2003 June 19 Thursday
North Korean Leaders: Let Them Eat Sneakers
The Pyongyang North Korea regime's latest move is reminiscent of pre-revolutionary France: Let them eat sneakers.
TOKYO - The North Korean government this year failed to distribute to citizens the special ration package of eggs and grains it normally gives on Kim Il Sung's birthday, April 15. Instead, North Koreans got coupons for discounts on purchases of cookies and footwear.
How bad are things getting in North Korea? Somewhat implausibly, some aid workers think the conditions in North Korea have improved.
Overall, relief workers report that malnutrition has diminished in North Korea, although significant pockets remain.
"The nutrition status has improved," says Oh Jae Shik, a World Vision International regional director in Seoul who visited North Korea in March. "The children are beginning to have smiles, and they're much more active and running around."
By contrast, Kathi Zellweger of Catholic charity group Caritas sees deterioration of the conditions in North Korea.
"We at Caritas also have indications that the situation is slipping back into a much more difficult period," Zellweger told Reuters in an interview in Seoul. "We have horrendous difficulties in raising money to help North Korea."
Zellweger thinks sanctions may fall mainly on the most powerless people in North Korea.
In Seoul on Monday, Kathi Zellweger, an official of the Catholic relief group Caritas, warned that economic restrictions on North Korea could cause a famine similar to one that killed hundreds of thousands in 1994-95. "Confrontation, isolation and sanctions hurt the wrong people most of the time," she said.
One plausible objection to sanctions is that they might starve to death hundreds of thousands of North Koreans while not bringing down the regime. This brings us to the question of why the South Korean government is opposed to sanctions. What do they want to avoid more, the starvation, North Korean regime collapse, or an attack by North Korea on the South? It is not clear. But I suspect they want to avoid regime collapse and also fear attack while the desire to avoid the starvation is a secondary but real consideration.
In China's case the motives of their leaders are a lot more obvious: they want to avoid North Korean regime collapse. Why? First of all, they want North Korea as a defense buffer. Also, and perhaps more importantly in their minds they do not want their own populace to witness the collapse of a regime on a bordering country followed by the establishment of a democracy which then goes on to become very prosperous.
As for whether sanctions really could bring down the regime: partial sanctions raise the risk of making conditions bad enough in North Korea that some of the people starve while the regime's key supporters remain well fed and loyal. But a severe sanctions regime could probably bring down the regime and do it quickly enough to minimize deaths from hunger. Since the collapse of the regime would be followed by massive aid shipments the total death rate would drop so far that within several months the number of people alive in North Korea would exceed the number who would be alive if the regime remained in power.
The South Korean government continues to try to avoid formal sanctions against North Korea.
''Various forms of pressure on North Korea — I wouldn't call them sanctions but rather diplomatic pressure — would get the North to change its mind,'' said South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun in an interview with Seoul's CBS radio.
This is unreasonable. North Korea's regime is not going to respond to diplomatic pressure. It will ignore any move that does not threaten to materially hurt it.
Kim Jong-il sees that the United States and Japan are just not going to appease him anymore. However, Kim probably thinks he can survive off of continued aid from South Korea and China.
Some leading South Korean analysts suspect Kim believes he can hold onto some nuclear weapons and still squeeze enough aid from China and South Korea to keep his regime afloat, if only barely.
The United States is going to continue to organize measures with Japan, Australia, and other allies to reduce sources of income for North Korea. Will these measures be enough to bring down the regime? Will the United States manage to get South Korea to at least partially reduce aid to North Korea? The US is probably more likely to succeed in getting the South Korean government to get moderately tougher with North Korea than it is to succeed in getting China to cut back on aid to North Korea.
There is one benefit to even partial reductions of aid to North Korea: worsening economic conditions in North Korea are causing the regime to allow a larger private sector.
With North Korea's main sources of hard currency in danger of running dry and its isolation growing, experts say the regime needs the farmers' markets more than ever to keep goods and money circulating.
"I think it's irreversible change," said Scott Snyder of the Asia Foundation office in Seoul. "But does it add up to the type of reform that would make North Korea a viable and competitive system? The verdict is still out."
The biggest problem that the United States has with North Korea is time. Can the US turn enough screws against North Korea to bring down the regime or to get the regime to cave on the nuclear issue before North Korea gets a lot of nukes? Maybe but this is by no means certain. So far the debate has mostly revolved around whether to do sanctions, launch a preemptive military attack against North Korean nuclear facilities, or negotiate. There are problems with each approach. The US can not get crucial support from China and South Korea for sanctions. China is still allowing North Korea to send missile delivery flights over China to Iran.
“The Iranian cargo planes that took off from Sunan Airport flew over China and central Asian countries,” an intelligence source said. “The planes headed directly to Iran.”
A preemptive strike will not work because the US does not know the locations of all of North Korea's nuclear facilities. North Korea has uranium enrichment centrifigures (probably purchased from Pakistan btw) and yet US intelligence agencies do not know where they are.
Negotiations will not work because the North Korean regime sees no need to give up its nuclear program in negotiations. It accepted the 1994 Framework Accord and yet was working on uranium enrichment while Bill Clinton and Kim Dae-jung were still steering US and South Korean policy toward North Korea in a friendly direction.
When one's existing list of policy options are not sufficient to solve a problem then it is time to create some new options. There are two options that I think the US ought to pursue against North Korea: A) find ways to corrupt and compromise members of the North Korean regime and B) find ways to break the information monopoly that the North Korean regime has over its people. The US needs to run a set of massive covert operations to bribe and compromise regime members living abroad and to try to bribe and corrupt border guards and officials in the regime. The US also needs to pursue many approaches to getting books and radios into North Korea and in conjunction with that effort more radio broadcast towers should be set up to beam more channels of news, music, and commentary into North Korea.
The United States could pursue many different approaches to getting books and radios into North Korea. Ships and submarines could release sealed plastic pouches of books and radios to float up onto the North Korean beaches. It could also pay smugglers in Russia and China to smuggle in books and radios. It could also plant books and radios onto North Korean freighters when those freighters visit ports in other countries.
By Randall Parker at 2003 June 19 12:56 PM
I've come across Oh Jae Shik, the World Vision Source, before. He's a somewhat left of center church figure. Copy this into your address bar to bring up a Google search on him.
Oh Jae Shik
That doesn't mean that what he says is or isn't true. Just some background on what he does, as collateral info.
I remember totally fisking one an editorial Ells Culver (who's also mentioned in the Crosswalks piece) wrote to some paper a while back (I wish I could find both the post and the original article, but Blogger ate my archive). Anyway, it was a complete apology for North Korea, and I remember it ending with something like this - "After WWII, we gave Germany everything it needed, so couldn't we do the same with North Korea?" I'm sure you see the problem with the analogy, so I won't refisk it here.
To be fair, aid organizations in North Korea are in a difficult situation - even if they know how crappy things are up there, they can't be completely honest and expect the North Korean gov't to let them continue their work.
As far as "compromising" Nork officials is concerned, it's an interesting idea, but one that's extremely difficult given the North's paranoia about contact with evil foreigners. Even North Korean exchange students in China are strictly separated from their classmates, and excess contact with non-North Koreans will get you sent right back to the Workers'Paradise. That's not to say that it's not possible - apparently, the US has been somewhat successful in getting North Korean officials abroad to jump ship. Getting guys inside North Korea, however, is a different matter. I'd like to read further suggestions as to how this might be accomplished.
On corrupting North Korean officials: even attempts to do so will cause Kim Jong-il to doubt the loyalty of his lieutenants. That alone has value for us. We need to play with their heads in a big way using money. Picture the US releasing a document with a long list of North Koreans in semi-elite positions (with some power but low enough down the totem pole that life is no bed of roses). Picture the document stating "Help overthrow your government and you will be eligible for awards ranging from $50,000 to $1 million dollars each". Various things that they are expected to do for that money could be published. e.g. provide the location of the uranium centrifuges. Provide information about ship dates of smuggled drugs. Surely many other things can be thought of.
Once some guy does one of those things and sneaks out of North Korea he should be shown on TV broadcasts into North Korea sitting behind the wheel of an expensive sports car and proclaiming how much he has in the bank.
North Korea has embassies. There ought to be CIA agents in every city around the world where there are such embassies who walk up to North Korean embassy workers and just slip them some 20 dollar bills (not a lot; 5, 10, 20) or some bills in the local currency of whatever country they are in. Do not ask anything in return. Just give money to individual guys. Maybe a note on little things they can do that will get them more money. Tell them the CIA will set up bank accounts for them.
As for breaking the information monopoly: This also seems doable in many ways. Does the wind ever blow from South to North? Could balloons be released from the South that would carry radios over North Korea? If the SK appeasement brigade won't cooperate then it could even be done from offshore locations using prevailing winds. The balloons could be designed to descend after 5, 10, 20 hours. Some would come down where only one person would find them. They could be released to float over into North Korea at night. They could be released on cloudy days so they wouldn't be seen for most of their trips.
The key here is to be creative. North Koreans leave North Korea on ships. Well, put radios on ships. Put books on them. CIA agents could do that in various ports. Also, cooperating countries could take each North Korean ship crew member and separate each one for questioning outside the hearing of the other crew members. Offers could be made. Questions could be asked.
The regime should be put into the position where any North Korean who leaves the country will get offers and, for non-diplomats in countries friendly to the US, will be questioned. Low level people do not have to be offered a lot. They just have to be offered something and encouraged to find ways to get info that will be worth more.
The NK regime gets food shipments. Why shouldn't random bags have radios and books inside them? Even if local officials find much of it occasionally an official will hide what he finds and read or tune in. Extend more temptations and more will be tempted.
Randall, Thank you for spreading the idea of breaking the information blockade. Its the only thing that can work. Some of your ideas are good, some probably would not work.. But we do need to break Kim Jong Il's stranglehold on information coming in to North Korea. Its the only method of solving the North Korea situation that doesnt kill millions of people.
Let me give you my comments on your suggestions one by one..
"On corrupting North Korean officials: even attempts to do so will cause Kim Jong-il to doubt the loyalty of his lieutenants. That alone has value for us. We need to play with their heads in a big way using money."
You forget that any North Korea who leaves North Korea has to have family members who are left behind as hostages. That plays with their heads far more than any money would.. For example, all of the Pleasure Team girls are married off to the children of top Party cadres when they age out of the Pleasure Team at age 25. Then their husbands are sent out of the country. Under North Korea's system of collective punishment, 3 generations of somebody's family is punished when somebody commits a political crime like defecting. This usually means internal exile to one of the huge political prisoner camps like Yodok, places where one is lucky to survive more than a few years. A terrible fate for your parents, children and siblings, dont you think?
"Picture the US releasing a document with a long list of North Koreans in semi-elite positions (with some power but low enough down the totem pole that life is no bed of roses). Picture the document stating "Help overthrow your government and you will be eligible for awards ranging from $50,000 to $1 million dollars each". Various things that they are expected to do for that money could be published. e.g. provide the location of the uranium centrifuges. Provide information about ship dates of smuggled drugs. Surely many other things can be thought of."
This would just play into the NK propaganda of the US as a corrupt place where the dollar rules everything.. I don't think that it would work.
"Once some guy does one of those things and sneaks out of North Korea he should be shown on TV broadcasts into North Korea sitting behind the wheel of an expensive sports car and proclaiming how much he has in the bank."
Well, there are no TV broadcasts into North Korea from outside. North Korean televisions only receive the state channel, and they are inspected periodically- as are radios, to ensure that they have not been illegally modified. Plus they need electricity, which is in short supply...
Still, I think that it might make sense to broadcast TV into North Korea on the government channel.. But radio is more productive.. TV signals which require VHF and UHF frequencies, dont travel very far relative to AM radio..
"North Korea has embassies. There ought to be CIA agents in every city around the world where there are such embassies who walk up to North Korean embassy workers and just slip them some 20 dollar bills (not a lot; 5, 10, 20) or some bills in the local currency of whatever country they are in. Do not ask anything in return. Just give money to individual guys. Maybe a note on little things they can do that will get them more money. Tell them the CIA will set up bank accounts for them."
This is sort of the Cold War approach and it probably wont work.. Dont forget, if they get caught taking that money, they are dead, plain and simple. Even if they are in a Western country, they will inject them with a serious tranquilizer, put them in a body cast and ship them back to Pyongyang for torture and then summary execution.. The North Koreans dont fuck around..
"As for breaking the information monopoly: This also seems doable in many ways. Does the wind ever blow from South to North?"
yes, in the summer..
"Could balloons be released from the South that would carry radios over North Korea?"
Yes, people are doing this and have been doing it for 50 years..
"If the SK appeasement brigade won't cooperate then it could even be done from offshore locations using prevailing winds. The balloons could be designed to descend after 5, 10, 20 hours. Some would come down where only one person would find them. They could be released to float over into North Korea at night. They could be released on cloudy days so they wouldn't be seen for most of their trips."
yes, yes, yes.. YES
"The key here is to be creative. North Koreans leave North Korea on ships. Well, put radios on ships. Put books on them. CIA agents could do that in various ports. Also, cooperating countries could take each North Korean ship crew member and separate each one for questioning outside the hearing of the other crew members. Offers could be made. Questions could be asked."
This is already happening and this is why the North Koreans are cutting back on their ferries to Japan. The Japanese are beginning to realize that the thing the North Korean government fears most is exposure and outside information..
"The regime should be put into the position where any North Korean who leaves the country will get offers and, for non-diplomats in countries friendly to the US, will be questioned."
This has logistical problems on some levels but I think the core concept is a good one..
"Low level people do not have to be offered a lot. They just have to be offered something and encouraged to find ways to get info that will be worth more."
How much would someone have to pay you for you to agree to have your whole family killed.. Get the idea?
"The NK regime gets food shipments. Why shouldn't random bags have radios and books inside them? Even if local officials find much of it occasionally an official will hide what he finds and read or tune in. Extend more temptations and more will be tempted."
Yes, this would work.. Its a shame that the SK government is so stupid.. But it all makes sense when you realize that the biggest thing they fear is the NK regime disintegrating.. They fear that SK will have to finance the rebuilding of North Korea..
Realistically, in order to get the South Korean government on board we need to agree, in advance, to shoulder some of the burden..
We would also have to agree to not exercise the military option under any circumstance.. I dont think that that is realistic.. So we may have to pursue this on our own.. But we have to, on a massive scale, or any day now the North Koreans will have the bomb and its also quite possible that they will attack South Korea to prevent the inevitable economic assimilation if they dont..
We have to be strong, keep a strong deterrent, and break that information blockade in any way we can.
And since they are starving, and are told from birth to hate us, why dont we drop some food along with those radios.. Of course the government will say it is poison, but when it is proven to be food, the government will look even more ridiculous.. they would rather that their own people starve than eat 'enemy' food.. even if the government doesnt provide food either.. (actually the NK government uses food as a weapon, and they are using government policy to starve people in large sections of the country.. the places where people with 'bad family background' are sent to..
So dropping food would powerfully undermine the government world view.. maybe even better than dropping radios..
Just because the North Koreans outside of NK have a low chance of becoming spies on their own society doesn't mean we shouldn't try. I understand already the point about what they do to families and how they use families as hostages. Heck, even the Russians did that. Shevchenko's wife was killed after he defected. Killing the larger family circle was something Saddam did.
Still, in spite of all that there are going to be people who will provide info because there are always the risk takers and the guys who are secretly nursing huge hidden angry grudges.
Also, take some NK embassy where they are all literally hungry because they are not getting much from their government. Iif one of them is alone on a street a CIA or other agent could just give the guy some food he can immediately eat.
Dropping food by balloons: Good idea. I wonder how many balloons it would take to bring food to a million North Koreans. Some of the balloons would come down in locations where they'd never be found.
Here's another advantage of the food with balloons idea: it would get more people out looking for the packets that the balloons would bring. If most of the packets were food but some were books and radios the knowledge that there are food packets out there would basically be an incentive for the populace to go looking.
I also think that the use of attack subs to release packages to float up onto beaches would work. Soldiers might find the stuff. But the soldiers are also people we want to reach. Food, books, and radios in packages washed up on the beach would all work to undermine the regime.
TV stations: we should send in tuners that will work with their TVs that will add in more channels. Granted they inspect the TVs. But the tuners could be of a sort that would could be clipped on to an aerial to shift an incoming signal from one channel to another channel. Then the tuner could be taken off and hidden while the people are not watching the TV. If an inspector comes in while they are watching foreign channels they are in trouble anyway.
quit interesting topics please update me more info
In 1944, the Germans built a UAV that could carry 1800 pounds of explosives a distance of 250 miles, at a unit cost of around $1000 (remember the V-1?). By updating this simple technology with a GPS chip and replacing the warhead with a load of radios (or food, or medicine, or cell phones), one gets a practical, accurate delivery system that could cover huge areas of North Korea. Modern radar-absorbing coatings and low-visibility cross sections would make them very difficult to intercept, or more importantly, to misunderstand. One could launch such a system from a vessel as small as a fishing boat, and send it toward either of North Korea's long coasts from international waters.
North Korea would do everything in its power to collect every radio and food packet, knowing that to accept their presence would be to accept the loss of control over the population. The financial, maintenance, and manpower cost of North Korea sending its Army and security services up into the hills to gather up all of the cargo would be crushing. It would also have the added benefit of moving most of North Korea's troops out of their bunkers and training ranges, thus reducing the likelihood of an invasion. It would put the authorities in direct conflict with the people as they searched thousands of homes for contraband, thus sowing the seeds of resistance.
If this did not bring down the regime, we could use similar methods to drop weapons to the rural population, most of whom are politically alienated from the regime. Even without trained cadres, weapons in the hands of hungry and desperate people would sow chaos in the countryside. If we were able to train North Koreans in, say, Mongolia, the arms would be even more effective. Unless China intervened, Kim Jong Il would not survive (a coup would probably get him first). North Korea's mechanized army is not structured to fight a guerrilla war. If China did intervene, it would be an opportunity to weaken China in a protracted guerrilla war just as the Soviets were similarly weakened in Afghanistan.