North Korean workers at Kaesong show symptoms of exposure to toxic chemicals …

including benzene. If you wonder why people such as myself rail against slave labor and the lack of labor rights at Kaesong, this is why. A real independent union would have stood up for the workers and raised this issue long ago. I can’t say I have much confidence in the desire of either of the governments involved — much less the employers — to tell the truth about the exposure of help the victims; after all, that wouldn’t serve the financial or political interests. People go into North Korea full of promises to change its system. North Korea’s system always changes them instead.

The natural default candidate to advocate for these workers would be South Korean unions. Sadly, South Korea’s largest labor group behaves like Pyongyang’s wholly owned subsidiary.

~   ~   ~

Update: More here, via AFP. And according to this article, Kaesong is suffering from deteriorating facilities, nervousness by potential investors, and (surprisingly) labor shortages. Why? Despite the high premiums the regime extracts from South Korean investors, the regime is increasingly renting out its workers to Chinese factories instead. According to the article, however, the regime can’t raise those premiums even more because Kaesong labor already costs more than it does in Southeast Asia. Interesting.

To address hunger in North Korea, the World Food Program must first tell the truth.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the World Food Program may soon suspend operations in North Korea due to a lack of funding. The program’s internal reports claim that as of late 2013, it was feeding just 1.45 million North Koreans, compared to 2.4 million intended recipients, mostly pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children. Most of what is distributed now consists of materiel like high-energy biscuits, which (thankfully) are not easily digested by healthy people and thus not easily diverted.

But as the U.N. has also told us, 84% of North Korean households have “poor” or “borderline” food consumption, and there are about 23 million people in North Korea today. Clearly, the WFP’s current operations barely dent North Korea’s broader hunger problem. As recently as 2005, the WFP was feeding 6.5 million North Koreans, but Pyongyang forced the WFP to scale that program back dramatically. It has been shrinking steadily ever since.

Unfortunately, as I’ll explain below, the WFP’s compromises with Pyongyang — and consequently, with the truth — are perpetuating and contributing to the regime policies at the root of North Korea’s hunger. That likely means that as configured, the WFP’s work in North Korea does some good, and also, far more harm. The WFP has been operating in North Korea since the Great Famine in 1995, which must make North Korea the only industrialized society on earth to experience such a prolonged famine. Why? The WFP’s answer is almost the same as North Korea’s:

With a population of 24.5 million, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been excluded from globalization and economic development for various reasons. Floods, torrential rains, typhoons and droughts threaten lives and livelihoods every year and cause soil erosion, landslides and damage to infrastructure.

The country does not produce enough food, and it has limited emergency food stocks and scant foreign currency reserves to buy food on the international market. [WFP]

Rather than rebut each of these falsehoods point-by-point, I’ll refer you to the Congressional Research Service, which elaborates on how North Korea has excluded its own people from globalization and economic development by resisting economic reform, and quotes the findings of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry that Pyongyang’s “decisions, actions, and omissions,” including the obstruction and diversion of food aid, “knowingly causing prolonged starvation” and “the death of at least hundreds of thousands of people.”

Another under-examined cause of hunger is the extent to which the regime seizes crops from poor regions, cracks down on smuggling and markets that make food available to the poor, and destroys crops cultivated quasi-legally, on unused public land.

And if you really believe that North Korea is starving because of 19 consecutive years of floods or droughts, just ask yourself why South Korea isn’t.

But to say, as the WFP so very incredibly does, that North Korea has “scant foreign currency reserves to buy food on the international market” is simply an obscene and outrageous lie:

No wonder no one trusts the WFP’s assurances about how it delivers food aid to those who need it. It isn’t just me questioning that – the WFP’s own inspector general’s own findings tell us that the WFP has outsourced the transportation, distribution, and guarding of the food to the regime. Because the regime’s workers have access to the WFP’s computer records system, the WFP has no sure way of auditing the distribution of the food.

Remarkably for a program on such a wide geographical scale, the WFP only staffs one facility in Pyongyang, and is only able to visit its own regional offices in Chongjin, Wonsan, and Hamhung. The WFP’s monitoring and distribution are frequently obstructed by the regime for extended periods, when the regime would claim that roads and bridges were washed out, preventing access. (Yet Kim Jong Un can always find a helicopter to fly Dennis Rodman to his yacht at Wonsan.)

Although the WFP claims that “the DPRK government covers all manpower and running costs, while WFP provides the food commodities, spare parts and packaging materials,” it’s apparent from the IG report that the WFP is paying the regime for the fuel, logistical services, and labor. This suggests that the WFP has become another source of hard currency for Pyongyang. That explains why Pyongyang allows the WFP to operate at all, but it’s further reason to question how the WFP’s donations are spent.

And finally, as I noted here, the WFP has almost certainly been dishonest about where it is allowed access. The WFP’s own access maps of North Korea include some of North Korea’s largest concentration camps, places that no foreigner is ever allowed to go near. In a 2011 interview for this blog, a WFP spokesman refused to even respond to my questions about its ability to assess hunger in the camps or feed the prisoners there. The WFP can’t admit that it willingly provides the regime with food when the hungriest, most vulnerable people in North Korea are denied their basic needs, because the WFP claims to operate on the principle of “no access, no food.” Food isn’t supposed to be denied to starving men, women, and children, even if they are political prisoners. If the WFP feeds prisoners in Cambodia, Rwanda, and the Ivory Coast, why not North Korea?

The answer, I suppose, is the same one that we so often see whenever foreigners enter North Korea with the best of intentions. Through ruthless bargaining, skillful manipulation, and shameless mendacity, North Korea sorts those who are willing to play by its rules and be useful to it from those who aren’t, and who simply aren’t let in again. Thus, North Korea exempts itself from the rules that the rest of humanity lives by, and this happens … millions of times:

A serious response to hunger in North Korea will require, first, an end to this “North Korean exceptionalism.” That will require a closer partnership between U.N. bodies with each other, and with the governments of U.N. member states:

1. The WFP must adhere strictly to the principle of “no access, no food.” It should expect North Korea to allow just as many monitoring visits per capita as it would make in, say, Darfur. It should have access to every hungry North Korean, including its political prisoners. It should insist on posting its own non-North Korean staff in the cities and towns where the hungry people are, along with its own non-North Korean translators. It should insist on random, unannounced nutritional surveys that measure the arm circumference of children and adults who are supposed to be receiving the aid. And failing that, it should offer only that much food that it is confident that North Korea cannot divert (meaning high-energy biscuits and other, similar in-kind aid). The current, small-scale program the WFP operates may well meet that low threshold, but let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that it’s solving the bigger problem, or that it’s feeding North Korea’s most vulnerable people.

2. The WFP should end its reliance on North Korea’s corrupt and discriminatory Public Distribution System and support market-based approaches to food production and distribution. For most North Koreans, the PDS is a relic of another age; 80% of them already rely on markets for their food supply. It should actively support the privatization of agriculture, the private cultivation of public land, and unofficial commercial imports of food. It should begin programs to educate private farmers on better agricultural methods, and supply the private farmers with high-yield seed, fertilizer, and pesticides. It should criticize actions by the regime that interfere with markets and private agriculture.

3. The WFP must use its voice to influence Kim Jong Un to make better decisions about North Korea’s wealth. It must speak out about the waste of resources on luxury goods and weapons, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. It must speak out about unreasonable restrictions on its monitoring and distribution of food, to increase the pressure on Pyongyang to allow transparency and fairness in the distribution of food. If that causes the regime to expel the WFP, then perhaps the WFP’s resources are better used to feed people in other places, where it can adhere to the “no access, no food” principle and feed those whose need is the greatest.

4. Donor states and U.N. member states must help the WFP enforce those restrictions by blocking North Korean government banks, accounts, and income streams, beginning with those that are used to purchase luxury goods. Those states should make clear to the North Korean government that those funds are available to provide food and other humanitarian aid to the people of North Korea, and that funds will be available for other, non-prohibited purposes after the humanitarian needs of the North Korean people have been met first.

5. Because the transparent distribution of North Korea’s resources is the most plausible path toward greater transparency in North Korea as a whole, member states should prioritize combining their diplomatic influence to extract greater transparency in the delivery of food aid. Greater transparency is the sine qua non to resolving every other crisis involving North Korea, including its nuclear program, other WMD programs, human rights violations, and threats against its neighbors. Ultimately, that will also require financial transparency, too. North Korea isn’t going to accept that on its own. Other states must use their regulatory powers over banks and businesses to demand it.

To help the silent, suffering majority of North Koreans, the WFP must make a far broader impact on North Korea’s food supply. To do that, the WFP must also impact Pyongyang’s own restrictions on the supply and distribution of food, because Pyongyang’s own policies are the cause of the hunger. By avoiding — or by affirmatively concealing — that greater truth, the WFP is perpetuating hunger and starvation among the millions of North Koreans that it can’t reach.

~   ~   ~

Update: Similar thoughts from Patrick Cronin.

Starving Bulawayo to feed Pyongyang?

When I traveled in Zimbabwe a quarter-century ago, it was one of the region’s strongest economies and a net exporter of food. In is a miracle of 21st Century government incompetence, President-for-life Robert Mugabe threw Zimbabwe, with some of the world’s best farm land, into a food crisis a decade ago. Zimbabwe must now rely on aid from the World Food Program.

So what business does one starving nation have selling off, or renting out, precious farm land to … North Korea? And how likely do you suppose it is that that food will at least reach the North Koreans who need it most? I suspect that WFP monitors have better access in Zimbabwe than they do in North Korea, where the WFP is so lacking in donations that it may soon end its operations. But in any event, let no one say that North Korea can’t afford to grow food abroad, or import it commercially, if it makes doing so a priority.

CNN taken in by North Korea’s sham churches.

Of all the gullible foreigners who sincerely believe they’re changing North Korea, none seem quite so gullible as the Christian missionaries who work in Pyongyang, within the regime’s restrictions. Background on those fake North Korean churches, here and here.

Is Obama’s North Korea policy at a tipping point?

Following of Congress’s resounding, bipartisan vote of no confidence in the Obama Administration’s North Korea policy last month, Secretary of State John Kerry has been traveling around the Pacific. In Australia, while meeting with that country’s Foreign Minister and Defense Minister, he traversed his gargantuan mandible toward Pyongyang and threatened to tighten sanctions “if it ‘chooses the path of confrontation.” If? If?

“The United States — I want to make this clear — is absolutely prepared to improve relations with North Korea if North Korea will honor its international obligations,” Kerry said at a joint news conference, according to the State Department. “But make no mistake. We are also prepared to increase pressure, including through strong sanctions and further isolation, if North Korea chooses the path of confrontation.” 

In a joint communique, the U.S. and Australia underscored their “serious concern” that North Korea’s behavior has undermined the stability of the entire region and called on it to cease its threats and provocations and comply with its international commitments and obligations, including abandoning its nuclear, missile and proliferation activities.

They also expressed deep concern for the welfare of the North Korean people and called on Pyongyang to implement the UN Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations for ending its ongoing systematic, widespread, and extreme violations of human rights. They said that those responsible must be held to account. [Yonhap]

It’s interesting that Kerry is trying to sound concerned about human rights. Sure, you say, President Obama could have issued an executive order targeting the assets and travel of North Korean human rights violators at any stage of his presidency, and could have modeled that executive order on similar ones it has imposed on Iran, Belarus, Zimbabwe, or South Sudan, to name a few. Still, Yonhap reports that the State Department “intends to increase pressure on North Korea to improve its human rights situation.”

Kerry, in his speech at the East-West Center in Honolulu, described human rights violations in North Korea as “horrific” and cited a U.N. human rights panel’s release in February of a report that chronicled abuses suffered by many of its people.

He said the report, which documented crimes against humanity including extermination, enslavement, enforced disappearance and deliberate starvation, “revealed the utter, grotesque cruelty of North Korea’s system of labor camps and executions.”

“Such deprivation of human dignity just has no place in the 21st century. North Korea’s gulags should be shut down — not tomorrow, not next week, but now. And we will continue to speak out on this topic,” he said. [Kyodo News]

We’ve since seen Pyongyang’s response to that. We’ll soon know just how sincere Kerry’s concern is, when the U.N. General Assembly votes to send the Commission of Inquiry’s report to the Security Council. Words are no substitute for more tangible actions, they are a start, and a necessary part of a campaign to rally allies toward a common objective.

Kerry made the demand in an unusually strong tone in an Asia policy address on Wednesday, saying such deprivation of human dignity “just has no place in the 21st century.” He stressed that gulags must be shut down “not tomorrow, not next week, but now.” The top American diplomat also said the U.S. will continue to speak out on the issue. [Yonhap]

Continue? And merely speak? Or actually do something that would matter, like deploy the Treasury Department to sanction the persons and government agencies that are running a string of concentration camps unlike anything the world has seen since 1945?

Financial and other sanctions imposed on Iran, Russia and North Korea will be among major topics discussed when a senior U.S. Treasury official visits Seoul this week, government sources said Tuesday.

David S. Cohen, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, is scheduled to visit Seoul from Wednesday through Thursday, according to the sources. The U.S. Treasury Department said Monday that Cohen will visit Japan, South Korea, China, the United Arab Emirates and Oman during the period of Aug. 18-25.

Cohen is in charge of Washington’s sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear and long-range missile tests. In Seoul, he will meet with Lee Kyung-soo, deputy minister for political affairs at South Korea’s foreign ministry as well as Hwang Joon-kook, the country’s top nuclear envoy, the South Korean sources said. Cohen’s planned visit to Seoul comes on the heels of the recent visit by Peter Harrell, a senior U.S. diplomat on sanctions affairs.

Harrell, deputy assistant secretary for counter threat finance and sanctions at the State Department, visited in Seoul late July to ask Seoul to join Washington-led efforts to impose tougher sanctions against Russia. [Yonhap]

This doesn’t mean that the Obama Administration is laying a foundation for action, or that the action will be effective. If the administration does intend to act, however, a visit like this would be a prerequisite to that. In the wake of Japan’s bilateral lifting of sanctions to the detriment of U.S. and South Korean interests, it’s particularly essential to shore up South Korea’s determination to keep its existing sanctions in place, even as Park Geun-Hye comes under domestic political pressure to lift them. Fortunately for Park, that pressure is somewhat attenuated by her party’s good performance in recent bi-elections:

President Park Geun-hye warned Thursday that South Korea’s sanctions on North Korea are inevitable as long as Pyongyang persists in its nuclear weapons program. [....]

Under the sanctions, South Korea has suspended inter-Korean projects and banned new investments in the North, except for their joint factory park in the North’s border city of Kaesong.

Nonetheless, Park said South Korea will gradually expand exchanges and cooperation with North Korea as far as they do not undermine international cooperation on implementing U.N. sanctions. [....]

Park also said South Korea is seeking to lay the groundwork for peaceful unification with North Korea by gradually expanding exchanges and cooperation. She unveiled her unification initiative in Dresden, the former East German city she traveled to in March.  [Yonhap]

Park has to be thinking that North Korea hasn’t done anything to deserve sanctions relief, and she isn’t one to give away something for nothing. She says she’s interested in a larger bargain with Pyongyang, and that sanctions relief can be one chip in that bargain. North Korea’s unsurprising position is that the South will have to lift its sanctions as a precondition to talks. Park’s answer is that that isn’t going to happen.

That means that on multiple tracks, all talks about talks with North Korea are stuck on the preconditions. As Pyongyang stalls for time and increases its capacity to threaten its interlocutors, the interlocutors struggle to maintain a coherent and consistent position, in furtherance of a policy whose ostensible desired end state, the negotiated denuclearization of North Korea, has never seemed less likely. With nuclear diplomacy in rigor mortis and North Korea advancing its weapons programs at full speed, what those allied against North Korea need desperately is leverage, and they know sanctions are the best way to get it.

Will they finally act? If they do act, will they simply ratchet up the sort of incremental pressure that North Korea has learned to adapt to, or will they deliver enough of a shock to its system to convince Kim Jong Un that time is no longer on his side?

Rand Paul: You people got me all wrong about this non-interventionism stuff.

Paul’s shift may be even less credible than Clinton’s, and just as mercenary. Unfortunately for Paul, isolationism, emotional authenticity, and financial puritanism are his brand image. Without those things, he’s just Mike Huckabee with better hair. It is Paul’s misfortune that we’re re-awakening to the dreary truth that the low characters of our world won’t let us ignore them away.

I’m still waiting for someone — anyone — to advocate sustainable, plausible strategy for defeating ISIS. The only such strategy I can see is to offer the Sunnis diplomatic support for autonomy and military support for a re-awakening that would deprive ISIS of a haven. For the same reason a doctor wouldn’t treat half a tumor, this same offer has to apply to Sunnis in Syria, which might result in a regional alliance of moderate, autonomous Sunni para-states stretching from Aleppo to Mosul, liberated by Arab tribes with American-supplied weapons, and backed by U.S. air power – and not by U.S. infantry.

Only the Arabs can exterminate ISIS now, but no one has a greater interest in doing so. In due course, a backlash against the brutality of ISIS will build. Our imperative is to be ready to take advantage of that backlash.

John S. Park of the Harvard Kennedy School thinks North Korea has …

become more adept at sanctions evasion, and sounds bearish about the prospects for success. I have no doubt that the first part of Park’s thesis is correct. I’m sure Pyongyang has diversified its income streams since Banco Delta Asia, which means that it will be harder to get back to where we were in 2005. On the other hand, I don’t think it will be impossible for sanctions to work, either. Al Qaeda, Iran, and the Medellin Cartel all have smart money launderers, and in the end, Treasury was effective against all of them. Unless North Korea has reinvented money laundering in ways that these targets haven’t, sanctions will work if given the appropriate investigative resources.

I’ll withhold judgment on the second part of Park’s thesis until I read it. I did contact Park to ask if he had published a paper or explained the basis for his views in detail, but so far, he hasn’t responded (he might be on his way back from Korea). I’ve read dozens of opinions that argued that sanctions haven’t worked against North Korea, but not one of those opinions showed much understanding of sanctions law, or how weak U.S. sanctions against North Korea really are. Without understanding the limitations of our current sanctions, or the extent of the authorities we still haven’t used, it’s impossible to understand their potential.

Define “uncensored.”

http://tinyurl.com/lk9hm5c #MadonnaSyndrome

“N. Korean opium floods northeast China,” according to a new article …

in The Chosun Ilbo. The article shows a photograph of opium being grown in North Korea and infers that the drug production is regime-directed, but it’s also possible that, consistent with recent trends, the regime simply tolerates the production and taxes it heavily. That has the advantage of giving North Korea both the income and plausible deniability, when China and other states complain about state-sponsored drug trafficking.

~   ~   ~

Update: More on North Korea’s meth smuggling here, via (interestingly enough) Chinese scholars. Here’s the thing with meth — I used to prosecute meth cases, and cooking it makes an obnoxious, distinctive stench (like a dirty cat box) and requires hard-to-obtain precursor chemicals. In a society where even ordinary consumer goods are hard to get, how would a cooker get chemicals without help from the authorities? How, in a society with no Fourth Amendment and where neighbors are paid to watch and rat each other out, would it be possible for a meth lab to go undetected by the authorities? How would illegal drugs get onto North Korean ships when shipping companies are some of the most tightly state-controlled enterprises in North Korea — and are frequently used by the state for smuggling other illicit cargo?

Which is, I suppose, a respectful disagreement I have with the theory that North Korea’s drug business has privatized. “Tolerated and taxed,” maybe up to a point. Leaking into North Korean society, certainly. But solely the work of unaffiliated local drug cartels? Not a chance.

Those who’ve been assigned to Yongsan, or who sometimes went to Itaewon, …

will appreciate this well-researched history of the neighborhood’s sleazy past and present gentrification, although sleaze has been a difficult thing to extinguish from the places where it has put down its roots. During my last visit to Seoul, the brothel district near the former Yongsan Station, now a massive E-Mart, was still plying its trade, just a bit more sedately, and just around the corner from a police precinct. Judging from the link, Hooker Hill still features hookers, despite the new development two blocks away.

My prediction: as long as Itaewon remains within easy walking distance of thousands of lonely, horny Americans, and as long as Korean society continues to view prostitution as a necessary vice for men to patronize discreetly — and as an acceptable service for others peoples’ daughters to provide clandestinely — there will be a sex industry in Itaewon.

John Kerry was right about North Korea (and so was John Bolton)

More than six months after a U.N. Commission of Inquiry found Kim Jong Un responsible for crimes against humanity, our State Department has offered no credible or coherent policy response to that report. At least it hadn’t until last week, when our Secretary of State, John Kerry — no doubt, after much agonizing deliberation — finally authorized the deployment of precision-guided tactical ballistic words:

“But make no mistake, we are also speaking out about the horrific human rights situation,” Kerry said. “We strongly supported the extraordinary United Nation’s investigation this year that revealed other grotesque cruelty of North Korea’s system of labor camps and executions.

“Such deprivation of human dignity just has no place in the 21st century. North Korea’s gulags should be shut down, not tomorrow, not next week, but now, and we will continue to speak out on this topic,” he said.

Kerry also said that the U.S. “will continue to promote human rights and democracy in Asia without arrogance but also without apology.” [Yonhap]

North Korea’s reaction to this was predictable and characteristic. It accused John Kerry of being a neocon pursuing a regime change agenda through fabricated accusations.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry let loose a spate of invectives against the DPRK over its “human rights issue” in a speech on the U.S. “Asia policy” held in Hawaii recently.

Unfit for his position, Kerry pulled up the DPRK, telling sheer lies and citing groundless data. This is the most undisguised expression of the U.S. inveterate repugnancy and hostile policy toward the DPRK. [....]

Lurking behind this is a sinister political aim to tarnish the DPRK’s image at any cost and stir up the international understanding that its social system is the object to be removed by force of arms in a bid to justify the U.S. and south Korean warmongers’ military threat. 

In recent years the U.S. has become noisy in its anti-DPRK “human rights” racket not because of any sincere interest in improving “human rights” but in pursuance of its design to bring down the social system of the DPRK under the pretext of “human rights issue”. [....]

In the DPRK the popular masses enjoy genuine rights as true masters of the country and human rights are strictly guaranteed by the state law. [Korean Central News Agency (Pyongyang)]

In a separate Korean-language piece, which did not translate into English very well, North Korea called Kerrya wolf with a ‘hideous lantern jaw.’” North Korea’s derogation of the appearance of foreign leaders is odd, given that its propagandists have inadvertently acknowledged their absolute monarch’s resemblance to a post-op Chaz Bono.

Still, let’s at least be objective enough to acknowledge that both Kerry and the North Koreans make valid points. Our Secretary does look a bit like Jay Leno – if Harry Reid had embalmed him – and such a fearsome mandible might just be capable of masticating unshelled Brazil nuts. I could go on, but I’ve done enough work for the North Koreans for one night.

Of course, it is Kerry who speaks the greater part of the truth. Not only were his assertions true, but it was important for him to make them, because by failing to make them, he would have acceded to one of the greatest outrages of our age. I don’t think John Kerry has been a very good Secretary of State – for example, I’m skeptical that he’ll execute a North Korea policy that goes beyond talk – but differences of policy shouldn’t divide us so much that they blind us to what is true and what must be said, no matter who says it, and regardless of one’s party affiliation, preference, or bias.

Mr Bolton said that while Kim Jong-il lived like royalty, for millions of his people, life was a “hellish nightmare”. “While he lives like royalty in Pyongyang, he keeps hundreds of thousands of his people locked in prison camps with millions more mired in abject poverty, scrounging the ground for food,” he said. [BBC]

Naturally, Kerry was statesmanlike enough to join with his colleague across the aisle and associate himself with this necessary denunciation. Right?

At a critical moment with North Korea, in a speech that he gave in Seoul, that he attacked Kim Jung-Il, whom we all attacked, we all dislike, we all recognize is, you know, someone we’d love to see removed or in a different–you know, not leading that country; but, on the other hand, at this critical moment, to almost 50 times in one speech personally vilify him, was to almost guarantee the outcome of the diplomatic effort that he was engaged in. [Sen. Exec. Rept. 109-1, May 18, 2005]

By now, you’ve guessed that the critic was then-Senator John Kerry, in a confirmation hearing on John Bolton’s nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Most of the news coverage of Bolton at the time largely mirrored Kerry’s criticism. It was cited as a reason for calling Bolton “controversial” and “an iconoclast” who “shattered diplomatic niceties and stirred anger.” Hardly a word was written about the temperamental immaturity of North Korea’s language.

There is, of course, no such reaction to Kerry’s tiff with the North Koreans in the newspapers today, nor should there be. So what justifies the distinction? If the moment (2003) when Bolton spoke those words was critical, the words themselves don’t seem to have spoiled the diplomatic ambience too badly. After calling Bolton a “scum and human bloodsucker” and refusing further negotiations with him, North Korea negotiated with another diplomat more to its liking instead. At the time, The New York Times said that Bolton’s absence was “to the relief of North Korean officials and not a few State Department colleagues” (colleagues of whom?). But let’s pick that back up again in a moment.

If we are not at an equally critical moment today, it is only because the Obama Administration’s North Korea policy — to the extent there is a policy at all — is so completely stalled, and North Korea has shown no interest in returning to the talks that our Secretary of State is waiting for it to show up for. Other than that, the clearest difference between Kerry’s statement and Bolton’s is that only one of them was made by the Secretary of State.

I don’t deny that the Bush policy on human rights in North Korea was also all talk, and I also recognize the Bush Administration’s responsibility for deepening the difficulty of Obama and Kerry’s position, if only because it eventually adopted a policy very much like the one that Kerry had advocated.

Ironically, the outcome that Kerry hoped for in May 2005 was North Korea’s signature on an agreement to disarm. The Bush Administration would not only achieve that very outcome four months later, it would also achieve it all over again in 2007! If that sounds like an outstanding record, it isn’t. Let’s just hope that Kerry isn’t vilifying Kim Jong Il’s son and heir today as part of his master plan to guarantee an equally successful outcome.

~   ~   ~

Update: The State Department declines to respond to North Korea’s comments.

In Pyongyang, men are locking themselves in the bathroom to download …

“Top Gear.” I hear that’s not all they’re downloading (ahem). According to “The Telegraph,” the deeds were done from the Ryugyong-dong district — also the place where all my hits from North Korea come from — a “neighbourhood in the northeast of Pyongyang … which contains … the Pyongyang International Communications Centre” and Koryolink’s main office. So that’s why.

On reflection, I suppose Martyn Williams is probably correct in identifying foreigners as the most likely culprits. You know what this means, of course: Pyongyang may be the only city in Asia where masturbation can be considered high-risk sex.

South Korea’s missile problem, and ours

For the last year, the South Korean government has been saying that it considers a North Korean attack a very real risk, and it has also said that if attacked, its retaliation will be swift and severe. Its President, Park Geun-Hye, recently expressed concern about a North Korean “misjudgment,” and touted the U.S.-ROK military alliance as the best deterrent against that. As recently as this week, she has been warning her army of the dangers of “complacency.

I don’t have access to the intelligence that President Park has, so I have no basis to either affirm or question her premise. Part of this is probably deterrent bluster, but I doubt Park would bluster without some basis. I’ve always thought President Park was a smart and shrewd politician. In South Korea, appeasement is popular enough that its name in the political lexicon predates even the Sunshine Policy — it’s known as the “Northern Wind.” Appeasement is not as popular as it was a decade ago, but it’s popular enough that I doubt that a politician as shrewd as Park would fabricate a threat that wouldn’t serve her political interests. (I’m sure others will disagree; so be it).

Today, I fear that the risk of a miscalculation that leads to war is greater than most North Korea watchers appreciate. Last month, Park told her top military commanders to return fire if attacked, without even waiting for her permission. What Park said next was not only slightly terrifying, it was also a perfect response to Secretary Kerry’s ill-advised comments about North Korea being “quiet,” especially because her comments preceded Kerry’s:

“There are also large concerns in the international community about (the North’s) preparations for a fourth nuclear test,” she said during the luncheon at the presidential office. “The gravity of the situation does not allow for the least bit of carelessness in maintaining our defense posture.” [....]

“I have complete faith in the judgment of our military,” Park said. “If there is any provocation, I expect all of you to respond strongly in the initial stages and punish (the North).” [Yonhap]

One cause of the recent rise in tensions is North Korea’s recent surge of tests of SCUDs, FROGs, and Nodongs — which we’ve known about for years — and of volleys of larger multiple-launch artillery rockets, which are a newer (and arguably, greater) threat. Thanks to The Wall Street Journal‘s Alastair Gale and other sources, we can identify some of these as 300-millimeter rockets of a new (to North Korea) type based either on a Russian design that can (in its native form) carry thermobaric weapons, or a Chinese or Pakistani variant that can probably carry chemical warheads. These weapons extend the range of North Korea’s artillery to cover all of Seoul, and most likely, Osan Air Base and the large Army post at Camp Humphreys, too.


[Indian Army 300-millimeter Smerch multiple-launch rockets.]

Over the weekend, during the “so-called” Pope’s visit, North Korea fired five new missiles that, Read more

Another outbreak of the Madonna Syndrome, this time …

at the Wall Street Journal. Despite all the references to “risk,” “tension,” and “testing the … limits,” the slide show shows us the same stations in the same old state-sanctioned tour that hundreds of people have been hyping for a decade and a half. It is all so very dull now.

You could find more arresting images of almost any other city on Earth without attracting the interest of a single newspaper, yet no image of Pyongyang is too trite to be at least a small media spectacle. Watching the foreigners circle around and around this Potemkin slot-car loop, I realize that it is becoming a parade of the talentless – the anti-New York, New York (you can make it there, even if you could never make it anywhere else).

How many camera crews would have followed Dennis Rodman to Minsk? Q.E.D.

Peter Hahn speaks out about China freezing his accounts and investigating him …

for his humanitarian activities. Hahn says, “We feed 22,000 children every day,” including the most pitiful children of all, the kkotjaebi. While I’m generally skeptical of claims that food aid can reach the intended recipients inside North Korea, Hahn tells a sympathetic and compelling story. Read and decide for yourself.

I’m not sure if Hahn is doing as much good as he thinks he is, but I am sure that China and Kim Jong Un are the villains of this story. How ironic (and typical) that China won’t freeze the assets of North Korea proliferators and money launderers, but does freeze the assets of people who are trying to feed North Korean orphans.

Those who believe that China is ready to abandon His Porcine Majesty, and those who still see any glimmer of hope that Kim Jong Un wants to open North Korean society, should read this story carefully.

Australian government finds “abandoned” N. Korean funds.

While most of these were accounts held by people in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Britain and the United States, some can be traced to addresses as far afield as North Korea, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some will doubtless never be claimed.” I’ll bet there’s a fascinating story there.

Something I did not know about about the “comfort women” …

until I read this was that their fellow Koreans had once ostracized them. Today, Koreans venerate them. Does this mean that one day, South Koreans might have more compassion for North Koreans, or is this a case of “hate isn’t the opposite of love; indifference is”?

What the hell? Seoul bar bans black customers over Ebola panic.

Story and photo here. I had to read that twice to believe it, but I can’t say that it completely astonishes me. I wonder how many of those banned from the bar, which is a short walk from a large U.S. Army garrison, will be American soldiers who’ve never set foot in Africa.