State Department issues new reports on N. Korean gulags, religious repression

Last week, State issued two new reports on North Korea. The first of these reports, mandated by section 303 of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, terms itself a report on North Korea’s prisons. In fact, it only describes the worst tier of them — the dreaded kwan-li-so, or political prison camps, several of which are places where the condemned never leave.

CAMP 16 HWASONG
41.314103,129.342054

There is little information available on the total control zone Camp No. 16 (Hwasong political prison camp). Located in Hwasong County, North Hamgyong Province, 385 kilometers northeast of the capital of Pyongyang, there are no known former prisoners or camp officials available to testify about conditions in the camp. The limited information about the facility has been drawn from testimony by local residents. Camp 16 is reported to be a total control zone divided into three sections for prisoners whose crimes differ in severity. Unconfirmed reports suggest prisoners may be used in the construction of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. This camp site also has hydropower capabilities and light agricultural and mining industrial activities along the waterway.

The National Human Rights Commission of [South] Korea has estimated there are approximately 20,000 prisoners in Camp 16. Some NGOs report that prisoners from Camp 22 may have been transferred to Camp 16 in 2012. Satellite imagery analysis does show some modest construction at Camp 16 around that time, but more information would be necessary to conclude whether the expansion was the result of a growing prisoner population.[2] [U.S. State Dep’t]

Of course, North Korea also has other levels of prisons, including local jails and detention facilities, and larger re-education camps that hold a mixture of actual violent criminals, lower-grade political criminals, and economic criminals who may fall into a gray area between the two. Imagery of Camp 16 was first published at this humble blog, describing a reported mass escape that I’ve never been able to confirm, and on which I’ve never seen any subsequent reporting. Years later, I published a much longer, prisoner’s-eye analysis of imagery of the camp, and of the nuclear test site immediately adjacent to its western boundary, as a public service to anyone who thinks the nuclear and human rights issues can be separated.

The report doesn’t cite its sources, but it appears to rely heavily on the excellent reports and imagery analysis of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, specifically its long-form “Hidden Gulag” reports, and the shorter updates it publishes on observations in the satellite imagery.

This is not to say that State’s report isn’t helpful. I know of at least one prominent NGO that’s already poring over it, and will likely cite it in an upcoming authoritative report that could have global and historical implications. Furthermore, the very publication of this report forces State to confront this issue, and will frustrate those (on the far left, the far right, and aspiring Nobel Peace Prize winners in the State Department) who would rather not upset His Porcine Majesty by speaking of such unpleasantries.

Which is exactly what happened with State’s annual report on religious freedom.

North Korea “categorically rejected the report, branding it as the thing that does not deserve even a passing note,” its state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted a spokesman for the country’s Religious Believers Council as saying.

The spokesman said the U.S. action “is nothing but a last-ditch effort for tarnishing at any cost the international image and strategic position (of North Korea) … and further fanning up the climate of sanctions and pressure against the DPRK.” The DPRK is the abbreviation of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The Religious Believers Council of Korea will as ever take a strong counteraction against the U.S. arbitrary practices and hostile policy toward the DPRK in a solidarity with the international religious organizations,” the spokesman said. [Yonhap]

Pyongyang claims that its people are perfectly free to practice any religion they choose and maintains several sham churches for the convenience of gullible journalists and other visitors who accept that illusion at face value. North Korean Christians will tell you otherwise:

The government continued to deal harshly with those who engaged in almost any religious practices through executions, torture, beatings, and arrests. An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions. CSW said a policy of guilt by association was often applied in cases of detentions of Christians, meaning that the relatives of Christians were also detained regardless of their beliefs.

Religious and human rights groups outside the country provided numerous reports that members of underground churches were arrested, beaten, tortured, or killed because of their religious beliefs. According to the NKDB, there was a report during the year of disappearances of people who were found to be practicing religion within detention facilities. International NGOs reported any religious activities conducted outside of those that are state-sanctioned, including praying, singing hymns, and reading the Bible, could lead to severe punishment including imprisonment in political prison camps. [U.S. Dep’t of State]

To read the rest on your own, go here and mouse over “countries.” For reasons that become clear to the student of political psychology, Pyongyang is absolutely terrified of Christianity. Click here for more posts on North Korea’s persecution of Christians — which is one of two compelling cases for a charge of genocide (the murder of ethnically mixed, half-Chinese babies of refugee women being the other).

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FBI, Treasury & DOJ hit N. Korean enablers with secondary sanctions, forfeitures

Two months ago, the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) released its groundbreaking report, “Risky Business,” which used open-source business records to trace the 5,233 companies that (according to C4ADS) comprise nearly the entirety of North Korea’s “limited, centralized, and vulnerable” financial networks in China. At the time, I speculated that we hadn’t heard the last word from the FBI, the Treasury Department, and Justice Department, and yesterday, my suspicions were confirmed.

First, Treasury designated a series of North Korean, Chinese, and Russian nationals for dealing with sanctioned entities through the dollar system, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The effect of the designations is to freeze any assets of those entities that are in the United States, prevent them from using the dollar system for future transactions, and prevent U.S. persons from providing them with any goods, services, or technology.

“Treasury will continue to increase pressure on North Korea by targeting those who support the advancement of nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and isolating them from the American financial system,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia, and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilize the region. We are taking actions consistent with UN sanctions to show that there are consequences for defying sanctions and providing support to North Korea, and to deter this activity in the future.” [Treasury Dep’t Press Release]

Among yesterday’s notable targets:

* China-based Dandong Rich Earth Trading Co., Ltd., for buying vanadium from sanctioned Korea Kumsan Trading Corporation, a front for the General Bureau of Atomic Energy.

* Russia-based Gefest-M LLC and its director, Ruben Kirakosyan, for procuring metals for sanctioned Korea Tangun Trading Corporation, a front for the Second Academy of Natural Sciences, which is involved in North Korea’s WMD and missile programs.

* China- and Hong Kong-based Mingzheng International Trading Limited (“Mingzheng”), the subject of this previous Justice Department forfeiture case, which acts as a front company for the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB) of North Korea. Treasury designated the FTB in 2013 for proliferation financing. The U.N. recently designated it in UNSCR 2371.

* Three more Chinese companies that are “collectively responsible for importing nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of North Korean coal between 2013 and 2016,” including Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Materials Co., Ltd. (“Zhicheng”), JinHou International Holding Co., Ltd., and Dandong Tianfu Trade Co., Ltd. Dandong Zhicheng was exposed by C4ADS as part of the Sun Sidong network in June. This is the single largest purchaser of North Korean coal. That’s going to leave a mark.

* Three Russians and two Singapore-based companies involved in providing oil to North Korea.

Transatlantic Partners Pte. Ltd. (“Transatlantic”), Mikhail Pisklin, and Andrey Serbin were designated pursuant to E.O. 13722 for operating in the energy industry in the North Korean economy. Pisklin, through Transatlantic, concluded a contract to purchase fuel oil with Daesong Credit Development Bank, a North Korean bank designated in 2016. Serbin is a representative of Transatlantic who worked with Irina Huish of Velmur Management Pte. Ltd. (“Velmur”) to purchase gasoil for delivery to North Korea. Velmur was designated for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Transatlantic. Velmur also sold gasoil to North Korea. OFAC also designated Velmur’s executive director, Irina Huish, for acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Velmur, and she has also worked with Transatlantic to circumvent sanctions. Both of these companies have attempted to use the U.S. financial system to send millions of dollars in payments on behalf of North Korea-related transactions.

Lest anyone accuse Treasury of singling China out, the designation of Singapore-based entities should send a strong message to a state that has largely overlooked the enforcement of North Korea sanctions and consequently become a haven for Pyongyang’s money laundering. I was also pleased to see Treasury go after KOMID’s slave labor racket and arms factory in Namibia, which I’ve previously written about here, here, and here, although I maintain that the NKSPEA also requires the President to sanction the Namibian entities that have knowingly dealt with sanctioned North Korean entities like KOMID. I hope Angola will be next.

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Just over an hour after Treasury released those designations, the Justice Department filed two civil forfeiture complaints against $11 million belonging to Velmur, Transatlantic, and Dandong Zhicheng. I downloaded both complaints from PACER, for the good of humanity, so you don’t have to.

Velmur complaint   |  Dandong Zhicheng complaint

You’re welcome, humanity.

This complaint alleges that Velmur and Transatlantic Partners Pte. Ltd. (Transatlantic) laundered United States dollars on behalf of sanctioned North Korean banks that were seeking to procure petroleum products from JSC Independent Petroleum Company (IPC), a designated entity. The complaint also seeks a civil monetary penalty against Velmur and Transatlantic for prior sanctions and money laundering violations related to this scheme.

According to the complaint, designated North Korean banks use front companies, including Transatlantic, to make U.S. dollar payments to Velmur. The complaint relates to funds that were transferred through four different companies and remitted to Velmur to wire funds to JSC Independent Petroleum Company (IPC), a Russian petroleum products supplier. On June 1, 2017, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) designated IPC. The designation noted that IPC had a contract to provide oil to North Korea and reportedly shipped over $1 million worth of petroleum products to North Korea. [U.S. Attorney’s Office]

Don’t focus on the fact that the putative claimants were selling fuel. Focus on the fact that they were dealing with a sanctioned North Korean entity through the dollar system, which is a felony. (U.N. sanctions only ban exports of aviation and rocket fuel, and U.S. fuel export sanctions are discretionary and have humanitarian exceptions.)

The government is seeking to forfeit $6,999,925 that was wired to Velmur in May 2017. The U.S. dollar payments, which cleared through the U.S., are alleged to violate U.S. law, because the entities were surreptitiously making them on behalf of the designated North Korean Banks, whose designation precluded such U.S. dollar transactions. The government also is seeking imposition of a monetary penalty commensurate with the millions of dollars allegedly laundered by Velmur and Transatlantic. [U.S. Attorney’s Office]

Regarding Dandong Zhicheng, a/k/a Dandong Chengtai …

The government is seeking to forfeit $4,083,935 that Dandong Chengtai wired on June 21, 2017 to Maison Trading, using their Chinese bank accounts. The investigation revealed that Maison Trading is a front company operated by a Dandong Chengtai employee. These U.S. dollar payments, which cleared through the United States, are alleged to violate U.S. law, because the recent North Korean sanctions law specifically barred U.S. dollar transactions involving North Korean coal and the proceeds of these transactions were for the benefit of the North Korea Worker’s Party, whose designation precluded such U.S. dollar transactions.

This case relates to a previously unsealed opinion from Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which found that probable cause existed to seize funds belonging to Dandong Chengtai.  [U.S. Attorney’s Office]

As noted here. And lest we forget to give credit where it’s due …

The FBI’s Phoenix Field Office is investigating the case involving Velmur Management Pte Ltd. and Transatlantic Partners Pte., Ltd. The FBI’s Chicago Field Office is investigating the case involving Dandong Chengtai Trading Co. Ltd. Both investigations are being supported by the FBI Counterproliferation Center.

Assistant U.S Attorneys Arvind K. Lal, Zia M. Faruqui, Christopher B. Brown, Deborah Curtis, Ari Redbord, and Brian P. Hudak, all of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, are prosecuting both cases. Paralegal Specialist Toni Anne Donato and Legal Assistant Jessica McCormick are providing assistance. [U.S. Attorney’s Office]

Finally, let’s not forget the important work of C4ADS. Today, it will release an update to “Risky Business,” revealing that in addition to having funds in U.S. banks, the Chinese national who runs Dandong Zhicheng, Sun Sidong, owns real estate in the United States. Check C4ADS’s web site for the update.  

When I read C4ADS’s reports, I’m often reminded of the line from “Lawrence of Arabia” when Mr. Dryden (delivered by the wonderfully dry and underrated British actor Claude Rains) learns that Lawrence has conquered the Turkish base at Aqaba with an army of Arab tribesmen: “Before he did it, I’d have said it couldn’t be done.” Indeed, for years, scholars at famous think tanks assured us it couldn’t be done. First, they told us that sanctions against North Korea were maxed out. Then, they told us that Pyongyang’s networks were needles in a field of haystacks, and that the field itself was obscured and beyond our sight. And yet, without so much as a single security clearance between them, two brilliant young analysts at C4ADS mined data from open sources and traced the networks. It may be on the brink of proving all the “experts” wrong.

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Update: C4ADS writes in to say that the update was delayed, and will be released in a few days.

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Latest cases of chemical proliferation remind us why Kim Jong-Un must go

The first mid-term report of the U.N. Panel of Experts should be out any day now, and among its revelations will be yet more evidence that Pyongyang is helping Assad gas his own people:

Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were intercepted in the past six months, according to a confidential United Nations report on North Korea sanctions violations.

The report by a panel of independent U.N. experts, which was submitted to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month and seen by Reuters on Monday, gave no details on when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained.

 “The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” the experts wrote in the 37-page report. [Reuters]
Add this evidence to the already-long dossier on Pyongyang’s chemical weapons assistance to Syria. The vendor, predictably, was KOMID, or the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, Pyongyang’s main arms dealing agency. (According to the Panel’s most recent annual report, by the way, KOMID representatives continue to operate openly in and transit through China.)

Two different member states intercepted the shipments. Previously, Greece, Turkey, and Israel have all intercepted shipments of banned items from North Korea in the eastern Mediterranean. Last year, Egypt intercepted a shipment of North Korean-made rocket-propelled anti-tank grenades at the southern end of the Suez Canal. And just so we’re clear, Pyongyang is willfully supplying the chemical weapons that Assad is using to do this:
Source: http://cbrainard.blogspot.com/2013/08/assad-threatened-to-use-chemical.htmlSource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbi2FaMQA-s Source: http://nation.com.pk/national/22-Aug-2013/1-300-die-insyriachemical-attack Source: http://kufarooq22.over-blog.com/2013/08/children-killed-in-syrian-regime.html
During the last year, we’ve also learned that Pyongyang is perfectly willing to make its own use of the deadliest chemical weapons known to mankind, including the persistent nerve agent VX against a noncombatant in an area crowded with completely uninvolved civilians in the capital city of a friendly nation. We know that North Korea would proliferate anything, including the means to produce nuclear weapons, to Syria.

Suspend your belief that Pyongyang (as it continues to insist) will never negotiate away its nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles. Suspend your disbelief that Pyongyang would comply with its agreements even if it signed yet another one. At no point have talks with Pyongyang so much as broached its proliferation, or its chemical weapons, or its biological weapons, or the tube and rocket artillery (some of it chem/bio-capable) it has pointed at the people of Seoul. There is no diplomatic process or agreement that will foreseeably end that threat before Pyongyang proliferates it globally.

Yes, you can rail against Clinton, Bush, and Obama for wasting years we did not have, but we are where we are. The best alternative left to us may be a combination of sanctions and information operations to destabilize the regime, along with the best blockade of North Korea we can now manage in the meantime. When member states don’t inspect North Korean cargo as required under UNSCR 2270, it may not be legally possible to search them, but it’s certainly physically possible. To complicate that option, however, most of North Korea’s maritime trade is run through short-haul trips across the Yellow Sea to China. It would be risky, but possible, to search smuggling ships and those running with their lights and beacons off, but that presents a high risk going hot with Chinese or North Korean ships. If that’s more risk than you’re willing to accept, the KIMS Act would also allow us to penalize ports don’t meet their inspection requirements and flag states that reflag North Korea’s ships, but that would come with economic costs for us. An amendment to the NKSPEA (“notwithstanding section 203(b) of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act”) could close the legal loophole that Air Koryo continues to fly through, and could — eventually — ground it, but that, too, would take time to work.

These measures could eventually shut down most of North Korea’s external maritime trade, but implementation is never immediate — at best, it would take months. Other measures, like mining harbors or bombing runways, present undue risks of causing civilian casualties or starting a war. But increasingly, we must balance all of the risks of shutting down Pyongyang’s proliferation against the risk of the civilian casualties that Pyongyang’s proliferation is causing right now, and could cause for years to come.

I occasionally see scholarly articles arguing that destabilizing the regime in Pyongyang presents an unacceptable risk that “loose” WMDs would proliferate. What I’d like to ask the scholars writing these articles is this: isn’t the greater proliferation risk that a “stable” regime in Pyongyang endures?

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Whatever happened to North Korea’s agricultural reforms? Just what I expected.

Starting around 2012, with a boost from an AP Pyongyang guided tour and some optimistic (but thinly sourced) analysis from Randall Ireson, Andrei Lankov, and others, a consensus formed among the pro-engagement school of North Korea watchers that Pyongyang was finally striking out on a bold new course of reform in an area of obvious need — its agriculture sector. In practice, the “reform” amounted to breaking up big collectives into smaller ones, and allowing collective farmers to keep and sell in the markets a portion of the crops they grew, a model that hardly evokes historical memories of social justice in the context of the Reconstruction-era South. It also looked suspiciously like a case of Pyongyang again trying to adjust to an economic reality that its people had imposed by necessity.

Although Pyongyang appears to have changed the way it taxed farmers starting in 2012, this blog has taken a consistently skeptical view of any analysis characterizing this as “reform.” Engagement advocates tend to view North Korea’s economic policies as socialism rather than economic totalitarianism with ideological decorations, which helps them characterize un-socialist policies as economic reforms. This, in turn, is a platform from which they leap to predictions that political reform will inevitably follow. But in addition to the paucity of evidence of what the changes to North Korea’s agricultural policies really meant in practice, there were reasons to doubt their implementation and question their significance. Indeed, there was evidence to support skepticism about them almost from the very beginning. By 2015, North Korean farmers “no longer believe[d]” that the changes would benefit them given state’s confiscation of their surpluses for the military and other expenses.

To their credit, both Ireson and Lankov eventually retreated from their optimistic predictions when they didn’t pan out, and most talk of agrarian perestroika has since died away. Even so, it’s still useful to follow just how Pyongyang’s experiment with sharecropping worked out. This analysis from last September, citing a recent defector from Ryanggang Province, gives us some evidence of the results.

A defector who goes by Mrs. Han offered invaluable insight to the problems pervading the new system at a recent event hosted by the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) in Seoul. “When the pojeon system was first introduced, rural residents were singing its praises, thinking to themselves, ‘We’re finally going to be able to make a living.’ But when the system was actually implemented, the vast majority of the yield went to the state, leaving very little behind for the farmers who worked the land. That turn of events was deeply dispiriting for the workers,” said Mrs. Han, formerly the manager of the TaeHong Country Cooperative Farm in Ryanggang Province before she defected last October.

NKIS President Kim Heung Kwang added that if the pojeon family unit system was truly implemented, the degree of autonomy and living standard of agricultural workers should have improved. “But that is simply not what has happened,” he pointed out. [Daily NK]

According to Ms. Han, the state’s unsustainably high production quotas and its practice of charging farmers for fertilizer and pesticides mean that farmers seldom have a surplus to sell. According to a second report, where the state collected surplus crops and promised to redistribute them, that redistribution didn’t happen. Other reports note that regime officials tend to confiscate and divert the surplus that farmers were told they could keep and sell.

“Our provinces are known as the breadbasket, but the rice we’ve harvested has all been sent to the army, leaving us with nothing. Furthermore, the public distribution system is dispensing nothing. So people from this province haven’t been able to even taste the very rice they grew. They have to go as far as Ryanggang Province when they want to buy rice,” a source in North Hwanghae Province reported to Daily NK on August 5.

The extent of the problem is severe, she added, noting that “even as recent as ten years ago, our living standard wasn’t this low. These days, there are more and more people who have been forced to live as kotjebi [homeless orphans]. We’ll starve if we’re forced to endure another year or two of this.” [….]

“People around here are forced to watch the rice they’ve harvested being sent to Pyongyang. Far from receiving public distribution rations, they haven’t even seen that system in action. It’s ironic that this province produces the largest rice yield in the country, and yet its residents are forced to purchase smuggled Chinese rice in Ryanggang Province at above market price.”

This is in stark contrast to the cities, where markets are always open and bursting with a diverse array of goods. In the agricultural villages, however, product selection is scant and the markets operate on an irregular schedule (e.g. only on the 1, 11, and 21 of each month). Moreover, a poor logistics and distribution framework means few products are available to rural dwellers, most of whom live hand to mouth. [Daily NK]

The plight of African-Americans in the American South continues to be a useful historical parallel. As then, sharecropping in North Korea is contributing to a Great Migration of the rural poor to the cities. Historically, Pyongyang has controlled the movements of its population with a system of travel passes. It has been particularly careful to control who is allowed to live in Pyongyang. Surely it knows that rapid urbanization that concentrates large numbers of rural poor in the cities is a potential threat to the stability of the state.

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The North Korean people didn’t elect Kim Jong-Un. Stop threatening to bomb them.

I’m already on record on the topic of threatening war against North Korea: it scares our friends more than our enemies (who assume, correctly I hope, that we’re bluffing). If we want to threaten the thing our enemies fear most, threaten to sow the seeds of the revolution that the people of North Korea desperately need. Nukes aren’t much good in that kind of war, and China would never tolerate their use so close to its borders. If we can’t resist threatening to bomb someone, at least threaten to bomb the person who is responsible for this crisis, and deliver those threats privately. The people of North Korea didn’t elect Kim Jong-Un. At least Americans had a choice, sort of.

The people of North Korea don’t make policy, can’t criticize their government’s policies, and often don’t even agree with those policies. They’d rather eat than have missiles. So I really wish we would not play directly into the hands of Kim Jong-Un’s propaganda by threatening the very people we’ll need to befriend, support, and empower to verifiably disarm His Porcine Majesty.

One aspect of the defense secretary’s statement, however, was deeply troubling: “The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.” The overriding evidence suggests that Kim Jong Un cares not a whit for his people — threatening their destruction will not serve to deter him and is, more importantly, detrimental to US aims. Over the longer term, the United States has an interest in the peaceful unification of the peninsula under Seoul’s democratic leadership. Threatening the North Korean people with destruction is to make enemies of potential friends; it is, more troublingly, a promise to extend and deepen, rather than end, the suffering that the Kims have long inflicted on their people. [Michael Mazza, American Enterprise Institute]

Mind you, everything I’ve seen or heard about Mattis until now has given me reason to admire his intellect and patriotism. Maybe he has the wrong people in charge of his press office, but this is a terrible message to send at a time when our need to gain the confidence of Koreans on both sides of the DMZ is greatest. Statements like this, and especially this one from Senator Graham, send a message that Korean lives are unimportant to us. Talk like this not only empowers everyone, north and south, who hates us, but it sends a message throughout the world that America is a dangerous ally to have and should be kept at arm’s length. If America blunders into a nuclear war in Korea, what ally would ever want to be close to us again?

I am not one of those Pollyannas who believe the myth, popular among those who’ve misjudged North Korea for decades or spent the last eight years whistling toward the very crisis I predicted here, that Kim Jong-Un only wants nukes to deter us. North Korea wants nukes for much more than that.

We cannot coexist with a nuclear North Korea because it will not coexist with us. Its political system requires conflict and crisis to justify itself. Trump is right that this is a crisis. But a crisis is no time to shoot one’s self in both feet.

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God and Eric Hoffer in North Korea (Pt. 2)

For the reasons I described here, if a resistance movement ever arises in North Korea, it will almost necessarily draw its essential inspiration and cohesion from Christianity. It requires extraordinary inspiration for anyone to sacrifice her individual interests for collective interests, and it is almost inevitably messianic faith — in Christianity, Islam, or Marxism in its various idealistic or pseudo-nationalist variations — that has supplied that inspiration to adherents of revolutionary movements. Pyongyang obviously knows this, which is why its propagandists stole so many elements of Christian dogma, and why it allows no gods before Kim. The comparison was the first thing about this leaflet that struck me.

As a non-religious person who often finds himself in sympathy (and in league) with Christian human rights activists, I often hear pastors, particularly Korean-American pastors, claim to have contact with underground churches or religious organizations inside North Korea. I always hope that it’s true, but it’s in the nature of a cynical lawyer to disbelieve whatever isn’t proven to me. In a place like North Korea, religious beliefs and associations are profoundly courageous and presumably scarce for the same reason: they are inherently subversive. That’s why the North Korean security forces carefully interrogate defectors to try to identify those who have had contact with Christians, and it’s also why the authorities single them out for the harshest punishments, including torture, long sentences in prison camps, and public execution.

One can find claims on the internet that there are tens or hundreds of thousands of secret believers in the North. I can’t help being skeptical of those claims. But recently, the Daily NK ran an interview with a defector who claims he converted to Christianity and returned to the North as a missionary. I’m in no position to verify any of the declarant’s claims, naturally, but their consistency with other facts I’ve read over the years makes it ring true. I won’t even bother to graf it, but there are many reasons to read it, including the story of escape, his emotional path to loss of faith in the state and the transfer of his faith, and his claim that high-ranking officials attended his underground church.

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Washington sounds ready for a trade war with Beijing over North Korea

Just as our diplomacy with Pyongyang has always failed because we were unwilling to induce a regime-determinative economic or political crisis there, our diplomacy with Beijing over North Korea (and other differences) has always failed because we were unwilling to attach a high enough cost to its willful support for Pyongyang’s proliferation. As Professor Lee put it, Beijing will not enforce sanctions against Pyongyang “unless the costs become unbearable on China.”

A trade war, needless to say, would hurt both the U.S. and China. But for several reasons, I believe it would hurt China more. China is an export-oriented economy whose rising wages and high corruption no longer make it a manufacturer’s ideal venue. In the short term, a trade war would disrupt global markets and spur inflation. Manufacturers would pass those added costs on to consumers, and the result would be inflation. In the mid-to-long term, manufacturers might shift more capacity to Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, or Mexico.

A mass migration of manufacturing from China would threaten its stock market, housing market, and banking sector. It could depress China’s growth rates below the level needed to pay its pensions. China’s banks also have a notoriously high debt load, much of which is linked to an inflated real estate market. Its stock market is probably also held up, in large part, by intervention by state-controlled banks. And when China holds its ruling party congress this fall, Xi Jinping will want not distractions to interfere with his installation of cronies in key positions or the extension of his own rule. Thus, while I pray that the rising talk of war in Washington is a bluff — and that it will stop — I hope recent trade threats against China, which are implicitly or explicitly tied to North Korea, are sincere.

One of those threats is to invoke section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, against Chinese manufacturers that steal or rob U.S. manufacturers of their intellectual property. Section 301 authorizes the U.S. to “to deny U.S. trade benefits or impose import duties in response to foreign trade barriers.” 

Democrats are also pushing for a harder line. Senator Schumer is calling on the President to direct the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to disapprove Chinese investments in certain industries that are deemed vital to U.S. national security, and where it has the authority to disapprove foreign acquisitions. Schumer is explicitly linking that threat to China’s non-cooperation on North Korea.

Sections 314, 315, and 321 of the KIMS Act give the President other economic weapons against China, to say nothing of those in section 104 of the NKSPEA.

I have long said that our relations with Beijing and Pyongyang will have to get worse before they can get better. I don’t deny that all of these things would have serious and adverse economic impacts on the United States. But compare them to the humanitarian and financial cost of another Korean War, or any of these consequences, and suddenly, the economic costs of a trade war don’t seem all that bad.

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Update: This Wall Street Journal story says that the White House has delayed plans to take Beijing on over trade because it still hopes to gain Beijing’s cooperation on North Korea. Similarly, this Reuters story says that the U.S. held off on additional secondary sanctions against Chinese banks (which had been the topic of rumors) in the hope that China will enforce UNSCR 2371. Now obviously, it’s much better if we don’t have to use these threats to get Bejing’s cooperation, but for obvious reasons, I’m skeptical.

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How censorship is leading Korea to ruin

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. [Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19]

Last year, I wrote a post, which I fear is already becoming prescient, about how North Korea could plausibly win the Korean War. In condensed form, the strategy involves Pyongyang leveraging its nuclear, cyber, and chemical weapons supremacy and the South’s political divisions to provoke a series of crises, force Seoul into “peace” talks, and extort it, crisis-by-crisis and negotiation-by-negotiation, into unilateral disarmament, de facto editorial control over its media, the silencing of Pyongyang’s critics, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and effective domination through a one-country, two-systems confederation. Given the strength of the nationalist faction now vying for control of U.S. foreign policy and the calls from other quarters for peace at any price, all of this could be a fait accompli before most Koreans even knew what had happened, especially if most journalists and editorial writers celebrated a de facto capitulation (as they certainly would) as the end of tensions and a new beginning for peace.

If it all sounds alarmist or even paranoid, consider that humans are accomplished at rationalizing their fears away, especially when the other surroundings of life still seem just as “normal” as they did the day, month, or year before. Although a sympathetic foreign press corps hardly noticed, former President Roh Moo-Hyun (whose Chief of Staff is the current President) had already gone far down the road of subsidizing friendly media and suppressing hostile media. There is also a published road map for this paranoid delusion of mine. The June 15, 2000 Inter-Korean Declaration called for, among other things, a confederation as a predecessor to “to resolve the question of reunification independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people, who are the masters of the country.” (Update: which sounds much like how B.R. Myers translates the word “juche.”)

Pyongyang already has plenty of ways to enforce its censorship in the South now, including libel suits in which the truth is no defense, attacks by state-subsidized hard-left goon squads, the occasional assassination or threat of assassination, military provocations, and preemptive censorship by South Korean authorities who would (as Park Geun-Hye did) ban “slander” of the North Korean political system to avoid provoking it. To these instruments, Pyongyang recently added nuclear blackmail. 

“President Moon has expressed concerns regarding propaganda leaflets to North Korea as a matter that could prompt accidental clashes,” the official at the presidential office told Yonhap News Agency over the phone. “(The president) ordered aides to find ways for clashes to not occur,” the official added.

The remarks were reportedly made during a meeting with senior aides last month after Pyongyang announced it test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, in an apparent effort to minimize the risks of an inter-Korean conflict amid heightened tensions.

“The president explained past situations in which the North fired anti-aircraft guns towards balloons from the South carrying leaflets and then our military fired return shots,” the official explained, adding that Moon expressed a “considerable amount of concern” towards accidental conflicts.

For years, North Korean defectors in the South and conservative activists have flown the leaflets to the North via balloons to help encourage North Koreans to rise up against the Pyongyang regime. South Korea has said there are no legal grounds to prevent the activists from sending the leaflets, citing freedom of expression. [Yonhap]

This is how free people are tempted to trade liberty for security: Kim Jong-Un’s censorship knows no limits or borders. To submit to it is to forfeit one’s freedom. And if Kim Jong-Un will not disarm peacefully, and if we cannot live with a nuclear North Korea, and if we can neither talk nor bomb nor wait our way out of this crisis, then only spreading the truth to North Korea will set us free from the fear of war.

If Moon moves forward with this, he’ll probably do what authoritarians usually do when they want to censor inconvenient speech — disguise it as the enforcement of some politically neutral regulation, such as against littering, or as some kind of safety regulation. In the U.S., and probably in other legal systems, our courts are alert to this tactic and do not allow state regulations to burden “fundamental” constitutional rights unless they show that the regulation is narrowly tailored to advance a “compelling governmental interest.” And as Professor Lee and I conceded in an op-ed in the New York Times three years ago, moving the launch sites away from populated areas may meet that test and would certainly be prudent. But to ban the launches entirely would be yielding to a particularly flagrant and implicitly violent use of the “heckler’s veto.” It would, in effect, sacrifice a right to nonviolent free speech, which some states recognize as customary international law, in the face of a state’s threats of politically motivated violence against noncombatants (read: terrorism). One need not even ask if Moon would at least demand a reciprocal cessation of North Korea’s leafleting in South Korea.

[A friend of mine found this one on the way home from morning PT formation.]

It is not difficult to see how a series of accommodations like this one could evolve into a dual political system like that in Hong Kong, supervised by a Control Commission of strident North Koreans and pliable South Koreans, steadily rolling back the limits of what speech is permitted, what speech is subsidized, and what speech is verboten. Once Seoul is disarmed (in both a political and a martial sense), events would progress quickly. Of course, the last thing Pyongyang wants right now is to send its impoverished soldiers to occupy a prosperous (or recently prosperous) South. But with sanctions lifted at “peace talks,” the Commission would quickly implement “balanced development of the national economy through economic cooperation,” a South-to-North subsidy of the Pyongyang elites and the North’s “wavering” classes, and the relative impoverishment of the South, to achieve material parity across the DMZ. The two systems would be on a path to become One Slave Korea.

One reason why South Korea is relatively defenseless against this threat is that both the “left” and the “right” censor each other, at the expense of debate, discourse, and the pursuit of objective truth. I’ve tried to be just as strident in criticizing the right when it censored a professor for expressing pro-North Korean views, when soldiers shot and killed a man for trying to swim to North Korea, and when Park Geun-Hye’s government both justifiably prosecuted Lee Seok-Ki and unjustifiably dissolved his entire political party. Politicians on both sides have used libel suits to censor and even jail their political critics — Park Geun-Hye did it, Moon Jae-In did it, and both were illiberal and undemocratic when they did it.

But when “libel” amounts to “you hurt my feelings,” the practice of competent journalism risks professional and financial ruin, and it is safer to wage politics by planting rumors on Naver and MissyUSA comment threads than by making and defending charges against your political opponents openly. Thus, most of the news that’s fit to print is unverified, unverifiable, or simply fake. No wonder foreign journalists complain about standards of Korean journalism (though they seldom identify the causes of this). No wonder political discourse is dominated by rumor and innuendo. No wonder the courts are effectively rubber stamps for trial-by-protest, where crowd counts mean more than rules of evidence or forensic analysis. A society that is unable and unwilling to adjudicate truth is defenseless against the manipulations of its enemies. And when the prevailing view in Korean society is, as Nat Hentoff summarized it, “Free speech for me, but not for thee,” why does Pyongyang’s censorship sit on a lower plane than anyone else’s? 

~   ~   ~

I concede that what I’m presenting as plausible seems facially fantastic and conspiratorial. Moon certainly doesn’t seem to fit the part of a Manchurian Candidate; he doesn’t radiate the angry delusions of grandeur of a Jeremy Corbyn and displays none of the boisterous, power-drunk inanity our own president does at times. His very niceness clashes with what his record suggests, and with the evidence of what some of his closest advisors certainly are. Admittedly, Moon is still in his “honeymoon” phase, but press coverage of him gives KCNA’s adulation of Kim Jong-Un a run for its money. Even so, Moon knows that his voters are wary of the North. As Moon supporter Duyeon Kim argues, he is waiting for the right moment to reveal and implement his actual North Korea policy, which is both probably true and profoundly terrifying. Certainly few of the academics and journalists who cover Korea want to believe that what I’m suggesting here is plausible. Nor do I suggest that any of the small limits Moon would put on free speech necessarily means that Korea is careening to the bottom of the slippery slope. All I am saying is that if my worst fears come true, it would all look a lot like this in the beginning.

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UNSCR 2371: Text and commentary (see update)

Today, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2371 unanimously. The text is in black, my commentary is in blue italic.

PP1: Recalling its previous relevant resolutions, including resolution 825 (1993), resolution 1540 (2004), resolution 1695 (2006), resolution 1718 (2006), resolution 1874 (2009), resolution 1887 (2009), resolution 2087 (2013), resolution 2094 (2013), resolution 2270 (2016), resolution 2321 (2016), and resolution 2356 (2017), as well as the statements of its President of 6  October 2006 (S/PRST/2006/41), 13 April 2009 (S/PRST/2009/7) and 16 April 2012 (S/PRST/2012/13), (updated PP1 of UNSCR 2321)

PP2: Reaffirming that proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security, (PP2 of UNSCR 2321)

PP3: Expressing its gravest concern at the July 3 and July 28 of 2017 ballistic missile  tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“the DPRK”),  which the DPRK has stated were tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles, in violation of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016) 2321 (2016), and 2356 (2017), and at the challenge such tests constitute to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (“the NPT”) and to international efforts aimed at strengthening the global regime of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the danger they pose to peace and stability in the region and beyond, (PP3 of UNSCR 2321)

PP4: Underlining once again the importance that the DPRK respond to other security and humanitarian concerns of the international community, (PP4 of UNSCR 2321)

PP5: Underlining also that measures imposed by this resolution are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK, (PP5 of UNSCR 2321)

PP6: Expressing serious concern that the DPRK has continued to violate relevant Security Council resolutions through repeated launches and attempted launches of ballistic missiles, and noting that all such ballistic missile activities contribute to the DPRK’s development of nuclear weapons delivery systems and increase tension in the region and beyond, (PP6 of UNSCR 2321)

PP7: Expressing continued concern that the DPRK is abusing the privileges and immunities accorded under the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, (PP7 of UNSCR 2321)

PP8: Expressing great concern that the DPRK’s prohibited arms sales have generated revenues that are diverted to the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while DPRK citizens have unmet needs, (PP8 of UNSCR 2321)

Are you listening, Singapore?

PP9: Expressing its gravest concern that the DPRK’s ongoing nuclear- and ballistic missile-related activities have further generated increased tension in the region and beyond, and determining that there continues to exist a clear threat to international peace and security, (PP9 of UNSCR 2321)

PP10: Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, and taking measures under its Article 41,

1. Condemns in the strongest terms the ballistic missile launches conducted by the DPRK on 3 July and 28 July of 2017, which the DPRK has stated were launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and which used ballistic missile technology in violation and flagrant disregard of the Security Council’s resolutions; (Based on OP1 of UNSCR 2270)

Reading that language, it’s not hard to reverse engineer how the argument between the U.S. and Russian diplomats went.

2. Reaffirms its decisions that the DPRK shall not conduct any further launches that use ballistic missile technology, nuclear tests, or any other provocation; shall suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and in this context re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launches; shall abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, and immediately cease all related activities; and shall abandon any other existing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner; (OP 2-4 of UNSCR 2270, adapted and combined)

Designations

3. Designate individuals and entities for asset freeze/travel ban:  Decides that the measures specified in paragraph 8(d) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall apply also to the individuals and entities listed in Annex I and II of this resolution and to any individuals or entities acting on their behalf or at their direction, and to entities owned or controlled by them, including through illicit means, and decides further that the measures specified in paragraph 8(e) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall also apply to the individuals listed in Annex I of this resolution and to individuals acting on their behalf or at their direction; (OP3 of UNSCR 2321)

4. Designation of additional WMD-related Items: Decides to adjust the measures imposed by paragraph 8 of resolution 1718 (2006) and this resolution through the designation of additional goods, directs the Committee to undertake its tasks to this effect and to report to the Security Council within fifteen days of adoption of this resolution, and further decides that, if the Committee has not acted, then the Security Council will complete action to adjust the measures within seven days of receiving that report; (OP25 of UNSCR 22270)

5. Designation of additional Conventional Arms-related Items: Decides to adjust the measures imposed by paragraph 7 of resolution 2321 (2016) through the designation of additional conventional arms-related items, materials, equipment, goods, and technology, directs the Committee to undertake its tasks to this effect and to report to the Security Council within thirty days of adoption of this resolution, further decides that, if the Committee has not acted, then the Security Council will complete action to adjust the measures within seven days of receiving that report, and directs the Committee to update this list every 12 months; (Based on OP7 of UNSCR 2321 and OP25 of 2270)

Transportation

6. Prohibit port calls by designated vessels tied to illicit activities: Decides that the Committee may designate vessels for which it has information indicating they are, or have been, related to activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution and all Member States shall prohibit the entry into their ports of such designated vessels, unless entry is required in the case of emergency or in the case of return to its port of origination, or unless the Committee determines in advance that such entry is required for humanitarian purposes or any other purposes consistent with the objectives of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution; (New)

I’m not sure this adds much to existing sanctions that already require member states to seize designated North Korean ships that enter their harbors. It may be that member states were so reluctant to deal with the hassle of disposal that someone figured it would be easier to require them to keep the ships out of port entirely. I’m not so sure. 

7. Prohibit chartering of vessels flagged by the DPRK: Clarifies that the measures set forth in paragraph 20 of resolution 2270 (2016) and paragraph 9 of resolution 2321 (2016), requiring States to prohibit their nationals, persons subject to their jurisdiction and entities incorporated in their territory or subject to their jurisdiction from owning, leasing, operating any vessel flagged by the DPRK, without exception, unless the Committee approves on a case-by-case basis in advance, apply to chartering vessels flagged by the DPRK;

The only country I’ve heard was doing this is a Middle Eastern country that starts with “i” and ends with “n” and is spelled “i-r-a-n.”

Sectoral

8. Full ban on coal, iron and iron ore: Decides that paragraph 26 of resolution 2321 (2016) shall be replaced by the following:

“Decides that the DPRK shall not supply, sell or transfer, directly or indirectly, from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft, coal, iron, and iron ore, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such material from the DPRK by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of the DPRK, decides that for sales and transactions of iron and iron ore for which written contracts have been finalized prior to the adoption of this resolution, all States may allow those shipments to be imported into their territories up to 30 days from the date of adoption of this resolution with notification provided to the Committee containing details on those imports by no later than 45 days after the date of adoption of this resolution, and decides further that this provision shall not apply with respect to coal that the exporting State confirms on the basis of credible information has originated outside the DPRK and was transported through the DPRK solely for export from the Port of Rajin (Rason), provided that the exporting State notifies the Committee in advance and such transactions involving coal originating outside of the DPRK are unrelated to generating revenue for the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution; (New)

The good news: there is no longer a coal cap for China to cheat on. The bad news: there is now a complete coal ban for China to cheat on. A little birdie tells me – and in the near future, that little birdie will also tell you — that the North Koreans are smuggling their coal to China via third countries. My guess is that even if this isn’t airtight in practice, it will still make it harder and more expensive for Pyongyang to sell its coal, meaning it will cut into Pyongyang’s export profits.

9. Prohibit seafood exports from the DPRK: Decides that the DPRK shall not supply, sell or transfer, directly or indirectly, from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft, seafood (including fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other aquatic invertebrates in all forms), and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from the DPRK by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, whether or not originating in the territory of the DPRK, and further decides that for sales and transactions of seafood (including fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other aquatic invertebrates in all forms) for which written contracts have been finalized prior to the adoption of this resolution, all States may allow those shipments to be imported into their territories up to 30 days from the date of adoption of this resolution with notification provided to the Committee containing details on those imports by no later than 45 days after the date of adoption of this resolution;

Good on you, U.N., for using this nifty idea. I first suggested the same thing in this post, and section 311 of the KIMS Act now allows the President to designate anyone who buys fishing rights, food, or agricultural products from North Korea. I read the resolution’s language to cover the sale of fishing rights as well as seafood. For its next act, the U.N. should also ban food exports entirely. Pyongyang has no business exporting food for hard currency while the poor starve.

10. Prohibit lead exports from the DPRK: Decides that the DPRK shall not supply, sell or transfer, directly or indirectly, from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft, lead and lead ore, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from the DPRK by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, whether or not originating in the territory of the DPRK, and further decides that for sales and transactions of lead and lead ore for which written contracts have been finalized prior to the adoption of this resolution, all States may allow those shipments to be imported into their territories up to 30 days from the date of adoption of this resolution with notification provided to the Committee containing details on those imports by no later than 45 days after the date of adoption of this resolution;

I did not even realize North Korea exported lead, but evidently, it does

11. Ban the hiring and paying of additional DPRK laborers used to generate foreign export earnings: Expresses concern that DPRK nationals frequently work in other States for the purpose of generating foreign export earnings that the DPRK uses to support its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs, decides that all Member States shall not exceed on any date after the date of adoption of this resolution the total number of work authorizations for DPRK nationals provided in their jurisdictions at the time of the adoption of this resolution unless the Committee approves on a case-by-case basis in advance that employment of additional DPRK nationals beyond the number of work authorizations provided in a member state’s jurisdiction at the time of the adoption of this resolution is required for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, denuclearization or any other purpose consistent with the objectives of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution; (New)

Here is the first binding limit on North Korean labor exports, but it’s really a cap. On the bad side, because everyone involved in these contracts was already concealing or misrepresenting the number of North Korean laborers anyway, it will be hard to tell what “exceeds.” On the good side, this doesn’t prevent the U.S. from using section 321 of the KIMS Act to sanction employers of North Korean slave labor or their governments, and it will give the U.S. a stronger argument to convince host nations to send those workers home. This assumes we’re making that effort – and I keep hearing that we are, quietly. I also don’t interpret this to diminish the existing requirements of UNSCR 1718, paragraph 8 that purchasers of North Korean labor (a) “ensure” that the money doesn’t go to the nuke fund, and (b) abstain from dealing with designated persons.

Financial

12. Prohibiting new or expanded joint ventures and cooperative commercial entities with the DPRK: Decides that States shall prohibit, by their nationals or in their territories, the opening of new joint ventures or cooperative entities with DPRK entities or individuals, or the expansion of existing joint ventures through additional investments, whether or not acting for or on behalf of the government of the DPRK, unless such joint ventures or cooperative entities have been approved by the Committee in advance on a case-by-case basis; (New)

So, got your tickets yet for that big investment fair in Rason in two weeks? Are those tickets refundable? Yeah. Unfortunately, the word “existing” means that this isn’t necessarily the end for the MKP Group, although some parts of it (such as banking joint ventures) are banned by other resolutions. Ditto Orascom. It would be nice to get more definition on the words “new,” “existing,” and “expansion,” which seem like potential loopholes.

13. Clarifies that the prohibitions contained in paragraph 11 of resolution 2094 (2013) apply to clearing of funds through all Member States’ territories; (New)

This is useful. Although section 201 the NKSPEA effectively (if indirectly) banned direct and indirect dollar clearing services for North Korean banks, this extends that obligation to other issuers of convertible currencies – the EU, the UK, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Japan, etc. – and also closes a potential loophole for offshore dollar clearing. As always, detection and enforcement will be key.

14. Clarifies that companies performing financial services commensurate with those provided by banks are considered financial institutions for the purposes of implementing paragraph 11 of resolution 2094 (2013), paragraphs 33 and 34 of resolution 2270 (2016), and paragraph 33 of resolution 2321 (2016); (New)

In other words, shadow banks and money launderers (such as DCB Finance and Kim Chol-Sam) are banks for purposes of the resolutions. That matters, because North Korea increasingly relies on trading companies to perform the functions of banks.

Chemical Weapons

15. Prohibiting use of chemical weapons and calling for accession to the CWC: Recalls paragraph 24 of resolution 2270 (2016), decides that the DPRK shall not deploy or use chemical weapons, and urgently calls upon the DPRK to accede to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction, and then to immediately comply with its provisions; (Based on OP24 of UNSCR 2270)

For reasons that ought to be obvious ….

Vienna Convention

16. Abiding by the VCDR/VCCR: Demands that the  DPRK fully comply with its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; (New)

In South Dakota English, this means stop renting out your embassies as eurotrash flophouses.

Impact on the People of the DPRK

17. Regrets the DPRK’s massive diversion of its scarce resources toward its development of nuclear weapons and a number of expensive ballistic missile programs, notes the findings of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance that well over half of the people in the DPRK suffer from major insecurities in food and medical care, including a very large number of pregnant and lactating women and under-five children who are at risk of malnutrition and nearly a quarter of its total population suffering from chronic malnutrition, and, in this context, expresses deep concern at the grave hardship to which the people in the DPRK are subjected; (New)

I can’t overstate how smart and important this language is. Pyongyang will always try to use its people as human shields against sanctions. It will always steal from the poor to give to the rich and the military. The world needs to remember exactly why so many North Koreans are poor and hungry, and it’s not because North Korea is a poor country, or because of weather, or sanctions. It’s because of choices – choices that are made in Pyongyang.

Sanctions Implementation

18. State implementation report: Decides that Member States shall report to the Security Council within ninety days of the adoption of this resolution, and thereafter upon request by the Committee, on concrete measures they have taken in order to implement effectively the provisions of this resolution, requests the Panel of Experts, in cooperation with other UN sanctions monitoring groups, to continue its efforts to assist Member States in preparing and submitting such reports in a timely manner; (based on OP36 of UNSCR 2321)

If they weren’t filing their reports before, it’s going to take more than a strongly worded appeal to make them file now. That’s where the BRINK Act becomes important. Take a gander at section 104 for some of the sanctions non-compliant states might face.

19. Redouble implementation efforts: Calls upon all Member States to redouble efforts to implement in full the measures in resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013) 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), and 2356 (2017), and to cooperate with each other in doing so, particularly with respect to inspecting, detecting and seizing items the transfer of which is prohibited by these resolutions; (OP38 of UNSCR 2321)

20. Update Committee and POE mandate: Decides that the mandate of the Committee, as set out in paragraph 12 of resolution 1718 (2006), shall apply with respect to the measures imposed in this resolution and further decides that the mandate of the Panel of Experts, as specified in paragraph 26 of resolution 1874 (2009) and modified in paragraph 1 of resolution 2345 (2017), shall also apply with respect to the measures imposed in this resolution; (OP39 of UNSCR 2321)

21. Standard “seize and dispose” provision: Decides to authorize all Member States to, and that all Member States shall, seize and dispose (such as through destruction, rendering inoperable or unusable, storage, or transferring to a State other than the originating or destination States for disposal) of items the supply, sale, transfer, or export of which is prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution that are identified in inspections, in a manner that is not inconsistent with their obligations under applicable Security Council resolutions, including resolution 1540 (2004), as well as any obligations of parties to the NPT, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Development of 29 April 1997, and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction of 10 April 1972; (OP40 of UNSCR 2321)

This provision addresses what I call the Mu Du Bong problem. Remember when Mexico seized the Mu Du Bong after it ran aground off the port of Tuxpan? For the longest time, the Mexicans didn’t know what to do with the ship. This question eventually came to me via an indirect route. I pointed out that paragraph 8 of UNSCR 2087 already authorized Mexico to seize, destroy, or dispose of the ship as it saw fit. Of course, 2087 isn’t a Chapter VII resolution, but the Mu Du Bong became an artificial reef shortly thereafter, so I’d like to think I played some small role in the lives of some red snapper and grouper.

22. Force majeure clause: Emphasizes the importance of all States, including the DPRK, taking the necessary measures to ensure that no claim shall lie at the instance of the DPRK, or of any person or entity in the DPRK, or of persons or entities designated for measures set forth in resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), or this resolution, or any person claiming through or for the benefit of any such person or entity, in connection with any contract or other transaction where its performance was prevented by reason of the measures imposed by this resolution or previous resolutions; (OP41 of UNSCR 2321)

This keeps governments that freeze assets from getting tied up in litigation for enforcing the resolutions – theoretically. Of course, not all member state courts will recognize this, and it only applies to claims by North Korea or by designated persons. It will require good implementing legislation, which (let’s face it) very few countries have.

23. Request Interpol notices: Requests that Interpol issue Special Notices with respect to designated individuals, and directs the Committee to work with Interpol to develop the appropriate arrangements to do so; (New)

OK, I’ll admit that I’m mildly impressed by this. I’ll believe it when Kim Chol-Sam leaves China for good.

24. Expand POE capacity and resources: Requests the Secretary General to provide additional analytical resources needed to the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1874 (2009) to strengthen its ability to analyze the DPRK’s sanctions violation and evasion activities; (Based on OP42 of UNSCR 2321)

Hmm. Are they hiring lawyers, and what do they pay?

Political

25. Reiterates its deep concern at the grave hardship that the people in the DPRK are subjected to, condemns the DPRK for pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles instead of the welfare of its people while people in the DPRK have great unmet needs, and emphasizes the necessity of the DPRK respecting and ensuring the welfare and inherent dignity of people in the DPRK; (OP45 of UNSCR 2321)

As stated above, this matters.

26. Reaffirms that the measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), and this resolution are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK or to affect negatively or restrict those activities, including economic activities and cooperation, food aid and humanitarian assistance, that are not prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017) and this resolution, and the work of international and non-governmental organizations carrying out assistance and relief activities in the DPRK for the benefit of the civilian population of the DPRK and decides that the Committee may, on a case-by-case basis, exempt any activity from the measures imposed by these resolutions if the committee determines that such an exemption is necessary to facilitate the work of such organizations in the DPRK or for any other purpose consistent with the objectives of these resolutions, and further decides that the measures specified in paragraph 8(d) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall not apply with respect to financial transactions with the DPRK Foreign Trade Bank or the Korea National Insurance Corporation if such transactions are solely for the operation of diplomatic missions in the DPRK or humanitarian assistance activities that are undertaken by, or in coordination with, the United Nations; (Based on OP46 of UNSCR 2321)

So, spoiler alert: the FTB, which Treasury designated in 2013, and which featured prominently in this recent civil forfeiture suit, is designated in one of the annexes below, which is good. When I say that Pyongyang uses its people as human shields, the Foreign Trade Bank is a perfect example of that strategy, and how some humanitarian aid NGOs have been willing accomplices of it. That exemption is probably a smart move, tactically.

27. Reaffirms its support for the Six Party Talks, calls for their resumption, and reiterates its support for the commitments set forth in the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005 issued by China, the DPRK, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States, including that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner, that the United States and the DPRK undertook to respect each other’s sovereignty and exist peacefully together, that the Six Parties undertook to promote economic cooperation, and all other relevant commitments; (OP47 of UNSCR 2321)

Note the language “reaffirms its support.” I occasionally see claims, either from soft-liners here or from Beijing, that the resolutions require us to return to six-party talks — never mind that North Korea won’t return to them — and that some notion of reciprocity consequently releases China from its obligations to enforce the other provisions. But “reaffirms its support” is non-binding language, in contrast to the sanctions provisions that say “decides,” and which are binding. The obligations aren’t reciprocal, and the idea that this provision requires anyone to return to the talks (including Pyongyang) is baseless. The resolutions do, however, use “decides” when they require Pyongyang to completely, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic missile programs.

28. Reiterates the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in north-east Asia at large, and expresses its commitment to a peaceful, diplomatic, and political solution to the situation and welcomes efforts by the council members as well as other States to facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue and stresses the importance of working to reduce tensions in the Korean Peninsula and beyond; (OP48 of UNSCR 2321)

29. Affirms that it shall keep the DPRK’s actions under continuous review and is prepared to strengthen, modify, suspend or lift the measures as may be needed in light of the DPRK’s compliance, and, in this regard, expresses its determination to take further significant measures in the event of a further DPRK nuclear test or launch; (OP49 of UNSCR 2321)

30. Decides to remain seized of the matter. (OP50 of UNSCR 2321)

Now, the designations.

Annex I

Travel Ban/Asset Freeze (Individuals)

1. CHOE CHUN YONG

a. Description: Representative for Ilsim International Bank, which is affiliated with the DPRK military and has a close relationship with the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation.  Ilsim International Bank has attempted to evade United Nations sanctions.

b. A.K.A.: Ch’oe Ch’un-yo’ng

c. Identifiers: Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 654410078; Gender: male

With respect to each of these guys, I can only ask: are their designated successors in Beijing yet?

2. HAN JANG SU

a. Description: Chief Representative of the Foreign Trade Bank.

b. A.K.A.: Chang-Su Han

c. Identifiers: DOB: November 08, 1969; POB: Pyongyang, DPRK; Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 745420176, expires on October 19, 2020; Gender: male

3. JANG SONG CHOL

a. Description: Jang Song Chol is a Korea Mining Development Corporation (KOMID) representative overseas.

b. AKA: n/a

c. Identifiers: DOB: 12 March 1967; Nationality: DPRK

4. JANG SUNG NAM

a. Description: Chief of an overseas Tangun Trading Corporation branch, which is primarily responsible for the procurement of commodities and technologies to support the DPRK’s defense research and development programs.

b. A.K.A.: n/a

c. Identifiers: DOB: July 14, 1970; Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 563120368, issued on March 22, 2013; Passport expiration date: March 22, 2018; Gender: male

5. JO CHOL SONG

a. Description: Deputy Representative for the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation, which provides financial services in support to Tanchon Commercial Bank and Korea Hyoksin Trading, a subordinate entity of Korea Ryonbong General Corporation.

b. A.K.A.: Cho Ch’o’l-so’ng

c. Identifiers: DOB: September 25, 1984; Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 654320502, expires on September 16, 2019; Gender: male

6. KANG CHOL SU

a. Description: Official for Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, which specializes in acquisition for the DPRK’s defense industries and support for the DPRK’s military-related overseas sales. Its procurements also likely support the DPRK’s chemical weapons program.

b. A.K.A.: n/a

c. Identifiers: DOB: February 13, 1969; Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 472234895

7. KIM MUN CHOL

a. Description: Representative for Korea United Development Bank. 

b. A.K.A.: Kim Mun-ch’o’l

c. Identifiers: DOB: March 25, 1957; Nationality: DPRK

8. KIM NAM UNG

a. Description: Representative for Ilsim International Bank, which is affiliated with the DPRK military and has a close relationship with the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation.  Ilsim International Bank has attempted to evade United Nations sanctions.

b. A.K.A.: n/a

c. Identifiers: Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 654110043

9. PAK IL KYU

a. Description: Official for Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, which specializes in acquisition for DPRK’s defense industries and support to Pyongyang’s military-related sales. Its procurements also likely support the DPRK’s chemical weapons program.

b. A.K.A.: Pak Il-Gyu

c. Identifiers: Nationality: DPRK; Passport no.: 563120235; Gender: male

List Update for Aliases:

• JANG BOM SU (KPi.016) – New AKA: Jang Hyon U with date of birth 22 February 1958 and diplomatic passport number 836110034, which expires on 1 January 2020.

• JON MYONG GUK (KPi.018) – New AKA: Jon Yong Sang with date of birth 25 August 1976 and diplomatic passport number 836110035, which expires on 1 January 2020.

Annex II

Asset Freeze (Entities)

1. FOREIGN TRADE BANK (FTB)

a. Description: Foreign Trade Bank is a state-owned bank and acts as the DPRK’s primary foreign exchange bank and has provided key financial support to the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation.

b. AKA: n/a

c. Location: FTB Building, Jungsong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK

Now we’re talking.

2. KOREAN NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY (KNIC)

a. Description: The Korean National Insurance Company is a DPRK financial and insurance company and is affiliated with Office 39.

b. AKA: Korea Foreign Insurance Company

c. Location: Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK

Another good one, though the failure to designate the Korean Shipowners’ Protection and Indemnity Association, which insured the Chong Chon Gang, seems like an oversight

3. KORYO CREDIT DEVELOPMENT BANK

a. Description: Koryo Credit Development Bank operates in the financial services industry in the DPRK’s economy.

b. AKA: Daesong Credit Development Bank; Koryo Global Credit Bank; Koryo Global Trust Bank

c. Location: Pyongyang, DPRK

4. MANSUDAE OVERSEAS PROJECT GROUP OF COMPANIES

a. Description: Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies engaged in, facilitated, or was responsible for the exportation of workers from the DPRK to other nations for construction-related activities including for statues and monuments to generate revenue for the Government of the DPRK or the Workers’ Party of Korea. The Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies has been reported to conduct business in countries in Africa and Southeast Asia including Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Benin, Cambodia, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Malaysia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Syria, Togo, and Zimbabwe.

b. AKA: Mansudae Art Studio

c. Location: Pyongyang, DPRK

In theory, African dictators will have to build their own big, ugly statues now. Recall that UNSCR 2321 banned the export of statues. But … no Air Koryo? Really? I guess we’ll have to wait for the nuke test for that one.

These sanctions could be damaging — if member states enforce them. The sanctions in UNSCR 2270 should have been more damaging than they were, but China violated them and, until very recentlygot away with it. Getting other member states to enforce the sanctions will require the President to use the authorities Congress has given him in the NKSPEA and the KIMS Act. A truly effective policy will require a whole-of-government approach: the State Department will have to lobby foreign governments, the Treasury and Justice Departments must be prepared to sanction violators, and the Homeland Security Department must step up the screening of cargo from ports that don’t inspect North Korean cargo.

Finally, the administration must speak coherently about sanctions, diplomacy, human rights, the proper role of engagement, what happens if diplomacy fails, and how to reunify Korea peacefully (or, as peacefully as possible). So far, I’ve seen some encouraging steps on sanctions enforcement, but not the coherent whole-of-government effort we’ll need.

~   ~  ~

The question most people are asking now is, “Will things be any different this time?” There’s one reason to think that they just might be. No, this isn’t the first sanctions resolution that might have done serious harm to Pyongyang’s palace economy if it had been enforced, but as I’ve said before, U.N. sanctions don’t enforce themselves. All the U.N. can really do is pass new resolutions and issue the occasional Panel of Experts report. (The Panel, which had previously issued its reports annually, will now start issuing them bi-annually. Its first mid-term new report should be coming out in the new few days. Expect it to be bleak about enforcement and compliance efforts so far, but it will also call out more cheaters and concentrate the attention of the FBI, the Treasury Department, and the Justice Department on them.)

Persuading governments and companies that want to trade with Pyongyang to stop doing so sometimes requires either an inducement or a threat. Yun Byung-Se was skilled at the use of inducements, particularly in Africa, but with Moon Jae-In in office, the U.S. has probably lost Seoul as a valuable diplomatic ally against Pyongyang. 

The Trump administration has recently become more willing to use threats. It hasn’t talked about it much yet, but the Treasury and Justice Departments have begun to seize and forfeit the funds of the trading companies that broker Pyongyang’s coal exports to China. It has also zapped one Chinese bank that was involved in laundering money for North Korea, and fired a shot across the bow of the correspondent banks that carelessly clear those transactions through our financial system. As the Justice Department noted last September, Pyongyang has tried to switch to non-dollar currencies, but without much success. Sellers prefer dollars. Now, for the first time, the U.S. has made a credible threat to banks and trading companies that facilitate Pyongyang’s coal exports. 

As for those who might be tempted to accept China’s view that Pyongyang’s coal exports were for “humanitarian” purposes, a new story by the Washington Post’s Peter Whoriskey cites the Justice Department filings I refer to in the preceding paragraphs to debunk that cynical lie (as I characterize it in the article, which quotes me):

Documents from a recently unsealed U.S. court filing, combined with another federal case, suggest that much of the money China has paid to North Korea for coal over the years went toward the country’s weapons and military efforts.

The coal trade cited in the court documents, which has accounted for as much as a third of North Korean exports, helps explain how North Korea continued to develop its weapons programs despite being impoverished and under trade sanctions. The connections to the military also undermine Chinese claims that their imports were benefiting North Korean civilians.

“We considered that to be a very narrow [humanitarian] exception, but it soon became clear that not all others shared our view,” a State Department spokesperson said before the vote.

In the most recent court filing, unsealed last month, U.S. government attorneys were granted a seizure warrant against the largest Chinese importer of North Korean coal and four related front companies after presenting evidence that the Chinese company’s transactions with North Korea were “ultimately benefiting sanctioned North Korean end users, including North Korea military and North Korea weapons programs.”

The documents cite a defector, deemed “reliable,” who said that the vast majority of the revenue from the country’s coal exports go toward the military, nuclear missiles and weapons programs.

Those disclosures followed a court case filed in September in which federal attorneys cited a spreadsheet showing a major Chinese coal importer making purchases from various North Korean government agencies.

The Chinese importer was also purchasing from a North Korean company controlled by a secretive government branch believed to be conducting illicit activities and slush funds for political leaders. [WaPo, Peter Whoriskey]

It’s always refreshing to see journalists find, read, and cite primary sources rather than call up the same familiar “experts” who may not know anything about sanctions or even about North Korea, but who can be relied on to validate their own opinions. Read the whole thing. 

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The freeze fantasy: Don’t tell us to talk to North Korea if you aren’t listening to North Korea

A weird logic prevails among certain North Korea-watchers, to whom Pyongyang’s every violation of the many disarmament agreements it has already signed becomes “fresh” evidence that we must pay it to sign yet another disarmament agreement. Thus, every time Pyongyang launches a missile or tests a bomb, we can expect a new crop of op-eds making shopworn and increasingly oblivious arguments for a freeze deal that Pyongyang has said — clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly — it doesn’t want and won’t sign.

And Pyongyang could not be more clear or emphatic: it doesn’t want a freeze deal, it isn’t going to disarm. If it won’t disarm, what exactly are we supposed to talk about, and how much leverage, what interests, and which principles are we supposed to throw away to get nothing discernible? And while we’re at it, aren’t the people dispensing this advice mostly the same geniuses (or their acolytes) who brought us Agreed Framework I, Agreed Framework II, and the Leap Day Deal, and who ended up leaving it to President Donald J. Trump to “handle” the world’s worst nuclear crisis since 1962?

Every time I read an iteration of this talk-to-North-Korea op-ed, I want to grab the writer by his lapels and scream into his face: “Don’t tell me to talk to North Korea if you aren’t listening to North Korea!” So, in that spirit, let’s take a moment to listen to North Korea.

~   ~   ~

2/2017: “It is the stand of the DPRK not to hesitate or make any concession in bolstering up its capability for self-defence. The U.S. is sadly mistaken if it thinks the nuclear deterrence of the DPRK is a matter for political bargaining and economic deal after putting it on the negotiating table.” [Rodong Sinmun]

3/2017: “For the DPRK standing in confrontation with the U.S., the chieftain of aggression advocating the doctrine that nukes are all-powerful, its strong nuclear attack capabilities serve as a treasured sword for averting a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula and defusing the danger of war against the Korean nation. The power of the nuclear strike means of the DPRK precisely means its national power and dignity.” [Rodong Sinmun]

3/2017: “As it presents itself as an immediate vital requirement for the DPRK to further bolster the capabilities for self-defence with a nuclear force as pivot given that the U.S. is staging joint military exercises for aggression after introducing largest-ever strategic assets into the Korean peninsula, the DPRK can not but take into serious account its participation in the conference and, therefore, decided not to take part in the conference.” [N. Korean Foreign Ministry, via KCNA]

4/2017 (at the UN Disarmament Conference, of all places!): “It is an entirely just right to self-defence of a sovereign state to keep itself highly alert and bolster in every way its strong war deterrent capable of mercilessly wiping out the aggressors as required by the grim situation where an actual war may break out any moment…. As long as the U.S. and its vassal forces persistently pose nuclear threat and blackmail and continue the nuclear war racket masked as an annual one at the doorstep of the DPRK, the DPRK will as ever bolster up its capabilities for self-defence and preemptive attack with the nuclear force as a pivot.” [Rodong Sinmun]

5/2017: “Beautified by the Trump administration, as if they are performing a little act of kindness for North Korea, the essence of the ‘engagement’ policy is simple… they want to disarm us,” the editorial, published in the DPRK’s most widely read newspaper, reads. “With flowery rhetoric, every day the U.S. is saying that ‘engagement’ is needed for ‘peaceful resolution’ [with the North] while claiming that not only the pressure, but the ‘resolving through talks and negotiation’ is what the U.S. wants.” [Rodong Sinmun, via NK News]

7/2017: “The only way out for the U.S.…is to withdraw the…hostile policy toward the DPRK and kneel and apologize before its army and people.” [KCNA]

7/2017: “The DPRK would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations in any case.” [Kim Jong-Un, quoted in KCNA]

7/2017: “Under the present international situation where the U.S. and its vassal forces’ policy of nuclear threat and blackmail persist, the DPRK will bolster up military capability for self-defense with nuclear force as pivot and ability of making a preemptive attack in order to preserve the country’s sovereignty and the nation’s right to existence. The DPRK’s measures to bolster up the nuclear force for self-defense will go on until the nuclear weapons are eliminated from the earth.” [KCNA]

~   ~   ~

Still not enough for you? Then go to the S.T.A.L.I.N. search engine and look up treasured sword” or “nuclear deterrent.” Now, already, the frequent Air Koryo flyers (as B.R. Myers calls them) are saying, “But I went to Pyongyang and Vice-Minister Kim said …,” or the perennial 38North favorite, “If you parse it, they really mean ….”

Parse all you want. Bruce Klingner and Sue Terry met with them at Track 2 talks early this year. The North Koreans were “unambiguously clear.” They “will not be deterred from augmenting [their nuclear arsenal or test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile.” They offered “no signals of flexibility or willingness to negotiate on these programs.” Their message was that “denuclearization is off the table.” No “combination of economic and diplomatic benefits or security reassurances” can make them keep the other denuclearization agreements they signed in 1994, 2005, 2007, or 2012 (to name just a few examples).

Also, for all the talk from American soft-liners that we must drop our preconditions to talks that obviously aren’t about disarmament, the North Koreans are now offering a precondition of their own: “First accept us as a nuclear state, then we are prepared to talk about a peace treaty or fight. We are ready for either.” In which case, we’ve lost just by showing up.

Still, the calls for us to talk to Pyongyang about its inexhaustible list of insatiable demands (but none of ours) just keep rolling off the conveyer belt that runs from the Northwest Washington think thanks to the desks of editors — often from the same geniuses who’ve built long and successful careers out of misjudging Pyongyang’s intentions. It may be too much to ask that they stop peddling this fantasy about a deal Pyongyang doesn’t even want and won’t keep. But won’t they at least read and try to rationalize away Pyongyang’s words at some point along the way?

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Propaganda in the age of Kim Jong-Un: A discussion with Professor B.R. Myers

What follows is an email discussion between myself and Professor B.R. Myers of Dongsoo University, author of “The Cleanest Race” and “North Korea’s Juche Myth,” and keeper of the Sthele Press blog. At the end of the discussion, I thought readers might enjoy reading it, and Professor Myers graciously agreed to let me print it here.

~   ~   ~

Stanton: A few weeks ago, a commenter at my blog cited your work as evidence that North Koreans probably still believe in their political system. That raises several questions: first, do North Koreans believe in their political ideology; second, do they believe in Kim Jong Un; and third, can they distinguish between the two in a place like North Korea where the personality cult is so critical?

In “The Cleanest Race,” you argued that North Korea’s propaganda was effective. I see plenty of evidence that it works on a significant number of South Koreans. Although the sentiments of North Koreans are harder to measure, I agree that nationalism and xenophobia probably still play well with South and North Koreans — even better than they play in most other places. The tribal instinct predates humanity itself, after all.

I doubt, however, that most North Koreans hold Kim Jong-Un in high regard. I see no evidence that they do and plenty of evidence that they don’t. He hasn’t cultivated the same monastic, martial, self-sacrificing persona that Kim Il-Sung could and that even Kim Jong-Il tried to. Just look at him. Look at his appearances with a laughingstock like Dennis Rodman — who is, in KCNA’s racist vernacular, a monkey with impure blood.

I think the true sentiments of North Koreans are probably complex. I suspect they probably believe in some elements of the system and not others. I suspect they are proud of their weapons programs and also see them as a waste of resources. Most of them can tell that the system is not providing for them, and I suspect that their views of Kim Jong-Un vary from apathy to antipathy, and are far less favorable than their views of Kim Il-Sung or even Kim Jong-Il.

Myers: I tend to agree with you in regard to Kim Jong Un himself. When I was there in 2011 even my minders could not work up much enthusiasm about him. No state can keep its people at the same pitch of fervency forever, especially not after losing the monopoly on providing culture and information to the masses. Kim Jong Un has made many blunders on the propaganda front. The Dennis Rodman stuff was indeed a fiasco. Kim Il Sung met African leaders in public, but like all foreigners they showed the proper deference. Rodman slouched next to Kim Jong Un in dark shades and a baseball cap. I knew then that Chang Song-thaek wasn’t pulling the strings, because if he had been, that would never have happened. 

But Kim has obviously been getting better advice lately. He is speaking much better too. He rushes his speeches a bit, but he has a good, rich voice, the voice of a more mature man. I’m sure the nuclear and ballistic triumphs he’s racking up at the moment are helping his “poll numbers”. By the regime’s military-first standards of performance he is doing better even than Kim Jong Il.  

In any case, his relative lack of popularity is not as important as the lack of popularity of a president in South Korea, where there is no bedrock state support to keep people patriotic even when they dislike a leader. 

But we Americans are more like the North Koreans in that regard. Does our patriotism rise and fall depending on who is in the White House? If we don’t like a president, do we start finding America’s enemies more likeable? No. We should therefore not assume that Kim Jong Un’s relative lack of stature means that support for the state is weakening.

And if we’re going to jeer at North Korea for being a de facto monarchy, we must also acknowledge the main advantage of such a system: no divisive squabbling over who has the right to rule. On my book tour for “The Cleanest Race” I used the example of my British mother: a firm supporter of the monarchy with different estimations of the various royals. She doesn’t like the idea of Charles becoming king, but accepts that it will and must happen. 

I’ve also often spoken of a defector (an artist) who told me how, when crossing the Tumen River into China, he was seized with a horrible guilt at betraying the nara, the country. This although his hatred of Kim Jong Il had been a big factor in inducing him to leave. For most North Koreans the state equals the race, equals the country. This is where the North has been so much more successful than what I call the “Unloved Republic” of South Korea. There, as in Weimar Germany, the state is seen as having betrayed the race. When Moon Jae-in looks back on the history of the ROK he holds up only the anti-state riots and protests as high points.  

It’s time we all acknowledged the genius of the North’s propaganda apparatus, however much distaste we feel about it. It works with the grain of human nature. Kim Il Sung’s first speech in Pyongyang in October 1945 went down terribly, because he lacked the natural charisma to make plausible the biographical legend the Soviets had chosen for him. But the propaganda apparatus quickly made clear that by swallowing his legend, the whole nation could regard its own colonial past in a nobler light. In celebrating the leader as the embodiment of ethnic virtues, 25 million people celebrate themselves. Which is not to say the cult hasn’t cooled a lot. 

Western observers focus more on the regime’s economic failures than the North Koreans themselves do. Remember that it was only in recent modern times that Western societies began expecting the state to secure constant economic growth and rising prosperity. Well into the 20th century people expected little more from the state than that it protect them from foreign powers, and expand the influence or territory of the nation. Prussia was remarkably like North Korea in many ways, yet we remember it as a very successful state. If we judge North Korea by its own standards — instead of by the communist standards we hope its people judge it by — we must admit it has performed very well. 

The whole point of the military-first policy was not so much to whip up support for the military as to de-ideologize the economic sector, to make it possible to dismantle the command economy without dismantling the authority of the whole system. 

This is why (as I never tire of repeating) North Koreans can frequent black markets and still consider themselves good citizens, as was impossible in the communist East Bloc. So the situation now is more like Japan or Germany in 1944, say, than like East Germany in the 1980s. Widespread government corruption? Check. An entire population of economic criminals? Check. Constant griping about the state, the party, even some joking about the leader? Check. (Even good Nazis had their Hitler jokes.) A general readiness to fight for the state? Well, there’s certainly more readiness in the North than in the South. 

It all comes down to what neither the softliners nor the hardliners want to acknowledge: this is a successful right-wing state, not a failed communist one.

Stanton: Your sentence about patriotism not changing with one’s view of the leader is insightful, although I wonder how well the comparison holds up in a place like North Korea where propaganda ties the state so closely to the leader himself. Our own propaganda, such as it is, is one of loyalty to principle and nation, but discourages loyalty to parties and personalities. We preserve a duality in which one can be patriotic to the system even if one loathes the president. That duality doesn’t exist in North Korea.

Myers: I see what you mean. If Kim Jong Un is Chosun, as the slogan goes, then his decline in popularity must be the state’s too? But it doesn’t work that way. We all need to give our lives a sense of significance, of a meaning that lives on after our deaths. The North Koreans get that from their nationalism, which is one with their patriotism. If they lose that, what do they have? 

Don’t get me wrong, we can always hope for an uprising. But it is more likely to be sparked inadvertently, as it were, by traders protesting against their provincial or municipal government’s highhandedness and corruption, in the naive hope that the state will step in on their side.

Whether such an uprising becomes a revolution is another matter. Remember what Hannah Arendt said: Revolutions are usually a matter of people picking up the power of a state in disintegration, a government that has lost the will to enforce its laws. Of the two states on the peninsula, I see the South as closer to fitting that bill. There were recent reports of demonstrators around the THAAD site stopping and checking police cars.

Stanton: I agree that the two Koreas seem to be in a sprint to the bottom. I also think we underestimate the amount of anarchy in North Korea’s eastern and northeastern provinces because (1) reporters seldom see those parts of North Korea, and (2) instead, they are led through a circuit of soda-straw views of elite, regimented Pyongyang. It’s lazy journalism that justifies the propagation of a distorted image of North Korea with the argument that some news is better than no news at all. I don’t agree that an unrepresentative sample informs us about how most North Koreans live.

I agree that North Korea’s greatest political vulnerabilities are matters of retail economics and market policies. A propaganda campaign that linked songbun (class), corruption, and the state’s economic policies to the economic grievances of the people might resonate among North Korea’s poor and merchant class. Isn’t it always the case that revolutions are sparked by economic grievances that polarize around political grievances and class envy? Wasn’t that fundamentally true of 1989 and the Arab Spring?

So far, our broadcasts to North Korea have been bland, straight-news programs that have been afraid to take a more subversive approach that reports on local corruption and protests, for fear of upsetting China & South Korea. I believe that, a more subversive tone in our broadcasting might be a way to pressure Beijing,  Seoul, and Pyongyang. Pyongyang has shown a surprising amount of concern about even those silly loudspeakers along the DMZ.

My point is that regardless of North Korea’s nationalism, the regime is still vulnerable to class-warfare propaganda. This is not to say that we could not also harness Korean nationalism — particularly if the message did more to highlight China’s ambitions to divide, dominate, and exploit Korea.

Myers: The Arab Spring was at its heart an Islamist uprising whipped up by a Muslim clergy for which in North Korea there is no equivalent. The only non-secular force of note is shamanism, which merely encourages the family-centricity that keeps people from joining forces against the state. As for 1989, the USSR made no secret of loosening its grip over its sphere of influence. Gorbachev dropped Honecker in spectacularly obvious fashion. From that point on, the East Germans knew the regime was going down. And in Romania, there was a multi-ethnic dynamic you don’t have in North Korea either, the few ethnic Chinese hwagyo being focused on cross-border trade, and very happy with the status quo.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record: this is a far-right, militarist state. Such states tend to experience uprisings only when they have failed by militarist or nationalist standards, as the Argentinian junta did in 1982.

Such states are not the sort of smoothly functioning machines that Orwell describes in 1984. They are much more ramshackle things, with plenty of loopholes and little freedoms that a communist state would try harder to eliminate. John Everard, the former British ambassador to North Korea — who believes that North Korea is closer to Nazi Germany than to the USSR — has recorded his surprise at the freedom of movement, the freedom to shape their own leisure time, which average citizens enjoy even in Pyongyang.

You use the word anarchy; I think that’s going too far. Again, let’s recall Japan in the war. There too people were bribing or making deals with owners of the stalled factories in which they were “frozen,” so they could go off and catch fish for someone else. 

It was a kind of lawlessness to which a blind eye was turned, but I wouldn’t call it anarchy. It covers only areas that are ideologically uncharged. In any part of North Korea, someone who publicly insults the leader is going to be punished as immediately and brutally as such a person would have been 50 years ago.

I agree generally with you about what our propaganda approach should be. I have been saying for at least 10 years now that the balloon leaflets are too amateurish. I am not happy with the extent to which their composition is left to defectors, who are overwhelmingly from the least propagandized, most rural part of the country. For decades the basic message has been, “Dump the leadership, because it lives high on the hog while you toil and starve.” That’s the sort of sloganeering that might help undermine a communist state. 

It won’t work in a far-right, ultra-nationalist state. The pomp that surrounds Kim Jong Un is the whole nation’s pomp, as it were. I have urged American officials who ask me about propaganda to encourage a nationalist approach to it, stressing the North’s disgraceful dependence on China, contrasting the North with an internationally respected South that has really put Korea on the map.

I’m not sure this will be enough though. The crucial issue, from a nationalist North Korean’s perspective, is likely to be: Which of the two states is more intent on righting the wrongs foreigners have done to us? Which state wants to unify the peninsula, the nation? And the South all too obviously allows the North to play the heroic role of the sole unifying force. Park Geun-hye made efforts to rectify that neglect but it was too little, too late. And now a very different president is in power.

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Maximum pressure watch: North Korea, sanctions & diplomacy

The nature of human beings is to remember dramatic events longer than methodical processes, even when the methodical process may be of equal or greater importance. That may be why North Korea watchers remember the September 2005 action against Banco Delta Asia but tend to forget the greater part of the strategy that action served: sending Stuart Levey, Daniel Glaser, and other officials on a world tour to warn bankers and finance minister to cut their ties to Pyongyang or risk losing their access to the U.S. economy. It was not merely the stroke of one pen that brought Kim Jong-Il to the brink of insolvency; it was the stroke of a pen that put iron behind the velvet gloves that Levey and Glaser wore.

For months now, I’ve been watching for signs that the Trump administration would deploy such a strategy against Kim Jong-Un. The good news is that the signs of such an effort are now unmistakable. The bad news is that this effort is proceeding too slowly to deliver the necessary results in time. 

Starting in May, the President asked the leaders of the PhilippinesIndia (see also) and Vietnam to step up their enforcement of North Korea sanctions and cut their economic ties to Pyongyang. More recently, Ambassador Joseph Yun visited Malaysia, Singapore, and Burma to ask those governments to do likewise. Both Singapore and Malaysia have been havens for North Korean money laundering. Burma has long hosted North Korean arms dealers and been involved in suspicious arms-related deals with North Korea, including some involving nuclear technology. Yun’s message to Burma was that it should not expect the U.S. to restore full diplomatic relations until those dealings end.

Recently, the U.S. delivered a similar message to Sudan, another North Korean arms client. Otherwise, however, there is little evidence that the U.S. has pressured Namibia to shut down a North Korean arms factory, Angola to end its arms deals and use of slave labor, Egypt to expel its local KOMID representatives, or Tanzania to ensure that it cancels the registrations of North Korean ships.

Congress has also joined the effort by pressing Taiwan to cut its commercial ties in a provision of the new Taiwan Security Act. For an ostensible U.S. ally, Taiwan has been implicated in transferring sensitive technology to North Korea with disturbing frequency. For example, starting in 2009, the Treasury Department designated (and the U.N. Panel of Experts has repeatedly mentioned) a Taiwanese arms dealer and several of his companies for selling machine tools to North Korea. 

Last week, banking regulators in Latvia fined two banks for flunking their due diligence obligations to detect and prevent North Korean money laundering. Let’s hope that this is only the first of many similar moves by states to enforce the financial due diligence obligations found in paragraphs 11 through 16 of Resolution 2094, and in subsequent resolutions.

In 2016, while the Obama administration slept, South Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yun Byung-Se, also went on tour and secured commitments from multiple states to reduce their economic ties with North Korea. It should not surprise us that since the election of Moon Jae-In filled the Blue House with advisors with histories of addlebrained appeasement or alarming, even violent, pro-North Korean activism, the pace of Seoul’s diplomacy has dropped off to almost nothing. I’ve found evidence of one effort by Seoul in sympathy with this campaign, when Moon had a telephone call with the UAE’s Crown Prince, although it’s far from clear whether he asked the UAE for anything specific, such as sending North Korean slave laborers home. Diplomatically, one can hardly say that Seoul is an ally at all anymore. It barely suffers the burden of accepting a subsidized defense from North Korean missiles, courtesy of American taxpayers.

Tokyo, by contrast, has coalesced with us in much a more valuable way, by joining the U.S. in the collective enforcement of sanctions designations against businesses that deal with Pyongyang, and against the Bank of Dandong. That strategy, which I’ve referred to as “progressive diplomacy,” and which involves coalescing with our friends first, and approaching our enemies only after they’ve been isolated, will greatly multiply the power of each designation.

I’ve noted before that collectively, the U.S., Japan, and South Korea are China’s top three trading partners. I’ve sometimes wondered if that pressure would be even more effective if it took an analytical approach, akin to the Strategic Bombing Survey of World War II, that targets vulnerable or labor-intensive industries in cities such as Dandong and Dalian that trade with North Korea. There are some new tools in the KIMS Act that may be worth considering in the context of such a strategy. One that might be the most potentially devastating authorizes the President to target those cities’ ports.

If South Korea, Australia (see also), the U.K., and Europe were to join in this coalition, the diplomatic and financial pressure on Beijing and Pyongyang might be irresistible. Pyongyang sounds worried. For the long term, it should be. In the short term, however, promises by governments to enforce sanctions against North Korea sometimes mean less in practice than they do on paper, either because those governments backslide, or simply don’t understand what the sanctions require. It is helpful that the U.N. has finally published this summary of the sanctions. It would be more helpful if the U.N., the U.S., or the Financial Action Task Force would promulgate model legislation to ensure that states can easily enact legislation to enforce U.N. sanctions.

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But nothing would be more important in implementing the President’s new strategy than good management in the White House. One necessary step would be for the new Chief of Staff to seize control of the vetting and nominations for key cabinet posts from the political commissars and return that authority to the cabinet secretaries the President chose. Even a sound strategy will fail unless it’s executed competently. The diplomatic visits described in this post began in early May, and so far, the results they have produced are neither clear nor decisive. They have proceeded at too slow a pace to address a problem as urgent as this.

You won’t find a more strident critic than me of the thinking that has predominated in the State Department, particularly with regard to North Korea. But it is one thing to criticize an agency’s culture and the policies it continued to support long after their failure was manifest. It is another thing to destroy the agency itself. Good diplomacy will be an essential element of “maximum pressure.” That not only requires better direction from the White House, it also requires good diplomats. 

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WaPo editors ask, “What if sanctions don’t work?” … and answer correctly.

Regular readers know by now how many keystrokes I’ve spent at this site and in print in various places citing the evidence that sanctions against North Korea were largely a sham until last year, and could work if we enforced them in earnest. Still, the editors of the Washington Post ask a question that even the most strident sanctions advocate must consider:

ONE SCHOOL of North Korea experts has been arguing for some time that sanctions will never induce the isolated regime of Kim Jong Un to give up its nuclear weapons nor its race to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles that could carry them to the United States. A good answer is that while they might be right, sanctions are still the best available option — and unlike others, such as negotiations with the regime, they have never been given a robust try. Fortunately, that may be about to change.

I’d go the editors one better. The actions the Justice and Treasury departments began taking earlier this month are the kind of actions what will be necessary to break the link between North Korea and the financial system. We have yet to see the administration begin to impose the kinds of heavy penalties against larger, more connected banks that the Obama administration applied to banks like BNP Paribas in the Iran context, but DOJ has followed the money trail to the correspondent banks, which must be nervous about their compliance by now. There are hints that more is to come.

After waiting in vain for China to apply serious pressure to the Pyongyang regime following President Trump’s first meeting with Xi Jinping, the administration is readying sanctions against a number of Chinese companies and banks that do business with North Korea, a senior administration official said this week. A sanctions bill on its way through Congress mandates additional steps against North Korean shipping, countries that evade U.N. sanctions and those that employ the slave laborers whom the regime exports to other countries. Still-tougher measures are in a pending Senate bill developed by Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen.

Clearly, sanctions would work far better with Chinese enforcement than without. There is much the U.S. can do without Beijing’s cooperation to shut down Pyongyang’s finance. The new tools in the KIMS Act could vastly raise the pressure on its shipping, on shipping registries, insurers, and ports that fail to inspect North Korean cargo as UNSCR 2270 and 2321 require. There is much less we can do about what crosses the land border, however, and all of the evidence suggests that China isn’t simply negligent in its non-enforcement of sanctions against Pyongyang, but willfully weaponizing it.

If the administration aggressively and consistently exploits the new authorities — an open question, given the endless chaos in the White House and gaping personnel holes at the State Department — it might be able, over time, to cut off a substantial part of the flows of hard currency that last year allowed North Korea to increase its trade by nearly 5 percent and that financed $1.7 billion in imports from China in the first half of 2017.

Internationally, there are some encouraging signs that the Trump administration has undertaken and prioritized a campaign of diplomacy to break Pyongyang’s economic lifelines from countries other than China (breaking these links would increasingly isolate Bejing as an enabler of Pyongyang). The problem is that all of this will take time, and here, I think, is where the news is bleak:

The problem is a lack of time. Even successful sanctions campaigns, including that which induced Iran to bargain over its nuclear program, can take years to produce results — and the time North Korea may need to acquire the ability to threaten a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland appears to be rapidly shrinking. The Post reported Tuesday that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded the Kim regime could produce a missile that could reach the U.S. homeland with an atomic warhead in a year, years faster than previously estimated. On Friday, the regime carried out a new test of what appeared to be a long-range ICBM, the second this month.

That is to say, sanctions typically take years to work, and President Trump’s predecessors wasted years that we no longer have. I think sanctions can work, and no evidence I’ve seen disturbs that belief yet, but there is no such thing as guaranteed success for any strategy, which means that every Plan A needs a Plan B, a Plan C, and a Plan D.

Not surprisingly, both the administration and outside experts are debating other options. CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently hinted at a strategy to “separate” the Kim regime from its weapons. If that means regime change, it would require far greater cooperation from a Chinese government that so far has been unwilling to seriously pressure its neighbor.

Here is the first point the Post makes with which I’ll express mild disagreement. But for all the reasons I explained here and here, there is no stable coexistence with a nuclear North Korea. The more Pyongyang perfects its nuclear arsenal, the more risks it will feel free to take, the more it will threaten our core interests, and the more likely war becomes. Brian Myers also argues what’s increasingly difficult to deny — Pyongyang says it seeks to reunify Korea under its control, it acts accordingly, and ultimately, it cannot survive as the poorer Korea. It means to use a nuclear arsenal to extort Seoul into disarmament and capitulation.

Some analysts suggest the United States should take up a Russian-Chinese proposal for a freeze on North Korean missile and nuclear tests in exchange for a halt to U.S.-South Korean military exercises. But history shows that any North Korean commitment to a freeze would be temporary and unreliable, while Washington’s agreement to the deal could introduce a permanent crack into its alliance with South Korea.

Here in America, some of us still fantasize about a deal Pyongyang says it doesn’t want and has no incentive to take. But the only talks Pyongyang is interested in now amount to a “peace process” to secure the lifting of sanctions, the unilateral disarmament of Seoul, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and the assertion of de facto editorial and political control over South Korean society.

One helpful proposal comes from the State Department’s former human rights chief, Tom Malinowski, who wrote in a Politico essay that the United States should ramp up efforts to provide the North Korean people with information, including about the far freer and more prosperous lives of South Koreans. Political change in North Korea forced by its own citizens, he says, is more likely than denuclearization by the current regime. That clear-eyed but ultimately hopeful forecast strikes us as sensible.

As I discussed here. What the editors are effectively saying is that if Pyongyang won’t disarm diplomatically, our next-best option may be to induce the overthrow of the North Korean government. That’s right, and furthermore, it’s a threat to bring the one thing to China’s borders that Beijing fears more than anything else — instability. The advantage of this is that if the U.S. demonstrates a capacity to induce instability in North Korea, China will realize that its choices come down to a controlled demolition of the Kim Dynasty, an outbreak of violence and anarchy along its border, or wading into a messy counterinsurgency that will sap domestic political support for Xi Jinping’s rule. Beijing has been perfectly willing to support Pyongyang in threatening core American security interests. Why must we restrain ourselves from threatening Beijing’s interests in that case? Isn’t threatening the interests of hostile powers what deterrence is ultimately about?

We’ve now wasted decades on the fool’s errand of appeasing Pyongyang, and our chances of disarming it voluntarily, which are already low, diminish with each missile or nuclear test. The best outcome we can hope for now is that a coup d’etat removes His Porcine Majesty from the picture and devolves power to men who are willing to negotiate a grand bargain with us. For that bargain to achieve a real and lasting peace, it involves not only nuclear disarmament, the dismantlement of other WMD programs, and the removal of North Korean artillery from within 50 miles of the DMZ, but also fundamental humanitarian reforms without which verification of disarmament will never be possible. And, although there may be a brief transitional period for Pyongyang to remain a distinct political entity as it reforms gradually, in the end, the Korean crisis will only end when the Korean people themselves decide the time and manner for becoming a nation once again.

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After a near miss in the Senate, the KIMS Act heads for the President’s desk

While the rest of you talk about missiles, I’m going to talk about responses. Last night, by a vote of 98 to 2, the Senate passed H.R. 3364, a bill imposing new sanctions against Russia, Iran,* and North Korea. The bill previously passed the House by a vote of 419 to 3, and now goes to the President’s desk. The North Korea sanctions are contained in Title III, which previously passed the House as the KIMS Act by a vote of 419 to 1. Most of Title III’s key provisions amend and expand the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016.

Section 311 of the bill requires the President to freeze the assets of (and imposes other sanctions on) any person who —

  • “(10) buys gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore, copper, silver, nickel, zinc, or rare earth minerals from North Korea;
  • “(11) sells rocket, aviation, or jet fuel (except for use by a civilian passenger aircraft outside North Korea, exclusively for consumption during its flight to North Korea or its return flight);
  • “(12) facilitates a significant transaction or transactions to operate or maintain, a vessel or aircraft that is designated by the U.N. or the Treasury Department; 
  • “(13) facilitates the registration of, or maintains insurance or a registration for, a vessel owned or controlled by the Government of North Korea.

All of those provisions mirror U.N. sanctions from UNSCRs 2270 and 2321. This is implementing legislation of the kind that our diplomats are currently asking their counterparts in dozens of other countries to enact and enforce. Section 311 also authorizes discretionary sanctions against anyone who —

  • “(D) buys coal, iron, or iron ore from North Korea, in excess of the limitations provided in applicable United Nations Security Council resolutions;
  • “(E) buys textiles from North Korea;
  • “(F) facilitates a significant transfer of funds or property of the Government of North Korea that materially contributes to any violation of an applicable United Nations Security Council resolution;
  • “(G) transfers bulk cash, precious metals, gemstones, or other stores of value to or from North Korea;
  • “(H) sells crude oil, condensates, refined petroleum, other types of petroleum or petroleum byproducts, liquified natural gas, or other natural gas resources to North Korea (except for heavy fuel oil, gasoline, or diesel fuel for humanitarian use;
  • “(I) facilitates North Korea’s online commercial activities, including online gambling;
  • “(J) buys fishing rights from North Korea;
  • “(K) buys food or agricultural products from North Korea (whose people go hungry while Kim Jong-Un exports what they grow for hard currency);
  • “(L) facilitates the exportation of workers from North Korea;
  • “(M) engages in transactions involving North Korea’s transportation, mining, energy, or financial services industries;
  • “(N) facilitates the operation of any branch, subsidiary, or office of a North Korean financial institution.”

Some of those provisions (the coal cap) mirror U.N. sanctions, while others (food and textile exports) go beyond them. Other key provisions:

  • Section 314 imposes a potentially severe sanction on ports that don’t inspect North Korean cargo as required by UNSCR 2270, by authorizing enhanced customs inspections of shipments from those ports. Many shippers might prefer to ship through compliant ports instead of taking the risk that their merchandise might be held up in customs.
  • Section 315 imposes a sanction on shipping registries that reflag North Korean ships, in violation of UNSCR 2321. Ships flying those flags of convenience can be banned from U.S. waters. Shipping companies may well switch to other flags of convenience to avoid that consequence. That creates an incentive for registries to avoid North Korea’s business.
  • Section 321 allows the President to freeze the assets of companies that employ North Korean forced labor, and to sanction governments that permit the use of North Korean forced labor under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Goods made with North Korean labor or materials are presumed to be banned from the United States as products of forced labor, which may cause manufacturers to cleanse North Korean sources from their supply chains.

Most of the media attention is now on whether the President will veto the bill because of the Russia sanctions, but given the veto-proof margins by which it passed, it will probably become law sooner or later.

Before the Senate voted, there was also briefly a threat by Senator Corker to strip the North Korea sanctions out of the bill. Other than my own speculation, which I’ll keep to myself, I really don’t understand how the most popular part of this bill ended up becoming its most controversial part. I can’t credit the notion that “[n]ot a word of the North Korea bill” that the House passed by an overwhelming margin on May 4th “has been looked at” on the Senate side. It was also suggested that the Senate wanted a stronger bill, with resolution-of-disapproval language limiting the President’s authority to lift sanctions without Congress’s consent. But Congress previously wrote strict presidential certification conditions into the NKSPEA, and resolution-of-disapproval language may also be an unconstitutional legislative veto that would not be enforceable, and consequently, not worth fighting about. The only winners of an intra-partisan, inter-cameral fight are America’s enemies.

To the extent that the Senate would also like the House to vote on more of its legislation, that’s a perfectly reasonable request. For example, I hope (and believe) that the House will offer its strong support when Senator Van Hollen and Senator Toomey’s bipartisan BRINK Act comes up for a vote. The BRINK Act is easily the equal of either the NKSPEA or the KIMS Act in its toughness and sophistication, and I’m surprised that it hasn’t attracted the media attention it merits.

But it’s in the areas of human rights and freedom of information where the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is now needed most. It will have another opportunity to set the agenda when the North Korea Human Rights Reauthorization Act comes up for a vote this year. A House version of that reauthorization finally made it through committee markup yesterday and now heads for the full House floor. If the Senate amends the House’s bill to add language similar to former Congressman Salmon’s DPRK Act, calling for the administration to step up its information operations in North Korea, I’m absolutely confident that the House would support it.

So, despite this near miss, there is good news in yesterday’s vote. Just as Congress built the legislative framework for Iran sanctions in several layers, it has now added a second layer to its North Korea sanctions, identifying and closing off Pyongyang’s sources of hard currency, loophole by loophole. The third layer, the BRINK Act, is ready when Congress is. So for all the talk of North Korean money launderers’ indefatigable cunning, swiftness, and flexibility, Congress has (however improbably) shown that it can act in a bipartisan way with even greater speed, sophistication, and adaptability than Pyongyang. The greater shock to Pyongyang may be that small knots of sophisticated amateurs and investigative journalists have exposed much of its money laundering network. It is now up to the administration to destroy it.

Here, we arrive at my greatest concern. Last year, when Congress passed the NKSPEA by similarly overwhelming margins, my concern (well founded, as it turned out) was that the President would slow-walk enforcement. This year, we have an administration that seems to have the will to use the legal tools Congress has given it, and those tools are nearly all in place. Now, my concern is that the administration lacks sufficient time and resources to execute the strategy. It has not put enough intel analysts, investigators, lawyers, and diplomats on the job of enforcing the new sanctions, and the political appointees who must direct and coordinate it aren’t in place. No strategy can succeed unless this presidency overcomes the bureaucratic anarchy that has consumed it thus far. Who sees that happening now? When a presidency fails, the country fails with it.

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* For those wondering why new Iran sanctions don’t violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, take a look at the Treasury Department’s F.A.Q. on this subject. The JCPOA does not affect sanctions on Iran for, among other things, its sponsorship of terrorism, its proliferation, or its support for the Assad regime or the Houthis in Yemen.

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Pompeo, Malinowski, and The Change That Dare Not Speak Its Name

The failure of “engaging” North Korea into reform and peace, the madness of war, and the impossibility of coexisting with a nuclear North Korea are, however belatedly, causing more Americans to do some hard thinking about hastening our progression toward the post-Kim Jong-Un era. Last week, CIA Director Mike Pompeo (who speaks to the President about North Korea frequently) caused a stir in Washington and apoplexy in Pyongyang when he made comments at the Aspen Security Forum that hinted at this.

He continued, “So from the administration’s perspective, the most important thing we can do is separate those two. Right? Separate capacity and someone who might well have intent and break those two apart.”

Pompeo said both the intelligence community and the Department of Defense have been tasked with drafting plans for what “ultimately needs to be achieved” with regard to the North Korean nuclear threat.

When asked if he meant he was advocating regime change, Pompeo denied that was necessarily what he was talking about but seemed to suggest advocating Kim’s ouster. He said he believed the US could tackle “every piece” of the North Korean threat.

“As for the regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system,” Pompeo said. “The North Korean people I’m sure are lovely people and would love to see him go.”

During the question and answer portion of the event, Pompeo clarified he did not view Kim’s ouster as an “unadulterated good” for the US, and pointing to the unknown consequences, Pompeo asked, “What’s behind door number three?”

He went on to clarify that this was not an immediate task underway “to make happen tomorrow,” and said the challenge was to convince other nations on the issue. [CNN]

I’ve never made a secret of my desire to see the regime in Pyongyang altered or abolished, but I’ve never been fond of the term “regime change” in the North Korean context, either. When most people hear that term, they think of something I adamantly oppose — an invasion or a military attack. But as I’ve argued before, everyone but the most ardent North Korea apologists supports some plan to change this regime. Advocates of Sunshine and “engagement” policies were really selling a plan for gradual regime change — albeit one whose fatal flaw was its reliance on the cooperation of a regime determined to resist change at all costs, and that consequently took precautions to ensure that it would never happen. On the other extreme is the growing talk of changing the regime by force, which is just that, for now — talk, and talk that scares our friends more than it scares our enemies. 

Pompeo, by contrast, seems to be hinting at enabling internal opposition in North Korea, which is the kind of talk that makes Foreign Ministry officials in Pyongyang lose their shit.

“Should the U.S. dare to show even the slightest sign of attempt to remove our supreme leadership, we will strike a merciless blow at the heart of the U.S. with our powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, quoting a spokesman of the North Korean foreign ministry.

The report said Pompeo’s remarks “have gone over the line, and it has now become clear that the ultimate aim of the Trump administration … is the regime change.”

Those remarks display Pompeo’s “illiteracy about the DPRK and an explicit illustration of incompetence of the U.S. intelligence community,” the report also said, calling the country by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“If the supreme dignity of the DPRK is threatened, (North Korea) must preemptively annihilate those countries and entities that are directly or indirectly involved in it by mobilizing all kinds of strike means including the nuclear ones,” according to the KCNA.

“The likes of Pompeo will bitterly experience the catastrophic and miserable consequences caused by having dared to shake their little fists at the supreme leadership,” it said, referring to the country’s leader Kim Jong-un. [Yonhap]

Attention, Director Pompeo: this is how Pyongyang reacts when you’ve just said the very thing it fears more than it fears anything else. Just in case that knowledge might be useful to you in some way.

Pompeo’s statement is at variance with previous statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the U.S. (in CNN’s phasing) “was against forcing Kim out of power or the collapse of his government.” It also signals U.S. ambivalence about South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s ardent opposition to “regime change,” making this just the latest indication that Moon’s summit with Trump avoided disaster but ultimately bridged few real differences on THAAD, on USFK cost sharing, trade, or North Korea policy.

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In case you wondered if Pompeo was the lone person in our government who was receptive to doing more than wishing for the revolution that North Korea desperately needs, Tom Malinowski, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor during the Obama administration, has offered much more specific thoughts in an interesting op-ed in Politico. Malinowski became the one Obama administration official I liked and admired more than any other, despite my criticism of the broader reticence and incoherence of the administration’s North Korea policy. Behind the scenes, Malinowski fought to keep human rights on the administration’s North Korea policy agenda, and did it skillfully and effectively. Let’s start our discussion of Malinowski’s proposal with this interesting confirmation of one of the best things the Obama administration did:

At the State Department, I oversaw the U.S. government’s efforts to get information into North Korea. We funded defector-run radio stations, which had the added benefit of training North Koreans to be journalists. We saw an increase in North Koreans watching Chinese and South Korean TV, and supported groups producing shows North Koreans would find interesting (like reality shows about the daily experiences—good and bad—of defectors in the South). We helped non-governmental organizations that send in foreign movies and TV shows through the market trade, including one group that made cross-border deliveries by drone of specific films that North Koreans requested (we used to joke that we were running a peculiar version of Netflix for North Korea). A big priority was educating North Koreans on how to protect themselves from surveillance, and staying ahead of regime efforts to turn technology against its people. Last year, for example, we learned that North Korea had updated the operating system for its cellphones so that they could read media only with a government-approved digital signature; there should be a countermeasure for this (and hopefully for whatever the regime does to counter the countermeasure). [Tom Malinowski, Politico]

I certainly hope Rex Tillerson is carrying on with this, if only because the law calls on him to do so. This is the sort of direct, people-to-people engagement we should have started doing decades ago, rather than the people-to-minder engagement that filled Pyongyang’s coffers and validated its propaganda. What’s more, the change that Malinowski contemplates is not merely evolutionary, but revolutionary.

None of this means that effective political resistance is yet possible in North Korea. Its police state remains brutal and effective. But similar totalitarian regimes—Romania under Ceausescu, Libya under Qadhafi—have appeared just as impregnable, until they were not. Unpredictable events—a local riot that police hesitate to put down, a change in the health of the leader, the execution of the wrong person, a split in the security forces—can break open hidden cracks in what seems a solid foundation. Exposure to information is a predicate for this. Without it, North Koreans could not conceive an alternative to the present regime, or any way to attain it. With it, their regime becomes just an ordinary dictatorship, vulnerable to the sudden swings of fortune that all dictatorships eventually suffer.

That day will bring its own challenges. The Kim regime cannot “evolve” in the way communist China has because, again, it presides over an artificial country. If its people gain even a bit of freedom, the first question they will ask is the one East Germans asked in 1989: Why should they stay separated by minefields and machine gun nests from a vastly wealthier and freer version of themselves? So the regime must rule as it has or lose a country to rule. [Tom Malinowski, Politico]

Malinowski acknowledges and discusses the risks this will bring. But with Pyongyang validating on a weekly basis that it isn’t interested in a negotiated disarmament, the competing risks increasingly come down to nuclear war, global WMD proliferation, surrendering South Korea, or this. That’s driving The Change That Dare Not Speak Its Name out of closets on both sides of the hallway. Still, one senses some internal discord in Malinowski’s liberal vision of North Korea’s revolution.

But knowledge—about the prosperity and freedom of their fellow Koreans south of the DMZ, and about the abnormality of their own suffering—is spreading among North Koreans. We are learning more about them, too—they are not brainwashed, “robotic” denizens of an “ant colony,” as they are so often described. They are resilient, increasingly entrepreneurial people with normal aspirations, who will some day want a say in the fate of their country.

No one can predict when and how Kim’s hold will weaken, and it would be foolish to think we can force change from the outside. So if anyone reading this has fantasies about setting up governments in exile or fomenting coups or calling for uprisings, please put them aside—that kind of talk will only get people inside North Korea killed. There are, however, forces in play within North Korea that will probably lead to the end of its regime and its reason to exist as a country. Political change in Pyongyang and the reunification of Korea, as hard as it may be to imagine, is actually much more likely than the denuclearization of the present regime. The central aim of our strategy should be to foster conditions that enable this natural, internal process to move faster, while preparing ourselves, our allies and the North Korean people for the challenges we will face when change comes. [Tom Malinowski, Politico]

It’s hard for me to see how North Koreans can challenge Pyongyang in the way Malinowski describes elsewhere in his essay and survive the experience without eventually resorting to force of arms. I really wish there was another way. Yes, much of the most important work of quietly breaking the North Korean people free of Pyongyang’s control can and should be done peacefully, by sanctioning the regime even as we help the poor build a shadow banking system and government. We should do everything Malinowski proposes and hope that it works just as he suggests it will. 

But if it doesn’t, how much further should we go? One should never resort to violence to do what can be done without violence. One should never support a greater amount of violence than is necessary to preempt something worse — say, a nuclear war, or crimes against humanity that the oxymoron sometimes called the “international community” has consistently failed to respond to. One must never support those — such as those in power in Pyongyang now — who target noncombatants or violate the laws of armed conflict. One must always leave a way open to a negotiated peace that ends the violence as quickly as possible, provided that the terms are likely to result in a real and lasting peace. And if change must come to North Korea from within, then it will only come when the North Korean people themselves are ready to demand it.

But eventually, change will come. Historically, totalitarian states have either reformed or perished, and Pyongyang is determined to resist reform, and may soon be in desperate need of other people’s money. If you can see past the disinformed reporting from Pyongyang that shows the North Korean people as automatons, there is ample evidence of discontent among the elites (over Kim Jong-Un’s purges) and the poor (over the regime’s corruption and brutality, and economic inequality). It’s fair to infer that if diplomats, elite workers, elite students, border guards, money launderers, senior officials from the security forces, and soldiers are defecting and deserting in growing numbers, many others must also be discontented. A regime that is so despised that a party member and his entire family prefer to take cyanide than be sent back there suggests the existence of profound discontent. We cannot do reliable public opinion polling in North Korea, for obvious reasons, though some have made admirable efforts to do so. Eventually, however, one must acknowledge that the plural of “anecdote” is “data.”

The day the North Korean people are given the technological means to coalesce around their grievances, the regime’s capacity to suppress dissent will be overwhelmed, the myths on which this regime built its foundations will erode, and the regime’s days will be numbered. Then, we will transition from the current crisis to the next one.

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The North Korea travel ban, PUST, and the failure of people-to-minder engagement

Earlier this week, the State Department announced that it will publish a Federal Register notice in the next 30 days, restricting the use of U.S. passports for travel to North Korea, where Americans tend to end up getting arrested, detained for prolonged periods, and lately, much worse. If State will implement the ban through a Federal Register notice, it means it will be done pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act under some existing statutory authority — almost certainly this one:

§211a. Authority to grant, issue, and verify passports

The Secretary of State may grant and issue passports, and cause passports to be granted, issued, and verified in foreign countries by diplomatic and consular officers of the United States, and by such other employees of the Department of State who are citizens of the United States as the Secretary of State may designate, and by the chief or other executive officer of the insular possessions of the United States, under such rules as the President shall designate and prescribe for and on behalf of the United States, and no other person shall grant, issue, or verify such passports. Unless authorized by law, a passport may not be designated as restricted for travel to or for use in any country other than a country with which the United States is at war, where armed hostilities are in progress, or where there is imminent danger to the public health or the physical safety of United States travellers.

My favorite reaction was Bruce Klingner’s:

 

It would be a simple matter to let Americans exercise that right as they saw fit if the U.S. government — and the taxpayers who elect it, fund it, and expect it to make foreign policy to protect them — were willing to forfeit their reckless countrymen to Pyongyang’s jails, or to Darwin’s cull. It is our virtue (or to some, our weakness) that we hold the lives of our fellow citizens too dear for this. Thus, Pyongyang’s hostage-taking makes too much work for our diplomats, pilots, presidents, and ex-presidents. And it implicitly restrains our policy decisions to know that Pyongyang may harm our citizens to punish or intimidate the rest of us.

That is to say, the cost of these detentions isn’t just paid by the person who takes a foolish risk and gets himself arrested. The cost is paid by every U.S. taxpayer, and by every American, South Korean (and lest we forget, North Korean) with an interest in having the U.S. government execute a coherent policy, unencumbered by Pyongyang’s hostage diplomacy. And if that policy is “maximum pressure,” a passport restriction isn’t that by a mile.

For one thing, the passport restriction will reportedly allow for “special validations” for humanitarian and journalistic travel, even if we should hope those validations will be granted judiciously. After all, Pyongyang has also taken American aid workers and journalists hostage. And even if you could argue that all of these arrestees did stupid things to get themselves arrested, none of those stupid things justified lengthy detentions (much less what Pyongyang did to Otto Warmbier).

A passport restriction will deter the sort of casual, morally frivolous traveler who goes to North Korea knowing too little about the place, but it will be easy to evade for those with deeper (as in, political or financial) motives. Dual nationals can simply use a third-country passport. Don’t expect the North Koreans to obligingly stamp the passports of paying customers or prospective hostages just for the convenience of the U.S. Department of State.

 

Nor is this action likely to have more than a minimal effect on Pyongyang’s accumulation of its preferred currency, the dollar. A passport restriction won’t impact Pyongyang’s income from Chinese, Canadian, and European tourists who pay dollars for their tours, flights, and hotels. It also won’t close the legal loophole in the Treasury Department’s designation of Air Koryo, which has a long history of smuggling missile parts and luxury goods. You can accuse the U.S. government of many things, but never of well-synchronized inter-agency policy (which is why my first reaction to most conspiracy theories is laughter).

To do these things would require a ban on transactions incident to travel to, from, and within North Korea. That, however, would have required special legislation like the North Korea Travel Control Act, or the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which was the legal vehicle for the Cuba travel ban. Whenever Congress is ready for that, I could do them one better by slapping a secondary immigration sanction on North Korea, one that would make any recent non-U.S.-citizen travelers to North Korea ineligible for admission into the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. 

Still, the restriction will have some value. To the extent that Americans go to such lengths to visit North Korea and get themselves arrested, it will at least be easier for us all to shrug and say, “You can’t fix stupid,” and get on with implementing our policy. Speaking of things you can’t fix, the organizers of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, who have sacrificed two hostages to His Porcine Majesty (so far!), are already clamoring for an exception to the passport restrictions.

The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, whose faculty includes 60 to 80 foreigners throughout the academic year — half of whom are Americans — would likely have to suspend operations if it did not receive an exemption from the forthcoming restriction, according to Colin McCulloch, the institution’s director of external relations.

“If we didn’t get an exception, we would basically have to stop our work,” McCulloch, who has taught business, economics and English at the school since it first opened to North Korean students in 2010, told ABC News. “That’s how serious it would be. Because we would not be able to provide enough personnel.” [ABC News]

The State Department’s answer to this should be immediate and emphatic: “Good!” Every PUST faculty member is the next potential hostage. All of them should come home immediately.

Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name, Kim Sang-duk, taught accounting at the university before he was detained at an airport in April and charged with unspecified hostile criminal acts, and Kim Hak-song was held in May after spending several weeks doing “agricultural development work with PUST’s experimental farm,” the university said at the time. He was also charged with unspecified “hostile acts.”

There are also long-standing concerns, supported by recent defectors, that PUST’s computer science instruction is helping to train Pyongyang’s hackers. PUST denies this without explaining how it could possibly know better. 

Wesley Brewer, an American who has taught computer science at PUST since 2010 and now serves as the institution’s vice president of research, said that the arrests shook the university community and affected him deeply. He told ABC News now looked like a good time for him to take a long-planned sabbatical.

“Being an American there, you feel like you’re standing right in between the two countries and maybe preventing some kind of moving forward, in terms of diplomatically,” Brewer said.

Brewer splits his time between Seoul and Pyongyang and spoke from Jackson, Mississippi, where he was visiting a church that supports his work. “I just felt like with the heightened tensions, it seemed it would be wiser to step back and let things settle down before re-engaging,” he said. 

Finally, paragraph 11 of UNSCR 2321, approved last November, requires all member states to suspend scientific and technical cooperation with North Korea pending a full review for potential proliferation concerns. The U.S. government should not only withdraw its people, licenses, and permits from PUST, it should encourage other member states to do likewise. We can’t ask other governments to implement sanctions we aren’t implementing fully ourselves.

Naturally, self-interested tour guides who profit from leading lambs to the slaughter and worshippers to the altars of despots complain that State is cutting off avenues for engagement. But this is the sort of people-to-minder engagement that has never changed North Korea for the better, and arguably reinforces what is worst about it: its Manichean, supremacist xenophobia.

Many of the most egregious apologists make a point of mocking the excesses of the North’s official culture. I have encountered two so far — one in print, one in the flesh — who have talked of the uncontrollable laughing fit they suffered while touring a site sacred to the personality cult. They seem to think this proves that their critical faculty is as developed as anyone else’s.

It does not. On the contrary: To be an apologist for North Korea, you have to treat its ideology as a bit of a joke. If you take the personality cult seriously, you cannot fail to see the impossibility of the North’s ever reconciling itself to a South that ignores it. And if you take the bellicose, racist and sexist propaganda seriously, you cannot at the same time reassure yourself that this is a communist or “reactive” or “survivalist” state; or that it is arming out of mere fear of the US; or that it will behave if we only appease it enough.

Least of all can you take its ideology seriously and still believe that by traveling to the country, you are helping to subvert the locals’ worldview. To grasp the official culture is to understand how perfectly the humble, wreath-laying foreigner fits into it.

All agencies operating tours in North Korea preach an extremely apologetic line in regard to the country, both on their websites and during the tours themselves. Whether they really believe it or only pretend to do so is beside the point. [Brian Myers]

A passport restriction is, if nothing else, a welcome acknowledgment that our experiments in people-to-minder engagement have failed. It will reduce the pool of hostages available to Pyongyang and put a small crimp in its supply of dollars. Perhaps, by taking the first and most controversial step of banning American tourist travel to North Korea, the State Department has also cleared Congress’s way to pass a travel transaction ban, which would have a far broader impact on Pyongyang’s finances.

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OFK Exclusive: House, Senate move new North Korea sanctions legislation

Last year, Ed Royce, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Cory Gardner, Chairman of the Senate Asia Subcommittee, led the charge to cut Pyongyang’s access to the hard currency that sustains it by drafting and passing the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act. We’ve known all along that nothing short of presenting Kim Jong-Un with an existential choice — disarm and reform, or perish — would create the conditions for a negotiated disarmament of North Korea, assuming that’s still possible. And we’ve always known that it would take several years for even aggressively enforced sanctions to present Pyongyang with that choice.

One nuclear test and multiple missile tests later, neither international compliance with U.N. resolutions nor (until very recently) U.S. enforcement of the NKSPEA has been enough to either change Kim Jong-Un’s mind or weaken his hold on power. Congress now seeks to raise the pressure on Pyongyang by closing loopholes in existing sanctions, attacking its developing sources of income (textiles, fisheries, and labor exports), catching U.S. law up with new U.N. sanctions, and most importantly, increasing penalties for foreign banks and governments that (for various reasons) haven’t complied with the U.N. resolutions.

Ed Royce continues to lead this effort with the KIMS Act, which passed the House overwhelmingly in May, and which has now been merged into Title III of the Russia, Iran and North Korea Sanctions Act of 2017, or RINKSA. But the foreign affairs committees can only go so far in attacking Pyongyang’s cash flow through financial regulation before the parliamentarians in Congress give primary jurisdiction over a bill to the financial services committees. Some of the most important remaining sanctions loopholes are within the banking committees’ jurisdiction.

Introducing S.1591, the BRINK Act

An unlikely champion has stepped into this void in the form of Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a liberal Democrat who sits on the Senate Banking Committee. I say “unlikely,” because historically, it hasn’t been liberal Democrats who’ve led Congress’s efforts to raise the pressure on Pyongyang. This would be a good time to abandon any assumption that Democrats are soft on North Korea. Now, Van Hollen and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania have introduced S.1591, the Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea Act, or BRINK Act, of 2017.  The text of the bill, which you can read herehasn’t been posted on GovTrack or Congress.gov, although the bill itself was introduced several days ago. At the outset, I’ll just get this bit of full disclosure out of the way. I’ve had some discussions with Senator Van Hollen’s staff about this bill, and ….

The BRINK Act is a tough and sophisticated piece of legislation. It will be a strong complement to both the NKSPEA and the RINKSA. This post will discuss its key provisions, starting with the definitions. A very important new one that appears in multiple places in the bill is “North Korean covered property:”

That definition potentially covers just about every transaction the North Korean government profits from. The key question, of course, is whether the U.S. can reach any given transaction in NKCP — either because a U.S. person (or a foreign subsidiary) is a party to the transaction, or because part of that transaction occurs in the United States (most likely, because a financial transaction is cleared through a U.S. correspondent bank, or because a product seeks to enter U.S. commerce).

Another significant definition is “knowingly,” which includes circumstances in which a party to the transaction “should have known” that it was prohibited.

Section 101 of the BRINK Act creates a blacklist of Chinese and other foreign banks that are failing their due diligence obligations to prevent North Korea from accessing the financial system, or are helping North Korea evade sanctions by facilitating offshore dollar clearing, or dealing with North Korea in precious metals or other stores of value. It then provides a list of sanctions that restrict the access of those banks to the U.S. financial market, add additional civil penalties to the criminal penalties under 31 U.S.C. 5322, or (at worst) block their assets here.

Like all of the sanctions under the BRINK Act, this sanction can be suspended if North Korea makes progress toward disarmament and accounting for American POW/MIAs, and can be lifted when North Korea completes that disarmament and accounting.

Section 102 requires any transactions in North Korean covered property within U.S. jurisdiction (involving a U.S. person or occurring in whole or in part in the United States) to be licensed by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. As we’ve learned from recent actions by the Justice Department, North Korea’s banks, smugglers, and money launderers — and their Chinese bankers — tend to evade OFAC licensing requirements, despite their preference for dealing in U.S. dollars. Under this provision, any unlicensed transactions in NKCP are punishable by a $5 million fine and 20 years in prison. More importantly, the proceeds of unlicensed transactions, and property “involved in” unlicensed transactions, will be subject to forfeiture. In most cases, that’s the only form of “punishment” we have the power to impose on the targets of these activities.

Section 103 authorizes sanctions against providers of specialized financial messaging services to North Korean financial institutions, a topic I previously covered here, here, and here.

Section 104 authorizes new sanctions against foreign governments that fail to comply with U.N. sanctions, such as those that require member states to freeze the property and close the offices of designated North Korean entities (KOMID, Korea Kwangson Bank, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, Bureau 39, etc.), to expel representatives of North Korean banks and North Korean diplomats who engage in arms trafficking, and to deregister North Korean ships. For governments identified as noncompliant, the U.S. can limit exports of goods or technology to those countries, withhold foreign aid, and instruct our diplomats to vote against them getting IMF, World Bank, and other international loans. This provision may well put teeth into sections 313 and 317 of the RINKSA (discussed below) and broadens the sanctions authorities of section 203 of the NKSPEA. 

Section 105 authorizes grants for governmental and non-governmental organizations that currently provide the U.S. government with much of its actionable intelligence on North Korea money laundering — the U.N. Panel of Experts, and private groups like the Center for Advanced Defense Studies and Sayari Analytics. (Again, this complements a provision in the RINKSA — specifically, section 323, which provides rewards for informants who provide information leading to the arrest of persons responsible for North Korean money laundering or cyber attacks).

Section 106 requires a report on North Korea’s use of beneficial ownership rules to mask its interests in property (previously discussed here).

Section 107 directs the President to team up with the World Bank’s stolen assets recovery initiative to go out and find the hidden, ill-gotten gains of Kim Jong-Un and his minions, wherever in the world they can be found, block them, and release them for humanitarian use.

Section 108 will undoubtedly create headlines in South Korea — it urges South Korea not to reopen Kaesong until North Korea completely, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantles its nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons systems and any systems for delivering them.

Sections 201 through 204 call on and encourage assets and pension fund managers to divest from companies that have investments in North Korea, and immunize those fund managers from suit for any such divestment.

The KIMS Act becomes Title III of the RINKSA

For a while, it looked like all that would survive of the KIMS Act in the Senate was an untitled bill called S.1562, which removed most of the KIMS Act’s toughest provisions except for secondary sanctions on North Korea’s labor exports. But last week, S.1562 was referred, ironically enough, to the Banking Committee, taking it out of the hands of Foreign Relations. More importantly, the White House is also signaling its support for a newer bill, the Russia, Iran, and North Korea Sanctions Act. The RINKSA incorporates nearly all of the KIMS Act into Title III (full text here; scroll down to page 144).

Bob Corker, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has expressed some concern about how easy it will be to pass a bill that big this year. I don’t have the knowledge to say whether this was a good tactical move or not, so I’ll defer to the congressional leadership on that point. (Some of us are keenly aware that Congress still has to reauthorize the North Korean Human Rights Act this year, or it will expire.) Instead, I’ll describe the provisions of Title III in a bit more detail than I described the KIMS Act before.

Section 311 amends the key provision of the NKSPEA, section 104, to expand both the mandatory sanctions of section 104(a) and the discretionary sanctions of NKSPEA 104(b). Mandatory sanctions would now apply to purchases of precious metals from North Korea, selling aviation or rocket fuel to North Korea, providing bunkering services for any U.N.- or U.S.-designated ship, reflagging North Korean ships, or providing correspondent services to any North Korean bank (Title III, section 312, also codifies a prohibition on providing indirect correspondent account services to North Korean banks).

Section 311 also expands the President’s discretionary authority to designate and sanction persons who violate U.N. sanctions, and U.S. regulations and executive orders, that apply to North Korea. These new, discretionary authorities also authorize the President to designate persons who purchase more coal and iron ore than U.N. limits allow, who purchase textiles or food products from North Korea, who transfer bulk cash or other stores of value to North Korea, and who export crude oil to North Korea (humanitarian exports of gasoline, diesel, and heavy fuel oil are exempt). Other new sanctions authorities apply to North Korea’s online gambling, sale of fishing rights, labor exports, and banking, transportation, and energy sectors.

Some of these areas are already subject to the potential for asset freezes under Executive Order 13722, but designations under section 104(a) or 104(b) of the NKSPEA can have additional and more severe consequences.

Sections 313 and 317 are secondary sanctions provisions applicable to governments that aren’t complying with U.N. sanctions. Section 313 amends and strengthens NKSPEA 203 sanctions against governments that engage in arms deals with North Korea, by denying them most foreign assistance. Section 317 creates a blacklist of noncompliant governments, which would dovetail nicely with the sanctions provisions of section 104 of the BRINK Act.

Section 314 expands the President’s authority to increase customs inspections for cargo coming from ports that fail to inspect all cargo going to or coming from North Korea, as required by UNSCR 2270. This provision is a secondary shipping sanction. It presents a very real risk that cargo coming to the U.S. from noncompliant ports may be held up longer in Customs, which could cause shippers to take their business elsewhere. As with all secondary sanctions, it forces third-country entities to choose between doing business with the U.S., or with North Korea. It also provides a list of suspect ports in China, Russia, Iran, and Syria that would be first in line to blacklisted for additional inspections.

Section 315 is another secondary shipping sanction, and a very tough one indeed — ships flagged by countries that reflag North Korean ships (a violation of UNSCR 2270 and 2321) could be denied access to U.S. ports and waterways. Vessels that have visited North Korea recently, for other than strictly humanitarian purposes, could also be banned.

Section 316 orders a report on WMD cooperation between North Korea and Iran.

Section 318 orders a report on whether SWIFT and other providers of specialized financial messaging continue to service North Korean banks, including those designated by the U.N.

Section 321 is a set of powerful sanctions against employers of North Korean labor and the sellers of products made with North Korean labor. It subjects those employers to potential sanctions under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act or the freezing of their assets. Governments that allow the use of North Korean labor could also see their TVPA status drop. A rebuttable presumption would apply to any goods made with North Korean materials or labor, excluding from U.S. commerce under section 307 of the Tariff Act.

Section 323 provides for the government to pay rewards to informers — whether these be defectors or NGOs — that provide information leading to the arrest of North Korean money launderers or persons responsible for cyber attacks.

Section 324 again raises the pressure on the State Department to declare North Korea to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

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Both of these bills attempt to attack North Korea’s third-country enablers. Legislation of this kind is necessarily creative and complex because it’s not always obvious how the U.S. can reach North Korea’s income while minimizing harm to legitimate commerce and to the North Korean people. If the target only does business with North Korea, then our next option is to target the bankers, shippers, and insurers that deal with the primary target and force them to choose between access to the U.S. or the North Korean economy. The most common ways we can influence the conduct of these enablers are (1) prohibiting U.S. persons and their subsidiaries from dealing with the target; (2) denying the target access to U.S. financial markets, trade, foreign assistance, and technology. Clearly, the U.S. has a stronger case when it enforces the terms of a U.N. Security Council resolution than when it acts alone.

While it may be too difficult to merge RINKSA Title III and the BRINK Act at this point in the congressional calendar, the two bills would go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Minor inconsistencies between the two will likely be resolved by amendments to the BRINK Act. I’ll defer to others how best to enact them, but each bill serves important purposes in making sanctions work, and in presenting Kim Jong-Un with that existential choice.

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