsible for the national mood: If a president doesn’t make the case for global engagement, no one else effectively can.
The White House often responds by accusing critics of being warmongers who want American “boots on the ground” all over the world and have yet to learn the lessons of Iraq. So let’s stipulate: We don’t want U.S. troops in Syria, and we don’t want U.S. troops in Crimea. A great power can become overextended, and if its economy falters, so will its ability to lead. None of this is simple.
But it’s also true that, as long as some leaders play by what Mr. Kerry dismisses as 19th-century rules, the United States can’t pretend that the only game is in another arena altogether. Military strength, trustworthiness as an ally, staying power in difficult corners of the world such as Afghanistan — these still matter, much as we might wish they did not. While the United States has been retrenching, the tide of democracy in the world, which once seemed inexorable, has been receding. In the long run, that’s harmful to U.S. national security, too.
These isolationist interludes are a feature of our history, just like our interventionist excesses. They remind me of Trotsky’s adage that you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you (hat tip). These interludes eventually end with unpleasant awakenings, and I worry that we haven’t seen the last of those yet.
While this certainly counsels against the dramatic reduction in our armed forces that the President has proposed, I also wonder when we’ll realize that the best way to protect U.S. interests abroad is often to ally ourselves with the people of the affected country who share our interests and values, arm them to the teeth, and train them well. If the Russian experiences in Finland, Afghanistan, and Chechyna tell us anything, it’s that the Russians are especially bad at fighting determined opponents who use unconventional tactics. If a messy border war eventually forces Putin out of power, Russia gaining control of the historically and ethnically Russian Crimea would be a small price to pay.
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I AM IN RARE AGREEMENT WITH JOHN KERRY when Kerry says that North Korea is “an evil place,” but then, there isn’t much we know about North Korea now that we didn’t know in 2003, when John Bolton made substantially similar comments about the North, and the North Koreans went histrionic on him. Now it’s Kerry’s turn. Does this disqualify Kerry as an effective diplomat?
“This is another vivid expression of the U.S.’ hostile policy toward the DPRK,” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said, according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency. DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Kerry’s remarks “are no more than a manifestation of his frustration and outbursts let loose by the defeated as the DPRK is winning one victory after another despite the whole gamut of pressure upon it over the nuclear issue,” the spokesman said.
“Before blaming others, Kerry had better ponder over what to say of the U.S., a tundra of human rights, as it commits horrible genocide in various parts of the world in disregard of international law under the signboard of ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy,’” the spokesman said.
Kerry should “bear in mind that no pressure is workable” on the North, he said. [Yonhap]
What’s dramatically different, of course, is that when Bolton said it, it was more evidence that Bolton was “a crazy neocon” and further reason to derail his nomination as U.N. Ambassador. Since Kerry said it, and since the North Koreans went histrionic on Kerry, there’s been almost complete media silence. Some of this is certainly because the consensus on North Korea has shifted, but the consensus has shifted because (quelle surprise) North Korea kept right on being North Korea after January 21, 2009. Bolton was right all along, but too many of us allowed our political polarities to blind us to the truth he spoke.
~ 6 ~
NOW, THE U.N. PANEL OF EXPERTS is investigating Dennis Rodman’s gifts to Kim Jong Un.
~ 7 ~
THE PANEL MAY ALSO DESIGNATE two more North Korean companies over the Cuba MiG-21 smuggling deal, which will eventually result in the blocking of their assets once Treasury and the EU get around to listing them:
The two include Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), a Pyongyang-based company with links to the North Korean government that is also the registered manager of the Chong Chon Gang. The other is Chinpo Shipping Co., registered in Singapore, allegedly used for the payment of costs for the Chong Chon Gang’s operation.
Chinpo Shipping? Really? So I take it the Urban Dictionary is blocked in North Korea. Pity.
I often ask myself why North Korea goes to so much risk and expense to buy up equipment that hasn’t had a combat advantage since the Johnson Administration. I often worry that North Korea’s doctrine for the use of these aircraft concentrates on low-altitude, one-way missions. After all, it’s clear that some of their airfields are fit for take-offs, but not really fit for landings.
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OVERALL, SANCTIONS ENFORCEMENT has a mixed record since the approval of UNSCR 2094, and my lapse of optimism about sanctions enforcement last summer was probably premature. First, via Yonhap and IHS Janes, we learn that North Korea is still able to trade in weapons, exporting $11 million and importing $63 million in weapons last year (that we know about). Admittedly, this isn’t very much, and some of these imports are probably pursuant to a loophole in the Security Council resolutions allowing North Korea to import light weapons from China. It isn’t clear whether that sum includes technology transfers and technical assistance, or North Korea’s recent acquisition of six road-mobile ICBM transporter-erector-launchers.
Second, and more worrisome, we see that despite signs of a banking crackdown last spring, trade between North Korea and China continues to increase. Obviously, the North Koreans have (1) found Chinese banks willing to accept their deposits and handle their financial transactions, and (2) avoided any significant financial disruption of their network of commercial agents in China after the Jang Song -Thaek purge.
This sort of rope-a-dope game is typical of China. They pretend to comply with sanctions for a few weeks, and go right back to the same old dirty business. That’s why we need H.R. 1771.
The Boston Globe, a newspaper with “a long and proud tradition of being a progressive institution,” writes:
Nevertheless, there is much the United States can do unilaterally to step up the pressure on this irresponsible regime. Passing the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013 is a logical step that would ensure that bad behavior faces consequences.
Much as Iran was confronted with crippling financial sanctions, the act would punish international financial institutions that do dirty work for North Korea. Under the act, the president of the United States would have the power to take action to deny the regime funds for serious human rights abuses, as well as nuclear proliferation, arms trafficking, kleptocracy, and imports of luxury goods by government officials. Banks that do business with Pyongyang would be faced with a choice: Risk being cut off from the US market, or stop doing business with North Korea. The act also stipulates that cargo that moves through ports that regularly fail to inspect North Korean cargo would face long delays entering the United States.
While no sanctions regime is perfect, Congress already knows that this one works. From 2005 to 2007, the United States imposed similar sanctions on North Korea. The Treasury Department designated Banco Delta Asia, a Macau-based bank, as a “primary money laundering concern” and cut it off from the US financial system. The result was devastating for the North Korean regime. Macau banking authorities froze 50 North Korean accounts worth $24 million, severely hampering the regime’s ability to access cash and purchase goods. Foreign businesses and banks shied away from doing business with North Korea — even from legal business ventures. The effect was so crippling that in 2008, North Korea agreed to destroy some of its nuclear technology and return to international talks. As a reward, President George W. Bush lifted the sanctions. [Editorial, Boston Globe]
So Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was in Seoul last week, and sat down for an interview with Yonhap to talk North Korea:
“It seems that the strategy that slows down North Korea the most is not allowing them access to the hard currency which they use in order to create their offensive nuclear weapons capabilities,” said Royce in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul.
Royce is now in Seoul along with a delegation from his foreign affairs committee. He met with President Park Geun-hye and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se earlier in the day.
“We have tried various strategies and at this point, one of the problems is that if we give any additional support to the regime of North Korea, for example, we were to give them inducement in the form of currency, they would use that hard currency to further expand their nuclear weapons capabilities,” the lawmaker said. [....]
Royce also said the new United Nations report on the North Korean regime’s brutal human rights violations may help add pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program and may possibly make North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stand trial on crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court (ICC). [....]
“Perhaps there will be new opportunities (following the publication of the U.N. report) to have fresh pressure brought from governments such as Beijing on North Korea in order to try to slow its development of nuclear capabilities,” the U.S. politician said.
“I think it will galvanize international public opinion with respect to the conditions inside North Korea and hopefully can push to put North Korea on a different track.”
When the final report is submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 17, the international community could take actions to refer the North Korean leadership to the ICC, he said, adding, “I know there’s much discussion of that at the U.N.”
If you’re one of those who wonders why people worry so much about North Korea’s nukes when other countries also have nukes, read the COI report. It isn’t the proliferation of nuclear weapons that scares me. It’s the proliferation of nuclear weapons to people who don’t value human life and who have no compunction about killing large numbers of people that scares me.
And lest we think that South Korea has completely recovered from the Sunshine fad, its interviewer hasn’t quite shaken it off.
“An issue for the Obama Administration and Congress is to what extent they will support – or, not oppose – Park’s possible inter-Korean initiatives,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said in a report posted on its Web site Thursday.
For instance, it pointed out, the Park government has indicated a desire to someday internationalize and expand the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a historic joint venture between the two Koreas located just north of their land border.
“These moves could clash with legislative efforts in Congress to expand U.S. sanctions against North Korea, such as H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act,” it added. [Yonhap]
As much as it cramps my fingers to write this, I actually believe there are ways that South Korea could make Kaesong into something most Americans would accept. As it is, Kaesong “wages” are not only paid directly to the regime itself, but they’re paid at a ludicrous, confiscatory exchange rate. Then, there are also various “taxes” the regime charges the tenant companies, which requires the South Korean government to subsidize those companies to keep them afloat. In effect, it’s a scam to launder money from the South Korean government to the North Korean government, with slave labor as the medium of exchange.
The other problem with these arrangements is that they’re increasingly at odds with U.N. Security Council resolutions that require transparency in financial dealings with North Korea. That’s particularly true of UNSCR 2094, which passed with a “yes” vote from South Korea, as a non-permanent UNSC member. Need I remind everyone that those resolutions were passed, in large part, to protect South Korea’s own security? If you doubt me here, read Paragraph 11 and tell me how you square a big, fat, no-questions-asked cash pipe with that. Korea isn’t in a very good position to complain that China is violating UNSC sanctions when it’s arguably guilty itself.
As it was advertised, Kaesong was going to be an engine of reform. But if we don’t know there all that money goes — and we don’t — then it could be used, for all we know, for nukes, yachts, and ski resorts. But Kaesong could become palatable to Americans if Park Geun Hye extracts enough financial transparency from the North Koreans, and ensures that those workers really are getting the $70-or-so a month, and to ensure that the money isn’t being used to build centrifuges. If that happens, Kaesong might diminish as a potential irritant in U.S.-ROK relations. It might even become an engine of change — this time, of North Korea.
Skip to the two-minute mark. Well, that certainly looks incriminating. (Hat tip to a reader.)
[I guess he picked the wrong week to quit drinking.]
If you haven’t read my post explaining the ban on importing luxury goods to North Korea, you should probably start there.* And since you ask, yes, as a matter of fact, I do believe the bottles are engraved with likenesses of Kim and Rodman.
Just to be clear, I don’t think Dennis Rodman should do time over five bottles of liquor, but when you flaunt your disregard for the law, you almost force the feds to do something about it, even if that something is a modest civil penalty and a Cautionary Letter.
Of course, five bottles of liquor may not be quite the full extent of it, either. Chad O’Carroll at NK News has done some first-rate investigation of this story. Don’t miss this one — it’s an absolute must-read.
It’s hard to watch something this … insane and not laugh. Try harder; so will I. The luxury goods ban is in place because most of the other 23 million North Koreans are living on the verge of starvation while this tiny oligarchy lives like this. There’s nothing funny about that.
* Or, you can watch it on Arirang News, whose report uses language nearly identical to my post, but spares me the burden of attribution. Start at 1:45. You’re welcome.
Source: Dennis Rodman brought luxury gifts to Kim Jong Un (and that’s punishable by 20 years in prison).
Writing at The Weekly Standard today, Dennis Halpin informs us that Dennis Rodman (no relation) was bringing more than his august presence to Kim Jong Un’s birthday party. Halpin, citing a “diplomatic source” he understandably won’t name but says is reliable, claims that Rodman was also carrying “several hundred dollars’ worth of Irish Jameson whiskey,” “European crystal, an Italian suit for him, and Italian clothing, a fur coat, and an English Mulberry handbag” for Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju.
The level of detail here is compelling. According to Halpin’s source, the total value of the gifts is “well over $10,000.” Halpin is a former U.S. Consul in Busan, Korea, a former House committee staffer, a scholar at Johns Hopkins’s School of Advanced International Studies, and (full disclosure) a good friend of mine. I trust Dennis Halpin, but I obviously can’t vouch for the source who provided him the information. The circumstances would suggest that the source’s government collected detailed intelligence, which it now seeks to publicize. Furthermore, Halpin’s information is only current up to the point of Rodman’s arrival in Beijing, so it doesn’t prove that Rodman actually brought his gifts into North Korea.
Those questions, however, should be easy to answer. Ask Dennis Rodman anything and he’ll talk. The man can’t keep his mouth shut.
In his article, Halpin notes that bringing luxury goods into North Korea is prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions (several of them, in fact). Those sanctions were first imposed in 2006, after North Korea’s first nuclear test, as a response to Kim Jong Il’s obscene luxury purchases as his people went hungry. Most North Koreans starve to death out of sight and out of mind, but a North Korean guerrilla journalist did film this victim in June 2010, a few months before her decomposed body was found in the fields nearby.
A U.N. report recently found that 84% of North Korean households can’t find enough to eat, yet Kim Jong Un recently spent $300 million — three times what the World Food Program recently asked foreign governments to donate to feed hungry North Koreans — on such amenities as a ski resort, a water park, a dolphinarium, an amusement park, and a 3-D cinema.
But since when has anyone enforced a U.N. resolution against North Korea? For example, if Chinese customs inspected Rodman’s gifts and let them onto the flight for Pyongyang, that should tell you all you need to know about China’s compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions it voted for.
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Unfortunately for Rodman, in 2010, President Obama signed an implementing executive order, Executive Order 13,551, that provides for some harsh penalties for any U.S. person found “to have, directly or indirectly, imported, exported, or reexported luxury goods to or into North Korea.”
Executive Order 13,551 is promulgated under the authority of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 50 U.S.C. app. sec. 1701 et seq., and authorizes the Treasury Department “to employ all powers granted to the President” under the IEEPA to enforce it. As Treasury makes clear, those powers include the criminal penalties provided in Section 206 of the IEEPA, including up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $1,000,000. There are also civil penalties.
The definition of “luxury goods” is found at Supplement 1 to 15 C.F.R. Part 746. Rodman’s gifts clearly fall within the proscribed categories. In fact, according to Section 746.4 of that Part, licenses for the export of “designer clothing,” “fashion accessories,” and “wine and other alcoholic beverages” to North Korea are subject to “a general policy of denial.”
Although exports to North Korea are not always prohibited, they must be licensed by the Treasury Department. Treasury imposes export licensing requirements on sanctioned countries to ensure that U.S. exports don’t provide targeted governments with sensitive technology or violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, which the U.S. is obligated to enforce. Violations of Executive Order 13,551 are also prohibited under a Treasury regulation, 31 C.F.R. sec. 510.201(b).
The fact that these were gifts seems to be of little consequence. The executive order prohibits imports, exports, and reexports, and doesn’t make the payment of compensation a necessary element of a violation.
(As I noted recently, U.S. sanctions against North Korea are actually much, much weaker than those pertaining to Iran, Cuba, Sudan, and Burma. They are more analogous to our sanctions against Belarus and Zimbabwe. Although North Korea is holding one U.S. citizen captive and recently held another for several weeks over his Korean War service, there are no travel sanctions preventing U.S. citizens from visiting North Korea.)
Halpin also alleges that Irish bookmaker Paddy Power financed Rodman’s trip due to contractual obligations. Financing Rodman’s trip wouldn’t necessarily mean that Paddy Power financed luxury gifts to Kim Jong Un, but under EU sanctions regulations, it is prohibited “to sell, supply, transfer or export, directly or indirectly, luxury goods” to North Korea, including high quality “spirits and spirituous beverages,” “handbags and similar articles,” “garments,” and “lead crystal glassware.”
I don’t know if Rodman had an export license for his gifts, of course. If he did, that should be a scandal for the Treasury Department that issued the license, the State Department that denied any U.S. government involvement in Rodman’s trip, and the administration.
I strongly doubt, however, that Rodman had a license. If I’m right about that, and if Rodman exported those items into North Korea, he’d be well advised to stop talking and lawyer up. Having done a fair amount of criminal defense work in the Army, however, it’s my experience that criminal suspects almost never understand this intuitively. In Rodman’s case, it’s especially doubtful that his good sense can suppress his compulsion to attract attention. And if you saw this today, you’d be hard pressed to disagree:
[The expressions on the faces of the other players: priceless.]
My guess is that any reporter who simply asks Rodman what he carried to North Korea will elicit an admissible, and probably incriminating, statement.
Having said this, I’ve already explained why Rodman has, inadvertently, done a tremendous service for the cause of human rights in North Korea by unwittingly publicizing the horrors there. More importantly, his association with Kim Jong Un is likely discrediting the North Korean dictator among his minions, and could even hasten his downfall.
Given the choice, I would rather see Rodman stigmatized and shunned as an international imbecile-at-large than made into a martyr for his ideas, however repellent. Ideally, the feds would fine him just enough to keep him from profiting from his endorsements, but not enough to keep him from going back to Pyongyang, while running his mouth all the way there and back.
Update: According to North Korea’s official “news” service, “Rodman presented Kim Jong Un with a gift he prepared with the deepest respect for him.” No further details.
Kim Jong Un’s reign must be a dark time for North Korea’s apologists on the far left. Those who elevate equality above all other values (or say they do) must be hard pressed to find solidarity with a regime that has imposed the world’s most obscene case of economic and social injustice. Under Kim Jong Il, North Korea was no paragon of socialist equality. Since his dynastic succession, Kim Jong Un has added the arch-heresies of gaudy consumerism and an adoration of the coarsest elements of pop culture.
Even Bruce Cumings – Bruce Cumings – recently called Kim Jong Un “a modern Caligula,” and for once, I can’t argue with him. Off-hand, I can’t think of a richer target for “critical studies” than this one:
Even so, U.C. Santa Cruz Assistant Professor Christine Hong, writing at something called “Critical Asian Studies,” lobs a verbose, meandering screed at advocates for the human rights of Kim Jong Un’s subjects, a growing number of whom are themselves North Korean, and whom Hong quite casually calls “typically ‘beneficiaries of past injustice’” and “future violence.”
“Typically,” she says, apparently unconcerned that such sweeping bigotry and assignment of original sin would draw any challenge. Or, more plausibly, notice.
This is horrid stuff, on many levels. Its hackneyed language reads as if it was taped together out of ribbons from Chomsky’s shredder bin. As “scholarship,” it offers no useful data or citations of factual evidence about North Korea. Its citations of “authority” are, with few exceptions, pre-owned arguments and epithets borrowed from the co-habitants of Hong’s own echo chamber. Its most distinctive qualities are the yawning sloppiness of its arguments, and a sentence structure that combines the verbal economy of a filibuster with the literary coherence of a cattle auction. I can’t recall when I’ve seen so many words yield so little light or joy.
Hong first attacks the definition of human rights itself (“a hegemonic interpretive lens”), in a transparent effort to strip this term of any useful meaning. If I understand her correctly, she’s complaining that “the privileged ideological frame” that disapproves of the mass imprisonment and murder of political prisoners — and their kids — has influenced more people than “other epistemic forms” that perpetrate it. But if “human rights” means anything, no advocate for that concept could abide how North Korea treats its people today.
Next, Hong tries to pound the words of human rights advocates into a Jell-O mold of Don Rumsfeld’s head, arguing that human rights advocacy must be a subterfuge for invading North Korea — a straw man argument against something no one of consequence supports. In her strained effort to make all human rights advocates sound like a caricature of … well, me, Hong omits any mention of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry or the powerful words of its avowedly liberal, openly gay Chair.
Hong mendaciously accuses the U.S. of “withholding” humanitarian aid; in fact, Pyongyang has impeded the delivery of aid by the U.S. and U.N., and diverted aid to its loyalists and military. Rather than allow monitoring and other safeguards against diversion, Pyongyang forced the World Food Program to slash its feeding program from 6.5 million recipients to just 1.9 million (later increased to 2.4 million), rejected 500,000 tons of U.S. food aid, and expelled U.S. aid workers. It agreed to, then quickly reneged on, a moratorium on missile launches for 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid. When it received more food aid, it bought less food from abroad and spent the difference on other “priorities.” Some NGOs, such as Medicins Sans Frontieres, withdrew rather than help Pyongyang use food as a tool of control.
Then, Hong plods onward to a factually selective, ham-handed evasion of the Kim Dynasty’s responsibility for everything from the Korean War (“a civil and revolutionary war, a people’s war” frustrated by a “counterrevolutionary” U.N. intervention), its atrocities against own people, and the squalid life it imposes on them.
Hong blames this squalor on “the violence of sanctions” that “predictably stifle the economic growth of North Korea, in effect declaring it off-limits to potential investors and restricting the country’s access to capital, as well as exacerbating the suffering of the North Korean people.” Having found a scapegoat at a safe distance from Pyongyang, Hong calls the sanctions “formidable,” which is curious, because they are not formidable, and also because she fails to cite any of the authorities on which U.S. or U.N. sanctions rest, or explain what any of those authorities do. This, evidently, is what passes for scholarship in some quarters.
I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that Christine Hong really has no idea what U.S. or U.N. sanctions do (that’s the more charitable of the two alternatives that come to mind). Had Hong bothered to read the object of her criticism, she would know that those sanctions are not, as she would have her readers to imagine, a broad-based attack on North Korea’s economy, but a set of limited sanctions focused on North Korea’s trafficking in WMD components and technology, weapons, contraband like drugs and counterfeit currency, and luxury goods — and poorly enforced at that, as we’ll soon see. Hong doesn’t offer any analysis of what legitimate industry would, but for sanctions, lift North Korea’s economy with Chollima speed.
(To be fair, Hong would have her readers imagine that our North Korea sanctions are almost as tough and comprehensive as I wish they really were. Of course, I favor broad exceptions for food imports and humanitarian aid, I’d make the transparent delivery of humanitarian aid a specific objective of a sanctions program, and I’d forfeit Kim Jong Un’s ill-gotten wealth to pay for it.)
~ ~ ~
Hong takes great care not to mention that a principal target of sanctions is Kim Jong Un’s appetite for luxury goods. After all, how in the world could she defend that? Still, I’d love to know, and each non-sequitur Hong offered only made me wonder how she would justify, say, a decision by the leader of a half-starved nation to spend millions of dollars on a ski resort.
Yonhap, quoting the South Korean National Intelligence Service, reports that Kim Jong Un spent $300 million building “leisure and sports facilities, including the ski resort,” at a time when 84% of North Korean households can’t find enough to eat. That expenditure is three times the amount that the World Food Program asked donor nations to contribute to feed hungy North Koreans last summer.
There’s nothing new about this pattern. I’ve already elaborated on some of the luxuries Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un bought that cost more than the amount needed to feed every hungry North Korean. I’ve explained why each of the MiG-29s in these satellite images killed as many North Koreans by starvation as one B-29 killed at Nagasaki. Lest any future prosecutor have difficulty proving his charges against the one responsible, KCNA helpfully offers that the ski resort was “built on the personal initiative of supreme leader Kim Jong Un and under his wise leadership.” (The unlinkable KCNA article is preserved below the jump.)
The U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions on North Korea’s luxury goods imports in 2006, long after the famine ended, mostly humanitarian reasons. Historically, North Korean dictators have preferred European brands. Since at least 2007, EU regulations have prohibited persons and businesses under the jurisdiction of its member states from directly or indirectly selling or transferring “luxury items,” a term defined to specifically include “[a]rticles and equipment for skiing, golf, diving and water sports.”
Last summer, when Switzerland refused to sell North Korea ski lift equipment worth almost exactly as much as Switzerland’s annual humanitarian aid allocation for North Korea, North Korea called the refusal “a serious human rights abuse that politicizes sports and discriminates against the Koreans.” Today, as if for the express purpose of taunting the world, KCNA borrows the operative word of the U.N. sanctions in describing Masik Pass as a place “for the people to enable them enjoy luxury and comfort under socialism.”
Masik Pass has done the world two great services. First, it has helped make an even bigger fool of Christine Hong, and second, it has illustrated how poorly the world is enforcing those sanctions. After the Rodong Sinmun published these photos, a Swedish manufacturer expressed surprise at seeing his company’s snow canons there. Immediate suspicions fell upon a Chinese reseller. Writing for The Daily Telegraph, NK News’s Chad O’Carroll notes that plenty of other equipment at Masik Pass appears to have been imported in violation of U.N. sanctions, and even identifies the manufacturers, prices, and countries of origin:
A “Ski-Doo” Snowmobile manufactured by Canadian owned Bombardier Recreational Products & Vehicles was visible in pictures circulated by AFP, while at least seven snow blowers produced by Sweden’s Areco and at two snow ploughs produced by Italy’s Prinoth were visible in pictures released Thursday. A further snow plough produced by Germany’s Pisten Bully was also visible.
Johan Erling, the chief executive of Areco said that he had “no idea” how at least seven Areco snow cannons had turned up in North Korea, pointing out they could have been supplied through any number of intermediaries, formal or informal.
Mr Erling said that the seven snow blowers pictured by KCNA, known as the Areco Supersnow, cost anything between £13,900 to £22,400 each.
How North Korea could have acquired so many without his company’s knowledge was beyond him, Mr Erling said. Areco sells around 40 units per year to its Chinese reseller and the units pictured in North Korea are no more than 1.5 years old, he added.
The Italian produced snow ploughs visible in the picture published by KCNA are the Prinoth BR350 (yellow) and Prinoth Bison X (silver).
A previously owned BR350, first produced in 2006, is currently selling on a Canadian website for £48,400 while the Bison X, first produced in 2008, has a higher market value.
The red plough is a Pisten Bully unit, made in Germany. Units like the one pictured can be found online from £70,000.
Neither Prinorth, Bombardier Recreational Products & Vehicles or Pisten Bully could be reached for comment about the transfer of equipment to North Korea.
Bjørn-Erik Skjærvik, a Norwegian snowmobile reseller, said the unit pictured by AFP is the Skidoo GT550, produced in either 2011, 2012 or 2013. The GT series retail between £4500 to £7260 each.
Observers had already questioned just how many of “the people” will really enjoy Masik Pass. The fact that North Korea had to photoshop an image to manufacture a crowd of skiers suggests an answer.
In the top image, the man in the green-and-black jacket appears in triplicate, and the building in the foreground, if compared to the Rodong Sinmun slideshow and other images, appears to have been cropped and inserted, but turned 90 degrees in the process (study the eaves of the roof).
Kim Jong Un’s ostentatious, conspicuous consumption puts North Korea’s left-leaning apologists on ground they can’t defend, and that increasing numbers of them won’t even try to defend. Once, John Feffer offered an apologia for Kim Jong Il’s policy choice to sacrifice millions of people for North Korea’s “defense” against imperialist hegemons. Hong won’t offer a defense against Kim Jong Un’s obscene squandering on waterparks, amusement parks, 3D cinemas, and ski resorts. Instead, she chooses the obtuse alternative of ignoring their existence. But pretending that there is no elephant in the room is not an argument; it is a tacit admission that the argument is too ridiculous for even the regime’s most tendentious apologists to offer.
You would think that the world’s biggest government would be capable of handling more than one global proliferation crisis at a time. Unfortunately, Washington isn’t wired for that kind of bandwidth. Major policy initiatives require political capital, and it will take all of this administration’s dwindling reserves to fend off a new round of Iran sanctions in Congress.* The administration couldn’t defend a deal with North Korea now if it had one, and that goes double for the sort of non-disarmament deal being pushed by the likes of Robert Gallucci and Stephen Bosworth.
Regardless of your subjective views, the Obama Administration’s political position has eroded significantly in the last month. Its approval ratings on foreign policy are almost as low as they are on Obamacare. I suspect that the administration’s approval rating on foreign policy will get a short-term bump — reporters are using words like “historic” and “euphoria,” word choices that have proven to be poor predictors of longer-term success. Opposition to the deal, however, is already significant. Even key Democrats like Bob Menendez and Charles Schumer reason that the deal fails to freeze Iran’s enrichment or do enough to stop its progress toward the Bomb to merit billions of dollars in sanctions relief, and the lost leverage that entails. It can’t help that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is saying this:
Let anyone make his own reading, but this right is clearly stated in the text of the agreement that Iran can continue its enrichment, and I announce to our people that our enrichment activities will continue as before.
Unlike Agreed Framework II in 2007, this deal will exacerbate, rather than mollify, opposition to the President when the President is weakened politically. Agreed Framework II was the Bush Administration’s way of deferring a North Korea debate when it was weakened by Iraq. The Iran deal will intensify the Iran debate when it is weakened by Obamacare. All bets are off, of course, if the Democrats lose the Senate next year, but in the meantime, Democratic senators in swing states will face tough pre-election votes and won’t want to be portrayed as soft on regimes that most Americans loathe. It seems unlikely that the administration would expend more of its capital on appeasing North Korea at a time like this.
Iran could also shape the North Korea debate in other ways, but first, you need to understand the difference between Iran sanctions and North Korea sanctions. Every time North Korea provokes, bands of “experts” emerge to say that our North Korea sanctions are already maxed out (so what can we really do except try to appease them?). What all of these experts have in common is that none of them know what they’re talking about. They’re repeating a consensus formed in an echo chamber — a consensus with little basis in the relevant executive orders (1, 2, 3), statutes, or regulations. In fact, North Korea sanctions are relatively weak — far weaker than the ones that forced Iran to bargain with us.
What made Iran sanctions so devastating wasn’t just their targeted attack on Iran’s regime-linked banks, its oil sector, and the shipping lines that carry Iranian oil to markets in Europe and Asia. It was the fact that they also targeted third parties — Iran’s oil customers, and those who maintain correspondent relationships with its banks. There is nothing comparable to this in the North Korea sanctions regulations at 31 C.F.R. Part 510. By all means, go to Title 31 of the Code of Federal Regulations and do what I’ve spent the last few weeks doing — compare the various sanctions regulations for yourself. We have travel sanctions against Cuba, but not against North Korea, which is holding two U.S. citizens captive, and which abducted and murdered a lawful permanent resident in 2000. We have human rights sanctions against those who stifle free expression in Iran and Belarus (but not North Korea). We sanction those who commit crimes against humanity in Sudan (but not North Korea). We specifically target the oil sectors of Iran and Sudan, but not North Korea’s mineral sector, which has long been associated with its proliferation programs. To get a contract with the U.S. government, you have to certify that you don’t do business with the government of Sudan (but not North Korea). The Burma JADE Act allows Treasury to ban correspondent relationships with Burmese banks (no such authority applies to North Korea). Iran and Burma are listed as primary money laundering concerns, restricting their access to the global financial system. North Korea, the world’s most notorious counterfeiting and money launderer, is not.
Instead, our North Korea sanctions target only a narrow list of individuals, trading companies, and banks that have been specifically linked to WMD proliferation. Although Treasury recently blocked two additional North Korean banks from the financial system, the third-country banks that facilitate North Korea’s illicit and prohibited commerce haven’t been targeted since 2007. We have import and export sanctions against Cuba, Iran, and Sudan. Import sanctions were not applied to North Korea until 2011, and you can still export to North Korea, provided you aren’t shipping any sensitive technology and obtain the requisite license (you might also want to get your money up front). The tough third-party sanctions that disconnected Iran and Burma from the financial system and stranded its assets overseas aren’t in force against North Korea. Overall, our North Korea sanctions are more comparable to those we have against Belarus and Zimbabwe than to those we have against Iran, or even Cuba.
Understanding that difference unlocks some obvious comparisons.
First, it’s no longer possible to make a serious argument that well-crafted sanctions don’t work. By “well-crafted,” I mean the kind of sanction that isolates key sectors of the target’s economy from global trade and finance, not simple bilateral trade sanctions, which are just a beginning.
Second, if the administration’s position is that more Iran sanctions should be deferred because Iran is negotiating in good faith, what basis does the administration have to argue that North Korea sanctions should also be deferred? Last Thursday, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said that the U.S. won’t resume dialogue with North Korea “as long as it keeps key parts of its nuclear weapons program running.” The next day, Special Envoy Glyn Davies said that “North Korea must ‘cease’ all its nuclear activities, both plutonium and uranium, before a resumption” of the six-party talks. Now, the Park Administration is saying that the North must re-commit to denuclearization and agree to “detailed action plans” before new talks. So it’s settled, then — North Korea clings to its nukes, we have nothing to talk about, and by the way, the clock is ticking. South Korea’s Defense Minister is now saying that North Korea now has the capability to produce weapons-grade uranium.
Third, if sanctions at least gave Iran an incentive to negotiate — an incentive that it had lacked for years — then couldn’t they create a similar incentive for Kim Jong Un? North Korea’s economy has a fraction of Iran’s GDP, is far less diverse, and is far more dependent on foreign currency and imports to fund its priorities. We already know that financial pressure forced Kim Jong Il to negotiate in 2006.
Fourth, if the administration is only opposed to Iran sanctions because they could hurt the prospect for a diplomatic solution with Iran, but there is no immediate prospect for talks with North Korea, doesn’t the administration’s argument on Iran look disingenuous if it opposes sanctions on North Korea? Wouldn’t opposition to North Korea sanctions by the administration allow its critics to argue that the administration is reflexively opposed to sanctions because it’s simply weak?
The consensus today is that tough sanctions forced Iran back to the bargaining table after years of stalling, lying, and obfuscation, yet our North Korea sanctions are a pale shadow of the sanctions we have against Iran. Whether you believe that the purpose of sanctions on Iran was to slow its nuclear progress, open the way to diplomacy, or weaken the regime domestically, you can argue that sanctions were moving us in all of those directions. Why we aren’t using sanctions to move us toward the same goals with North Korea?
* With apologies for mixing my metaphors.