Need a round-trip ticket to Korea? Want to donate to a good cause? Look no further. (updated)

I’m posting this at the request of a friend in the North Korea Freedom Coalition:

As you recall, Ambassador Jung-Hoon Lee, ROK Ambassador for Human Rights, offered contribute the following item to the silent auction on May 1: $1500 for the purchase of a voucher for a roundtrip fare from Washington, DC to Seoul. We did not find a buyer for this item on the night of the auction but Ambassador Lee has generously extended his offer. After speaking with a local travel agency we can purchaser a voucher for $1450 with the following stipulations:

1) TICKETS MUST BE ISSUED ON/BEFORE MAY 30, 2015

2) VALID FOR TRAVEL COMMENCING ON/AFTER SEP 12, 2015 BEFORE DEC 16, 2015

3) This price is weekday fare (departing Monday through Friday)….

If you’re interested, here’s contact information for the NKFC.

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Update: Amb. Lee has generously agreed to donate the cost of the ticket. Thanks to those who tweeted and shared this post.

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2016 Defense Authorization Act would define N. Korea as state sponsor of terrorism

On Sunday, I spotted this interesting Yonhap headline: “U.S. defense bill calls N. Korea terror sponsor.” Given my own recent work on this subject, I was curious about the effect of this provision, so I pulled up the text of the bill, H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. The versions on Thomas and Congress.gov don’t yet reflect the amendment, but clues from the Yonhap piece led me to the amendment in question, offered by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, Cal.). The “almost identical” language of H.R. 1498 yields the amendment’s operative text.

No, the amendment would not re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, or invoke any of the sanctions that an SSOT listing would bring; only the Secretary of State can do that. Instead, the bill creates an “Interagency Hostage Coordinator” to lead a federal interagency task force, and “coordinate and direct all activities of the Federal Government” to “secure the release of United States citizens who are hostages of hostile groups or state sponsors of terrorism.” The legislation does not define the term “hostage,” but does define “state sponsor of terrorism.” Here’s what got Yonhap’s attention:

(3) STATE SPONSOR OF TERRORISM.—The term “state sponsor of terrorism”—

(A) means a country the government of which the Secretary of State has determined, for purposes of section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979, section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, or any other provision of law, to be a government that has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism; and

(B) includes North Korea.

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GAO: State Dep’t must step up diplomacy to enforce N. Korea sanctions

The General Accountability Office has released a new report on the enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. The report, requested by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, will probably influence the contours of the Senate’s version of the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act. You can read the full report here and a summary here, and listen to a podcast here.

The report correctly points to a key flaw in the enforcement of the sanctions that exist now — a lack of financial intelligence. The reasons for this, however, are multi-layered. The report explains some of those underlying reasons, but not all of them.

Agency officials cited obtaining sufficient information about North Korean persons to be their greatest challenge in making sanctions determinations. Most North Korea–specific sanctions authorities require a determination that a person engaged in a specific activity…

. However, officials said that gathering information on the activities of North Korean persons and personal identifying information can be difficult because of the nature of North Korean society, whose citizens are tightly controlled by the government. Without sufficient information, the United States could mistakenly designate and therefore block the assets of the wrong person, particularly one with a common surname. [GAO 15-485, p.

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Sen. Cory Gardner just gave as good a speech about North Korea policy as I’ve ever seen

Senator Cory Gardner* of Colorado is the new Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy. When I first heard that a freshman Senator had been picked to lead such an important subcommittee, it concerned me. Delving into Gardner’s background, however, it became clear that he’s highly intelligent — he graduated from college summa cum laude, and (at least according to his Wikipedia page) speaks fluent German. He has graduated from law school (never a bad thing for a lawmaker) and served as Legislative Director for Sen. Wayne Allard (ditto). He’s also a relative moderate in a party whose image has been dominated by the likes of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz recently. So why not? An ounce of judgment is worth a pound of seniority. But then, a friend directed me to this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.21.45 AM

Aside from the fact that it was a torpedo, not a missile, that sank the Cheonan, that was just about pitch-perfect. It’s about as good a speech as I’ve seen any politician deliver about North Korea, and quite possibly the best articulation I’ve seen of what a better North Korea policy would be. The confidence of the Senate leaders in Senator Gardner certainly exceeds his seniority.

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N. Korea’s expatriate labor needs ethical and financial limits

N. Korea increasingly relies on expat labor for hard currency

A series of new reports suggests that the export of labor has become a major source of income for Pyongyang. The Financial Times cites an NGO estimate that the regime earns $1.5 to $2.3 billion a year from contract labor, in line with educated estimates of its annual revenue from missile sales ($1.5 billion) or arms deals with Iran ($1.5 billion to $2 billion). Ahn Myeong-Cheol, a former prison camp guard and leader of the NGO NK Watch, says that there are now 100,000 North Koreans working overseas, double the number it had posted overseas in 2012. Ahn believes North Korea is increasing its use of contract labor to compensate for arms revenue lost to U.N. Security Council sanctions. Marzuki Darusman gives the lower estimate of 20,000. In testimony appended to the end of this post, Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea puts the figure at around 53,000. He also offers this very specific breakdown:

Currently, 16 countries reportedly host workers sent by the North Korean regime: Russia (20,000), China (19,000), Mongolia (1,300), Kuwait 5,000), UAE (2,000), Qatar (1,800), Angola (1,000), Poland (400-500), Malaysia (300), Oman (300), Libya (300), Myanmar (200), Nigeria (200), Algeria (200), Equatorial Guinea (200) and Ethiopia (100).4 Although North Korea is not a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO), all but two of the 16 states officially hosting North Korean workers are ILO members.

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NIS: N. Korea executes No. 2 military officer

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) is reporting that North Korean Army General Hyon Yong Chol, whose title was Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, has been executed for treason:

Hyon Yong-chol, the chief of North Korea’s People’s Armed Forces, was executed by firing squad using an anti-aircraft gun at a military school in Pyongyang around April 30, the National Intelligence Service said. [Yonhap]

An anti-aircraft gun? Hold that thought. (Update: CNN adds that the execution was carried out at a Pyongyang military school “in front of hundreds of people.”)

Hyon was named as the armed forces chief in June 2014, the No. 2 man within the North’s military after Hwang pyong-so, director of the general political department of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). North Korea has not announced its purge of Hyon yet.

The NIS said that given available information, Hyon seemed to be purged not because he sought a rebellion but because he was “disrespectful” to the young leader.

Specifically, Hyon is said to have been “seen dozing off during a military event” and failed to “carry out Kim’s instructions.” Which could be true, but it certainly would be an extraordinary coincidence that this news emerges just after Kim Jong Un cancelled his visit to Moscow unexpectedly — so unexpectedly that the cancellation was announced hours after the NIS said that Kim was “highly likely” to go through with the trip.

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Kaesong promised us peace and reform. It delivered conflict, tension, and exploitation.

In April 2013, Kim Jong Un pulled 50,000 North Korean workers out of Kaesong, in retaliation for South Korea’s support for U.N. Security Council Resolution 2094. The shutdown lasted for five months and cost investors (and ultimately, the South Korean government that still subsidizes them) millions of dollars. Kaesong eventually recovered to pre-shutdown levels of operation, but the shutdown probably scared away potential foreign investors for years. A few months after the shutdown ended, a new dispute arose when North Korea told Kaesong investors to pay back taxes for the period of the shutdown.

Today, Kaesong is the subject of another North-South impasse. In February, Pyongyang announced a minimum “wage” increase of $4-per-month-per-worker. Seoul refused to accept the increase, told South Korean firms not to pay it, and threatened those that did with an unspecified “corresponding punishment.” For its part, Pyongyang threatened those that didn’t pay with a 15% “arrears charge.” Some of the South Korean firms (49 out of 124) defied their own government and paid anyway. Now, the North Korean workers have begun a work slowdown:

Seoul has requested its companies not to send out March paychecks, vowing to punish violators. Despite the warning, 49 out of 124 South Korean companies have paid March wages to the North’s workers apparently after threats from the North.

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On progressive diplomacy: Friends first, frenemies second, enemies last

~   Why a Freeze Deal is a Lose-Lose Proposition   ~

Two weeks ago, almost no one thought we’d see Agreed Framework 3.0 before January 2017. The Obama Administration is politically weakened and out of time, its foreign policy is even less popular than its domestic policy, and it will need all of its energy to finalize an Iran deal acceptable to this Congress. Top administration officials were publicly skeptical about comparisons between North Korea and Iran, and saying that North Korea wasn’t serious about denuclearization.

Last week, however, clear signs emerged that the administration is grasping for a deal with Pyongyang. Yonhap reports that the U.S. and South Korea would engage in “exploratory” talks with North Korea without preconditions. North and South Korean envoys may have already begun those talks in Moscow. The timing favors Pyongyang, which never pays retail prices. It prefers to wait until U.S. and South Korean leaders are in the October of their tenures, when their approval ratings are low, and when the customary going-out-of business sales begin.

These talks could represent a policy shift by the Obama Administration, which had said until now that it wasn’t interested in talking to Pyongyang unless Pyongyang agreed that we’d be talking about its nuclear disarmament. Pyongyang isn’t willing to discuss that, but the administration is under pressure from the likes of Joel Wit, Robert Gallucci, and Bob Carlin to make a deal — any deal would be good enough — to freeze North Korea’s nuclear programs.

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Lesson One: Pyongyang always reneges. Lesson Two: Repeat Lesson One.

If it’s now cliché to write that North Korea might have modeled its domestic policies on Orwell’s 1984, I would like to be the first to coin the cliché that it might have modeled its foreign policy on P.T. Barnum.* North Korea has an acute sense of its interlocutors’ weakness and desperation, and an extraordinary talent for exploiting these moments of desperation to break coalitions, weaken sanctions, and bring in aid by offering its opponents “openings,” concessions, and disarmament deals. None of these deals has resulted in more than brief delays in the progress of its weapons programs, and none has altered its brutal domestic policies at all. Marcus Noland also wrote about this divide-and-rule strategy recently.

Not for the first or last time, the United States re-learned this in 2007, when George W. Bush cut his own disarmament deal with Kim Jong Il in a moment of political desperation. Japan wasn’t a party to that deal, but Pyongyang used it to induce Bush to remove sanctions it had linked to the release of Japanese abductees. Consequently, the deal strained America’s relationship with its most important Asian ally, Japan. Yes, Bush’s deal required the North Koreans to talk to Japan — bilaterally — about settling “unfortunate past and the outstanding issues of concern.” The State Department wanted Tokyo to read this is as a reference to the abduction issue, but Pyongyang could just as well have read it as a reference to reparations.

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Contradiction isn’t argument: A response to Doug Bandow on N. Korea and terrorism

In the years after my return from four years with the Army in Korea, I found much to agree with in Doug Bandow’s writing — up to a point. Bandow is best known — at least in the context of Korea — for arguing that South Korea can and should pay for its own defense, and that U.S. Forces Korea should withdraw. A supporter of the isolationist and semi-retired cult figure, Ron Paul, Bandow favors the withdrawal of all 28,500 U.S. military personnel from South Korea. But if we’ve learned anything in the last dozen years, it’s that ill-advised invasions and sudden disengagements can both create dangerous power vacuums. Yes, South Korea can and should pay for its own defense. U.S. ground forces could leave on a five-to-ten-year timetable and leave behind some pre-positioned equipment, and the U.S.-Korea alliance could evolve into something like our alliances with Jordan, Turkey, or Israel. That would serve the interests of both countries.

This is decidedly not Bandow’s direction. He views the total withdrawal of USFK as mood music for “initiating negotiations” with Pyongyang to improve relations. The premise of his unified theory of Korea policy, expressed in a November 2014 op-ed, is that economic engagement can still transform (rather than merely perpetuate) a state that has built its survival strategy on isolation and xenophobic hostility. In the 1990s, this idea was once the received conventional wisdom, before it failed so conclusively that it was abandoned and replaced by policy paralysis that prefers to be called “strategic patience.” At the cost of a mere $9 billion — also indirectly paid by U.S.

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New blog template

Thanks for your patience for the flurry of design experiments and changes to this site over the weekend. No, it’s not because the North Koreans hacked the site again. The culprit is actually Google, which just announced a policy that sites that aren’t mobile-friendly will be buried in SEO rankings. For the last four or five years, this site had been using an extensively hacked version of this template, which I liked very much, but which was also the reason why the site wasn’t mobile friendly. Unfortunately, the developers stopped supporting it a year ago, so there wasn’t a newer version to upgrade to. The majority of my traffic comes from Google searches, so the old template had to go.

Having been forced to change something I liked the way it was, my secondary goal was to change the site’s look and functionality as little as possible. It took many hours of work, about two dozen tries with various templates, and a few hours of stylesheet modifications, but I think I finally got to a reasonable facsimile of last week’s version. One of the things I don’t like is the “read more” buttons at the bottom of each post, whether there’s more to read or not. That’s an incompatibility between the excerpt function and the plugin that overrides it, and I’ll be looking for a solution to that in the coming weeks.

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N. Korea denounces my report on its sponsorship of terrorism: a “sinister,” “plot-breeding,” “unpardonable … provocation.”

For days, since the launch of the report I wrote for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, laying out the case for re-listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, I’d been watching KCNA, hoping I wouldn’t be snubbed. That’s why this 884-word May Day denunciation is a very special, emotional moment for me — the pinnacle of years of sinister plot-breeding, of careful research and delicately crafted Madonna analogies. I will go so far as to say that the prospect of this denunciation drove me onward, as I wrote the report.

Since its appearance, [HNRK] has insisted on linking the food shortage in the DPRK with “lack of elementary human rights” and compiled all nonsensical talks about its social system to meet the political interests of the U.S. conservative forces before floating wild rumors.

Such a plot-breeding body produced a conspiratorial document as part of its desperate campaign to label the DPRK a “sponsor of terrorism.” This is no more than the last-ditch effort of those hell-bent on the smear campaign against the DPRK.

Explicitly speaking, the above-said story about “the DPRK’s sponsoring of terrorism” is another unpardonable politically-motivated provocation against the DPRK. [KCNA]

Offhand, I can’t recall another case in which a report so likely caused an equal degree of upset within the North Korean government and the U.S.

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The North Korean army’s rape problem, “Kangan” Province, and Gloria Steinem

It has been four whole days since I said I was done talking about Women Cross DMZ for a year. How foolish it was of me to write that. For one thing, I did not anticipate having this detailed history of Christine Ahn’s pro-North Korean views, which outdoes my own, to graf for you:

In late April, WomenCrossDMZ held a press conference in New York City. Ahn was not in attendance to respond to our question of why the group omits discussion of human rights. But Steinem was: she responded that this was a “bananas question … there are many sins on every side.” Ahn and Steinem’s co-organizer, theology professor Hyun-Kyung Chung, added that “when you go out on a first date, you don’t talk about all the bad things you did last summer.” Fair enough. Even Charles Manson has suitors. [Thor Halvorssen & Alex Gladstein, Foreign Policy]

For another, a horrible new report from New Focus International describes the “rape culture” that has developed among North Korean soldiers in Kangwon Province, or Kangwon-do, where soldiers rape civilian women so frequently that residents have taken to grimly calling it kangan-do. In Korean, kangan means rape:

The source explains, “Wherever you go in Kangwon Province, there are more soldiers than civilians.

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Why is North Korea still in the U.N.?

Oh, those wacky North Korean diplomats. If they aren’t shouting death threats in a U.S. congressional office building or making racial slurs against African diplomats, they’re smuggling dope, counterfeit money, or gold, or generally behaving like complete tools at U.N. hearings. You can accuse them of many things, but you can’t deny that they represent their government perfectly. Here is how they represented their government today:

A U.S.-organized event on North Korea’s human rights briefly turned into chaos at the U.N. on Thursday as North Korean diplomats insisted on reading a statement of protest, amid shouts from defectors, and then stormed out. [….]

Defectors stood up and shouted in Korean as Power and others called for calm and a U.N. security team assembled. An observer who speaks Korean said the shouts included “Shut up!” ”Free North Korea!” ”Down with Kim Jong Un!” and “Even animals know to wait their turn.”

“There is no need for a microphone,” Power said as one North Korean diplomat persisted in reading out a statement that referred to “ungrounded allegations” and “hostile policy” toward his country. A microphone was briefly turned on for the diplomats.

Power continued: “Please shut the mike down because this is not an authorized presentation.

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On Iran & N Korea: A good deal can’t overcome bad judgment

As the Obama Administration works toward an agreed framework with Iran, a curious division is emerging among its defenders. On one hand, the administration and its supporters are understandably rejecting comparisons to the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea. The State Department insists that “[t]he comprehensive deal we are seeking to negotiate with Iran is fundamentally different than what we did in terms of our approach to North Korea,” and will require more intrusive inspections “because of the lessons we learned from the North Korea situation.”

These unfavorable comparisons, however, have bruised the ex-diplomats who still see the 1994 Agreed Framework as their magnum opus:

Although our policy ultimately failed, the agreement did not. Without the 1994 deal, North Korea would have built the bomb sooner, stockpiled weapons more quickly and amassed a much larger arsenal by now. Intelligence estimates in the early 1990s concluded that the North’s nuclear program was so advanced that it could produce 30 Nagasaki-size nuclear weapons a year by the end of the decade. More than 20 years later, that still hasn’t happened. [Robert Gallucci and Joel Wit, N.Y. Times]

Shortly after it signed AF1, the Clinton Administration found out that North Korea was cheating by building a secret uranium enrichment program.

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In The Weekly Standard: North Korea’s war on women

I believe, having written this, that I’ve gotten out of my system everything I’ve ever wanted to write about Christine Ahn and Women Cross DMZ.

For this year.

I just hope Gloria Steinem doesn’t leave her feminism at home when she goes to Pyongyang. Millions of North Korean women need her support, more desperately than she’s willing to see.

On the same topic, see also this op-ed, in The Washington Post, by Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Greg Scarlatoiu.

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Why North Korea should be re-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism

Read the full report, here.

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Many, many thanks to Greg Scarlatoiu, Suzanne Scholte, Nick Eberstadt, and Marcus Noland for their kind comments at yesterday’s launch event, and to everyone who showed up at 6:00 on a Monday night. Special thanks to the HRNK interns who made it all possible — especially to Rosa and to Raymond, who meticulously checked every last cite and footnote.

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Update, 1 May 2015: Here’s video of the launch event.

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Seiler: N. Korea isn’t serious about denuclearization

Sydney Seiler, the special envoy for the six-party talks, spoke this week at CSIS, where he affirmed what Ambassador Mark Lippert said last week — that North Korea isn’t ready for serious talks.

“They (the North Koreans) may not have learned any lesson (from the Iran nuclear deal). If they had learned any lesson, then we would have perhaps seen it earlier,” he said during the seminar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Iranian deal “clearly demonstrates our willingness to engage countries with whom the United States has had long-standing differences,” Seiler said, adding that there should be no doubt the U.S. remains committed to a negotiated resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.

“It is the DPRK, however, that has not yet decided to embark on this path. It has repeatedly rejected offers for dialogue. It has repeatedly and openly violated commitments … to abandon its nuclear program. It continues to ignore international obligations,” Seiler said. [Yonhap]

One could view this as throwing cold water on the silly notion that President Obama can achieve an eleventh-hour deal with the North Koreans, along the lines of his deal with the Cubans, and his unfinished deal with the Iranians.

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