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2011 December 24 Saturday
North Korea Follows Steve Jobs' "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish"

Adam Minter of Bloomberg reports on what Chinese bloggers are saying about the death of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il.

On Dec. 20, Weibo microbloggers began to generate what some on the service quickly labeled China's joke of the year. They took the line from Steve Jobs’s now-famous 2005 Stanford University commencement address -- "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." -- and applied it to North Korea: "Kim Jong Il’s last words to the Korean people: 'Stay hungry. Stay foolish.'"

The full article has lots of variants made by Chinese bloggers. Can you think of any of your own?

While the Chinese government expresses fawning sympathy over Dear Leader's death the Chinese people are a lot more realistic. That bodes well. What goes on inside of North Korea's borders is an abomination. What North Koreans need: More information about what is going on outside their country.

By Randall Parker    2011 December 24 12:03 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2010 November 28 Sunday
Genetic Closeness Reduces South Korean Anger At North?

B. R. Myers, an American professor at Dongseo University in South Korea, says South Koreans feel less indignation about North Korean attacks than you might expect because the attacks come from fellow Koreans.

The North’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island has been more shocking to South Koreans, but not much more. At my local train station the morning after the attack, a grinning crowd watched coverage of the Asian Games in China on a giant TV screen. The same ethno-nationalism that makes South Koreans such avid followers of international sports also dilutes their indignation at their Northern brethren. South Korea’s left-wing press, which tends to shape young opinion, is describing the shelling of the island as the inevitable product of “misunderstandings” resulting from a lack of dialogue. Sadly, South Korea’s subdued response to such incidents makes them more likely to happen again. This poses a serious problem for the United States; we have already been drawn into one war on the peninsula because our ally seemed unlikely to defend itself.

So then do the South Koreans suffer from Stockholm Syndrome enhanced by their genetic affinity for North Koreans? Have South Koreans come to feel captive to North Korean caprice? Not able to get away from the North Koreans? Captured by them? In love with their abusers?

That feeling of not being able to get away from North Korea looks set to continue. Aidan Carter-Smith argues in Foreign Policy that the hope China will rein in North Korea has no base in reality.

But China barely talks the talk, and no way does it walk the walk. Has Washington missed the new lovefest between Pyongyang and Beijing? A friendship forged in blood, as close as lips and teeth. The old slogans and warmth are back. And it's for real. Better believe it.

We saw it first this summer. Not only did China's skepticism on the sinking of the Cheonan, the South Korean corvette, let North Korea off the hook, but its hostility to U.S.-South Korean naval exercises in the Yellow Sea -- Chinese coastal waters, apparently -- sent the allies scurrying ignominiously to hold their maneuvers on the other side of the peninsula.

Will the North Koreans keep upping the level of their attacks? If so, how will it end?

The Korean peninsula reminds me of Israel and the Arabs. While in the latter case there's not a genetic affinity between the parties it has the same decades-long tragedy that just gets tedious. One hopes for a sort of climax to the story because stories should have climaxes and ends. But while we tend to want to see events as stories (to the detriment of our ability to understand says Tyler Cowen) real life is not that way. Looked at that way movies and novels give us a misleading view of the nature of reality and human events.

By Randall Parker    2010 November 28 11:23 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (33)
2007 January 04 Thursday
North Korea Spends Big On Kim Family Deification

Robert Marquand has the story in The Christian Science Monitor. North Koreans are taught to believe that Kim Jong Il is a god.

In fact, in a time of famine and poverty, government spending on Kim-family deification - now nearly 40 percent of the visible budget - is the only category in the North's budget to increase, according to a new white paper by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul. It is rising even as defense, welfare, and bureaucracy spending have decreased. The increase pays for ideology schools, some 30,000 Kim monuments, gymnastic festivals, films and books, billboards and murals, 40,000 "research institutes," historical sites, rock carvings, circus theaters, training programs, and other worship events.

In 1990, ideology was 19 percent of North Korea's budget; by 2004 it doubled to at least 38.5 percent of state spending, according to the white paper. This extra financing may come from recent budget offsets caused by the shutting down of older state funding categories, says Alexander Mansourov of the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.

It has long been axiomatic that the main danger to the Kim regime is internal unrest. That is, Koreans will discover the freedoms, glitter, and diversity of the modern outside world, and stop believing the story of idolatry they are awash in. "It isn't quite realized [in the West] how much a threat the penetration of ideas means. They [Kim's regime] see it as a social problem that could bring down the state," says Brian Myers, a North Korean expert at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea.

The whole article is very interesting. The regime is constantly updating their methods and messages for propagandizing their population. As Marquand makes clear, their propaganda efforts make Stalinist era propaganda in Russia look tame by comparison.

One way we could destabilize the North Korean regime is to pay for smuggling radios, pre-paid cellular phones, CDs, DVDs, and other electronic information tools into North Korea. Make it easier for the North Koreans to find out about the outside world. Beam more radio broadcasts at North Korea. Spend big to help corrupt the border guards and make North Korea's border with China even more permeable. The regime needs isolation in order to survive. Well, de-isolate it.

The regime is unlikely to abandon nuclear weapons in talks because it has used its nuclear weapons program as a big propaganda tool to convince their populace of the power and glory of the regime and of the superiority and strength of their society.

Mass simultaneous Kim and Korea worship events such as flag wavings are pitched to build racial and ethnic solidarity.

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the Korean cult project is its recent veering toward race and ethnic solidarity, say Kim watchers. His main appeal to his people today, a push that rarely gets attention outside the North, is to the racial superiority of a people whose isolation and stubborn xenophobia supposedly makes their bloodlines purer. Mr. Myers notes that festivals of 100,000 flag wavers is not a Stalinist exercise, but a celebration of "ethnic homogeneity." Since the 1990s Kim has more fervently claimed lineage to the first ancient rulers of Korea, a move intended to place him in a position of historical, if not divine, destiny as leader of the peninsula.

We ought to try to use electronic gadgets as a cheap way to overthrow the North Korean regime. North Korea has 23 million people. How much would it cost to get pre-paid cellphones with thousands of minutes into the hands of millions of them? How much would it cost to smuggle in millions of radios and MP3 players preloaded with lectures about life in other countries and the ability of MP3 players to swap lectures?

We are spending about $3 billion a week in Iraq (plus much larger longer term costs from deaths, maiming, post traumatic stress disorder, and the like) which does not do anything to improve US security. For a week's cost of the Iraq debacle we could probably give a few million North Koreans contact with the rest of the world and information about how much their government lies to them.

By Randall Parker    2007 January 04 08:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2006 October 28 Saturday
North Korean Regime Grip Weakens

New York Times reporter Norimitsu Onishi interviewed 20 North Koreans in Bangkok along with Christian missionaries, government officials, and others with knowledge about North Korea in both Thailand and North Korea. He finds that away from Pyongyang the grip of the central government is weakening and cash has become a more powerful force than ideology. (great article worth reading in full)

The increasing ease with which people are able to buy their way out of North Korea suggests that, beneath the images of goose-stepping soldiers in Pyongyang, the capital, the government’s still considerable ability to control its citizens is diminishing, according to North Korean defectors, brokers, South Korean Christian missionaries and other experts on the subject. Defectors with relatives outside the country are tapping into a sophisticated, underground network of human smugglers operating inside North and South Korea, China and Southeast Asia.

North Koreans who have gotten out pay smugglers to get relatives out. You can imagine how this cycle could feed on itself as more people escape and earn the money to buy the way for still more to leave. A US government program to loan the North Koreans in South Korea money to finance the flight of relatives could speed up this process.

We should think about this. Fully featured smuggling services get a North Korean out of North Korea, provide passport and other documents and a flight to South Korea within a few days for $10,400. A smuggling trip out of North Korea to Mongolia or Southeast Asia costs about $3000.

In a country whose borders were sealed until a decade ago, defectors once risked not only their own lives but those of the family members they left behind, who were often thrown into harsh prison camps as retribution. Today, state security is no longer the main obstacle to fleeing, according to defectors, North Korean brokers, South Korean Christian missionaries and other experts. Now, it is cash.

“Money now trumps ideology for an increasing number of North Koreans, and that has allowed this underground railroad to flourish,” said Peter M. Beck, the Northeast Asia project director in Seoul, South Korea, of the International Crisis Group, which has extensively researched the subject in several Asian countries and is publishing a report. “The biggest barrier to leaving North Korea is just money. If you have enough money, you can get out quite easily. It speaks to the marketization of North Korea, especially since economic reforms were implemented in 2002. Anything can be bought in the North now.”

“The state’s control is weakening at the periphery,” Mr. Beck said, explaining that most refugees came out of the North’s rural areas but few from around Pyongyang, where the state’s grip remained strong.

The United States could probably afford to collapse the North Korean regime just by paying to smuggle out a large number of people. In particular, the US could offer to smuggle out those people most essential to the regime. Electric power plant operators for example. Or, hey, get a lead on all the people working on the North Korean nuclear program and offer them a fast trip out and large cash prizes once they get to South Korea. We are spending $2 billion a week on Iraq. Suppose the US withdrew from Iraq. Imagine what that money could money buy by removal of valuable workers vital to the survival of the Pyongyang regime.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 28 07:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2006 September 25 Monday
Modest Proposal To Stop North Korea Nuclear Program

At Audacious Epigone crush41 has an interesting post arguing for a withdrawal of US troops in South Korea.

South Korea was on the road to nuclear weapons in the seventies, but the US applied pressure and it stopped. The North's only way to best the South is through the use of the nuclear weapons it has that the South does not. Let's speed up the removal of an American presence (slated to decrease by 5,000 by 2008) and allow South Korea (as well as Japan, which has an acrimonious relationship with Korea, especially the North) to go nuclear. Currently our personnel is little more than potential WMD fodder. The ruling liberals want us out anyway. Why not oblige them?

Sure, I say. Pull out. Let the South Koreans defend themselves. North Korea is a basket case. We do not need to subsidize South Korea's defense.

But reading that paragraph a thought struck me: If the United States really did stop South Korea from going nuclear back in the 1970s the United States could always flirt with reversing position on that issue. We should tell Kim Jong Il, fairly disgusting ruler of the poor, hungry, and stunted people of North Korea, that if he explodes a nuclear bomb in testing then we'll help South Korea build some highly excellent nuclear weapons. I figure that ought to get his attention. Go nuclear? Then your cousins south of the border go very nuclear with far better hardware. We could say we'll extend that offer to Japan as well. That ought to get the attention of Beijing and Pyongyang.

In a way the United States tries too hard in foreign policy. We station troops all over and build huge amounts of hardware and engage in expensive (in lives, money, and influence) fights in places where fighting hurts our interests. We have lots of supposed experts and supposed learned commentators debating and advocating all sorts of new misadventures (e.g. bomb Iran). This heavy handed approach isn't working for us. Why not take a far more minimalistic approach where we play cards (or threaten to play cards) that require orders of magnitude less effort?

We could yank Kim Jong Il's chain rather cheaply. How about spending some money to send lots of free cell phones into North Korea? Or tell him we'll offer a $500 million reward for his death if he doesn't stop counterfeiting US currency? We wouldn't even have to offer the reward to rattle him. We'd just have to tell him we're ready to do it. We ought to use more bribery and rewards to accomplish whatever we want done and do less with military hardware and less with our troops.

By Randall Parker    2006 September 25 10:00 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2005 September 19 Monday
Surprise Deal On North Korean Nuclear Weapons Development

North Korea has agreed to nuclear disarmament.

BEIJING, Sept. 19 - North Korea agreed to end its nuclear weapons program this morning in return for security, economic and energy benefits, potentially easing tensions with the United States after a three-year standoff over the country's efforts to build atomic bombs.

North Korea claims they will allow verification of the disassembly of their nuclear weapons.

The key passage confirmed Pyongyang's commitment to disassemble its nuclear weapons program—and the weapons themselves—in a "verifiable" way. It also expressed North Korea's willingness to return to the international agreements it pulled out of in 2002 when it acknowledged its nuclear program, specifically the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and safeguards outlined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In exchange, The United States offered energy aid and the possibility of diplomatic relations, confirmed that it does not intend to invade North Korea, and agreed to a step-by-step approach to disarmament. Previously, the U.S. had insisted that Pyongyang surrender it's nukes completely before the country received any aid.

China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and the United States are all parties to this agreeement. After failure to reach agreement in the previous three rounds of the six party talks I find the agreement reached in the fourth round as quite surprising. However, a looming famine in North Korea might have helped clinch the deal.

The deal comes in wake of a statement by the World Food Program, which has said North Korea is headed toward the worst humanitarian food crisis since the mid-1990s when an estimated 1 million North Koreans died. WFP now predicts 6.5 million North Koreans desperately need food aid.

While there was cause for some celebration when the six-party statement was made public, observers say the follow-up talks in November could prove difficult. Details have always been a stumbling block when it comes to negotiations with North Korea. Kim Jong-il has a tendency to up the ante, depending on the situation, though North Korea's desire to get out of the world's doghouse in light of its impending food shortage should be incentive for the isolated state to build the joint statement into a more concrete pact.

Will the North Koreans backslide on the agreement once they have lots of food and fuel courtesy of the other parties to the agreement? Or will the deal assure a big enough on-going bribe to keep the Kim Jong Il satisfied?

The effect on possible nuclear proliferation in other countries is important to consider.

South Korea reaffirms it will not deploy nuclear weapons and that it has no such arms.

Think about that. If North Korea doesn't continue to possess nuclear weapons then the incentive for South Korea or Japan to go nuclear becomes much less. That helps the position of China. It also weakens the position of Taiwan. In my view Taiwan's best hope for maintaining independence is to develop a nuclear weapons capability. As China's total economy surpasses the US economy and as China's military becomes much stronger Taiwan's security position will become impossible for Taiwan to defend. China will have too many economic strings to pull and clear military superiority.

Taiwan would have a much easier time going nuclear if East Asia went into a general regional nuclear arms race. If Japan went nuclear then China would have much more reason to hesitate over whether to attack Taiwan or whether to seize islands that both Japan and China claim. If Japan went nuclear and North Korea continued to build up a nuclear capability then other countries would be far less likely to economically retaliate against Taiwan for going nuclear. So this deal, if it sticks, is bad news for Taiwan.

South Korea cites their electricity bribe offer as a key element in making the deal happen.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young cited his nation’s offer of two million kilowatts of electric power to the North, first made in July, along with Washington’s pledge to normalize relations with Pyongyang as key to the outcome.

Washington’s flexibility in moving “to normalize North Korea-U.S. relations can be viewed as an achievement of the Bush administration,” Chung said in Seoul, according to the state Yonhap news agency.

Well bless their bribing and appeasing hearts.

George W. Bush says that we still have to see if the North Koreans will really follow through on the deal.

"They have said, in principle, that they will abandon their weapons programs. And what we have said is, 'Great. That's a wonderful step forward. But now we've got to verify whether or not that happens'," Bush said to reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

"The question is, over time, will all parties adhere to the agreement?"

That's the most important question. Can bribery and appeasement buy off the Hermit Kingdom? A modest proposal for the South Koreans: Offer Kim Jong Il a supply of very attractive hookers if he will adhere to the deal.

Update: The need for the hookers offer quickly becomes apparent. North Korea is already demanding a light water reactor before it will disarm.

``We will return to the NPT and sign the safeguards agreement with the IAEA and comply with it immediately upon the U.S. provision of LWRs, a basis of confidence-building to us,'' the North's Foreign Ministry said in the statement, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

``The U.S. should not even dream of the issue of (North Korea's) dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing LWRs,'' the North said.

The South Koreans are passing this off as a typical North Korean negotiating tactic.

South Korea, which has been lobbying hard on North Korea's behalf, sought to downplay the North's latest demand. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lee Kyu-hyung, portrayed it as an attempt by Pyongyang to enhance its bargaining leverage when the talks resume in November.

"We assume that North Korea tries to demand at the maximum level," he said. " We believe the issue shall be discussed specifically at the forthcoming round of six-party talks."

But Mr. Lee also says Seoul's willingness to support peaceful nuclear energy use by North Korea depends on Pyongyang first rejoining the Non-Proliferation Treaty and bringing U.N. inspectors back.

Any bets on whether this agreement will fall through?

By Randall Parker    2005 September 19 10:42 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2005 February 19 Saturday
South Korea Has Less Speech Freedom Than America

A fictionalized account of the assassination of South Korean dictator Park Chung Hee is controversial in South Korea.

The film, "Those People, That Time," opened this month amid a firestorm of conservative criticism for its fictionalized portrayal of the 1979 assassination of dictator Park Chung Hee.

A major conservative party in South Korea supported efforts to get the film banned by a court ruling. A court ordered editorial changes in the film.

The conservative Grand National Party supports the campaign against the film, in part because Park's daughter is its leader. A court ruled against a ban of the film, but ordered the deletion of newsreel footage that gives a veneer of historical accuracy.

Park Jin, a conservative party leader in the National Assembly, says he still believes that many who see the film "could easily be confused." And, he says, he could not "exclude the possibility that the message of the film was political."

Leave aside the debate by South Koreans over their own history. What is noteworthy here is that a South Korean court could order newsreel footage taken out of a movie. Imagine a US court ordering the removal of news clips from, say, Fahrenheit 9/11 because the court judge(s) decided the news clips lent too much authority or credence to the political message of the film. It would correctly be seen as a clear violation of speech rights. Yet in South Korea this is obvioulsy acceptable. The judge or judges who made this ruling will not be removed from the bench because they have stepped over the line.

Democracy is oversold (notably by neocon liberals but also by conventional liberals) as the panacea that can solve all the political problems of the world. But democracy does not automatically and reliably produce freedom. Lots of democracies amount to dictatorships by the elite leaders of the majority. Democracy does not always produce political harmony or peace. Some nations have had elections and then immediately plunged into civil war (the United States in 1860 and Algeria in 1992 to cite just two examples). Democracy and a free press do not always produce governments and news media that are friendly to the United States as events in Islamic Turkey are demonstrating. The neoconservative strategy of forced democratization is based on false assumptions about human nature and politics.

By Randall Parker    2005 February 19 01:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2005 February 11 Friday
North Korea Says It Has Nuclear Bombs

North Korea's government says the place has nukes and isn't going to be pushed around by America.

"We have manufactured nukes for self-defence to cope with the Bush administration's ever more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the [north]," the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement carried on the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The United States is in no position to push around North Korea anyhow. The US won't attack. The North Koreans do not need US aid.

South Korea is upset with North Korea.

South Korea echoed Koizumi's comments, saying the decision to quit the talks was "regrettable" and a matter of deep concern.

South Korean government officials said a nuclear North Korea would not be tolerated.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said he thought Pyongyang's statement contained an "element of bluff".

The North Koreans are bluffing? Maybe. But I think it more likely that the South Koreans are bluffing. South Korea isn't going to tolerate a nuclear North Korea? Really? What is the South going to do in response? Cut off aid? Cut trade? Invade? I doubt it.

South Korean papers think China will stop North Korea from sustaining its position as a nuclear power.

Dong-A Ilbo says the U.N. Security Council must take action. North Korea "must not forget that there is no single neighboring country, including China that will tolerate its nuclear armament."

Chosun Ilbo says, "North Korea must awaken from the self-induced trance where it believes it can gain something only when it takes on the international community head-on. ...[A]n attachment to the strategies of the past could mean that the situation spirals out of control with Pyongyang itself the ultimate victim."

I have news for the Chosun Ilbo: It was you guys and China and the United States that helped North Korea get into that trance. North was rewarded for its behavior. South Korea and China continue to reward North Korea for its behavior. So why should the Dear Leader stop?

North Korea joins a prestigious club of nuclear powers.

North Korea is now the eighth country with currently declared nuclear weapons. The others are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, all signatories of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, and India and Pakistan, which have not signed the treaty. Israel is considered by analysts to have nuclear weapons, but has not acknowledged possessing them. South Africa built a bomb in the 1970s but later renounced its nuclear program.

My guess is that Iran will be the next member of the club. Eventually so many will join that membership will just plain lose its allure. Living in big cities and other likely targets of terrorist nukes will lose its allure for related reasons...

The Bush Administration makes light of the new pronouncement from North Korea and says this is not new news.

The White House played down the significance of the North Korean statement. "It's rhetoric we've heard before," press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush in North Carolina. "We remain committed to the six-party talks. We remain committed to a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue with regards to North Korea."

What more can the Bushies say? It is not like they are going to do anything about it regardless of what press release comes out of the Pyongyang regime in North Korea.

What is new about the latest NK statement is that it shows a greater willingness on the part of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and company to defy China and South Korea.

The South Korean press is trying to make sense of the latest news from Pyongyang.

The conservative Chosun Ilbo said in an editorial the North may be trying to raise the stakes to increase the concessions it will receive to head back to the bargaining table.

"We shall have to watch closely whether that is a real admission or simply typical of the Stalinist country's brinkmanship in attempting to ratchet up the tension with the United States," it said.

Ratchet up tensions with the United States? The US is too overextended in the Middle East to ratchet up tensions in Northeast Asia. Not going to happen. America is going to remain flaccid no matter how provocative a pose the Dear Leader assumes.

Writing for the Washington Post Glenn Kessler and Anthony Faiola think the Dear Leader and his regime are asking for acceptance of North Korea's status as a nuclear power.

By heightening the stakes in a two-year standoff, North Korea has signaled it has little interest in giving up its nuclear programs for relatively minor upfront concessions from the Bush administration -- and appears to be gambling that the United States and its allies will ultimately accept the idea of a nuclear North Korea.

At each step of the way in the crisis, the government in Pyongyang has carefully crossed once-unthinkable thresholds, with little apparent consequence. North Korea's announcement yesterday that it has nuclear weapons and is withdrawing from negotiations on its nuclear programs has once again upped the ante. But it appears unlikely it will jar the United States and its allies to take any dramatic actions, analysts and officials said.

I am guessing that Kim has a pretty good chance of gaining that acceptance. But if that happens then at some point down the line Japan may go nuclear in response. Then China may have no choice but to accept a nuclear Japan. Of course, once that happens the Taiwanese may decide to follow. In Taiwan's case nuclear power status would be the best protection from mainland Chinese ambitions to conquer the island.

Is there a bottom line in all of this? I think so: The United States by itself can not stop North Korea's nuclear program - at least not for any cost that the American public could possibly be convinced to pay. South Korea and China are helping to keep the North Korean regime viable through aid and trade. That has been true for years and it continues to be the case. North Korea's statements matter more for their effect on thinking in China and South Korea than they do for their impact on Bush Administration thinking. Regardless of Kim Jong Il's motive he is making it harder for South Korea and China to ignore his nuclear weapons development efforts. How will South Korea and China will react? Is Kim pushing to to a point where they will cut aid to North Korea in order to yank on the Dear Leader's chain? Or is there nothing short of a mushroom cloud that will change their collective minds?

This latest twist in the North Korean nuclear weapons saga reminds me of a post by Noah Millman where he argues that asking China to invade North Korea would bolster Chinese influence and prestige.

Finally, just one small point. We've adopted a "unilateralist" policy of regime change because supposedly the world can't come to agreement on who needs to be offed, at least not in a timely fashion. We, America, and "coalitions of the willing" composed of (mostly) democratic allies with similar interests will do a better job of policing the world. But here comes a proposal to have *another* nation - not an ally, not a democracy, not someone with whom we have clear common interests - unilaterally act to overthrow an odious regime on the grounds of its odiousness. Why on earth would we want to set such a precedent? And why should we prefer it to an attempt to get action authorized by some international body - fine, the UN, for all its own odiousness - that might bless the action with some legitimacy internationally, and act as a restraint on future unilateral action of this sort by other states? Particularly given that one objection to diplomacy on North Korea is that China would have to approve of any UN-authorized action against them, and China is the power we're outsourcing our "regime change" efforts to in this scenario!

It's depressing to think that anyone is seriously suggesting that the only way we can deal with North Korea is to ask the Chinese to invade and install a new regime. Depressing on so many levels, I don't know how to count them.

Asking for Chinese help on North Korea is - regardless of whether that help comes in the form of something as extreme as invasion or less extreme measures like an aid cut-off to North Korea - is going to make rather undemocratic China have more prestige and power. But, hey, there is no alternative way to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program and China is a rapidly rising power that is likely to eventually surpass the United States as a military power at some point in the 21st century anyhow.

By Randall Parker    2005 February 11 01:56 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (20)
2004 December 15 Wednesday
Better Cellphone Reception Threat To North Korean Regime

People deep inside North Korea can walk up mountains and tall hills and talk on cell phones using transmitter/receiver cellphone towers set up in China near the North Korean border.

"If possible, Kim wants mobile phones to disappear in North Korea," says Nishioka Tsutomu, a professor of modern Korean studies at Tokyo Christian University. "But North Korean people do not have enough food. To trade on the black market in China, it is essential to have a mobile phone."

Despite the ban, North Koreans have been using cellphones more than ever, according to visitors to the region. Whether crossing the border legally on official business or illegally to procure food and other vital supplies, they routinely rent or purchase phones on the Chinese side, then turn them off and hide them from border guards as they return.

Cellphones by now are in common use in Sinuiju, the North Korean city across the Yalu River from Dandong, the major Chinese center through which China does much of its trade with the North. They're also widely used along the Tumen River border in the east, and advances in technology now mean callers can occasionally reach contacts as far south as the capital, Pyongyang.

After initially creating an internal cellular network and allowing the more affluent North Koreans to pay for cellphones the regime has shifted toward a far more restrictive set of rules for use of cellphones and all those cellphones being brought in from China are clearly banned.

Chinese people-smuggling entrepreneurs are promoting the use of cellphones in North Korea.

Chinese brokers who arrange for people to leave North Korea for the Yanbian region are responsible for the North-South communication. The brokers give prepaid cellphones to collaborators in North Korea. When someone needs to make a call to a family member, the collaborators go to their home and escort the caller to a border town within reach of cellphone frequencies.

Fees for covert calls are much higher than the standard amount. The 30-year-old woman mentioned who spoke to her sister paid brokers 1 million won, or about 100,000 yen.

Chinese entrepreneurs, just in pursuit of a profit, are more effectively undermining the North Korean regime than anything the United States government is doing. The US could weaken the regime by paying for prepaid cell phones to be shipped into North Korea. Also, the construction of more cellphone towards along the DMZ in South Korea would help. Though the South Korean government may oppose this move due to their own foolish calculations.

The money involved in the latest US effort to undermine the North Korean regime amounts to chump change. The Bush Administration talks a big game but it is very ineffectual.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 15 04:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 December 07 Tuesday
US To Spend Couple Million To Smuggle Radios Into North Korea

Barry Briggs of North Korea zone has a reference to a new US government effort to smuggle radios into North Korea.

For the next four years, Washington will spend up to $2 million annually to boost radio broadcasts toward North Korea and send mini-radios across its borders. How to smuggle the radios in remains to be worked out.

The North Korean government is upset by this meager attempt to reach the North Korean people and let them know how pathetic their lives are as compared to other nations in the region.

Also Saturday, North Korea's state-run daily Minju Joson accused Washington of trying to topple the North Korean regime by smuggling tiny radios into the isolated country, where all state-issued radios are preset to receive only government signals.


The American plan to smuggle small radios into North Korea is outlined in the North Korean Human Rights Act, which President Bush signed into law Oct. 18. The sweeping act provides money to private humanitarian groups to assist defectors, extends refugee status to fleeing North Koreans and sets in motion a plan to boost broadcasts to North Korea and get receivers into the country.

That two million dollars per year is a meager effort. The US burn rate in Iraq is $5.8 bil per month. So 12*5.8/52 is the amount per week and divided by 168 is the amount per hour which is 8 million per hour. So this plan to smuggle radios into North Korea has a yearly cost of 15 minutes worth of the Iraq burn rate.

The United States has greatly reduced food aid to North Korea in recent years but the United States still gave North Korea over $35 million in food aid in 2003 or about 17 times the amount that the US wil spend on radios to undermine the North Korean regime.

If one listens to the rhetoric coming out of Washington then nuclear proliferation is an important priority for the Bush Administration. But a count of the Benjamins is hard to reconcile with the official rhetoric. I do not think that Bush Administration policy toward North Korea and Iran will prevent either country from building up nuclear arsenals. The United States and its allies lost an excellent opportunity in the late 1990s to push the regime into collapse by cutting off aid to North Korea when its economic crisis was most severe. At this point the regime's survival seems more assured than it did in the 1990s. I find it increasingly difficult to take the Bushies seriously on foreign policy.

Thanks to Vinod for the heads-up on this.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 07 02:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2004 November 04 Thursday
1965 US Army Deserter Tells Of Life In North Korea

US Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins from North Carolina, age 64, deserted his unit in South Korea and crossed over into North Korea in 1965. He eventually married a Japanese woman there when the government chose her for him and they had two children. He has finally left North Korea after his wife was let go as part of a deal between North Korea and Japan. In a trial that sentenced him to 30 days in a US military jail in Japan Jenkins and his wife described life in North Korea.

The Americans, he said, were forced for 10 hours a day to study and memorize the writings of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung, writings that he called "class struggle from the perspective of a crazy man."

Six months ago, while he was still in North Korea, such a statement could have earned Sergeant Jenkins execution. He said here on Wednesday that if he had once criticized Mr. Kim or his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, there would have been no forgiveness. "Go dig your own hole, because you are gone,'' he testified. "I have seen that done."

With no heat or electricity in their Pyongyang house during most of the winter, she said that to sleep in the cold "we would wear everything we owned in terms of clothing when we went to bed." Warm water never flowed from faucets. Warm baths were rare luxuries.

Reading at night was by candlelight. When the candle wick had burned, she said, her husband "would collect the melted wax in a can and use it for a homemade candle." With the food rationing system breaking down, she said, they grew vegetables and raised chickens in their yard, but the family often went to bed hungry.

The family was forbidden to leave the house without their political supervisor. Coils of barbed wire surrounded their house, she told the court.

North Korea is a cold place in winter to not have heat. My guess is their clothing was poor as well.

One can not refuse anything the government in North Korea tells you to do.

Jenkins’s day in court was charged with emotion as he tearfully described his reasons for deserting, the drunken night on which it happened, and his life in Pyongyang, the capital. He was found guilty on the count of aiding the enemy by teaching North Koreans English. “You don’t say no to North Korea. You say one thing bad about Kim Il Sung and you dig your own hole, because you’re gone,” he said.

Jenkins said he realized his mistake within one day of being in North Korea.

His former commanding officer thinks Jenkins should be imprisoned for life but others think he has suffered enough.

"Desertion is a very serious crime, especially in wartime. ... Jenkins ought to be in jail for the rest of his life," said Darrell E Best, now a retired lieutenant colonel.

Others argued that Jenkins had suffered enough by spending most of his life in one of the world's most impoverished and oppressive countries.

"He has done his tour in hell already," said Brendon Carr, a former military intelligence official. "His daily punishment the last 40 years must have been waking up and realising what a fool he had been to defect to North Korea."


From 1965 to 1972, Jenkins was put in a one-room house in North Korea with three other former American soldiers.

The men slept on the floor, bathed once a month and more in summer, and were forced to study the teachings of leader Kim Il Sung.

"Each day for the first 15 years I wished I would just die."

I think 40 years in North Korea is such severe punishment that the man has suffered enough for desertion.

By Randall Parker    2004 November 04 01:49 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2004 May 20 Thursday
Will Female Shortage In China Bring Down North Korean Regime?

Chinese men are buying North Korean women as wives.

But it's easy for Chinese, including smugglers and human traffickers, to cross illegally into North Korea, they say, and this props up a thriving black-market border trade that helps keep the barren North Korean economy afloat.

Dandong natives such as laid-off factory worker Lao Zhou, whose picturesque home town draws tourists eager to spy on North Korea with telescopes, shake their heads when they talk about refugees.

"North Korean women make good wives. They are beautiful and hard-working," he said, echoing an oft-repeated view. "It doesn't cost much to buy a North Korean girl for a wife and just a few thousand kwai (hundreds of dollars) to get them a residency permit."

There is also a slave trade in prostitutes. The demand for prostitutes will likely rise right along with the demand for wives.

Consider the larger context for this report about wife buying and female sex trade. On my FuturePundit blog I've reported on the sex ratio imbalance in China caused by the selective abortion of females.

Li said the normal newborn sex proportion is 100:104-107, and if China's disproportionate figure is allowed to continue unchecked, there would be 30 to 40 million marriage-age men who would be single all their lives by 2020.

"Such serious gender disproportion poses a major threat to the healthy, harmonious and sustainable growth of the nation's population and would trigger such crimes and social problems as mercenary marriage, abduction of women and prostitution," Li said.

Some believe this sex ratio imbalance will make China militarily aggressive and they may be right.

In a new book, Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population (MIT Press), Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer warn that the spread of sex selection is giving rise to a generation of restless young men who will not find mates. History, biology, and sociology all suggest that these "surplus males" will generate high levels of crime and social disorder, the authors say. Even worse, they continue, is the possibility that the governments of India and China will build up huge armies in order to provide a safety valve for the young men's aggressive energies.

But consider a different possibility: Chinese men may buy so many North Korean wives that North Korea will either become militarily aggressive or collapse from within. This is not implausible. Those 30 to 40 million single men in China in the year 2020 mean there wil be 3 to 4 times more single men in China than there are women in North Korea. The Chinese will be more affluent than the North Koreans unless radical changes happen to North Korea's economy. North Korea is the place where Chinese men will have the best competitive advantage in angling for wives. The other East Asian countries are not nearly as poor as North Korea and North Korea shares a long 1,416 km land border with China.

China's economy is growing rapidly. Buying power of Chinese men is rising. Even poor Chinese farmers can afford to buy North Korean women.

Lee, the former clerk, said she was fooled into believing she would have a good life in China. "One day, a man from my home town came to see me. He was looking for good-looking women from North Korea to go to China. The prettier the better. I decided on the spot to go.

"Of course, he fooled me. He said he would introduce me to a good man, a university graduate, who was looking for a wife. Then I realized North Korean women were being sold at a cheap price to rural farmers in China."

The fact that even a rural farmer in China can afford to buy a North Korean wife means that there are far more people in China with the buying power to acquire a North Korean wife than there are North Korean women.

Expect the hostility of North Korean men toward China to increase.

Ryu remembers a woman six months pregnant arriving at the camp. The baby's father was Chinese. Four guards grabbed the woman's limbs and threw her toward the ceiling over and over until the woman aborted the fetus. Ryu helped clean up the blood afterwards. "The guards said they hated Chinese babies," says Ryu. "The North Koreans hate the Chinese now, because they are rich and betrayed socialism."

China has been cracking down on North Koreans trying to cross the border into China. But official corruption in China is sufficiently widespread that black market forces will probably prevail over official policy as a consequence of the rising buying power of single men desperate for wives.

Ms Kim was picked up a year after getting married and giving birth to a daughter. Her new family pleaded for her release, arguing that the baby needed her mother because she was still breastfeeding. Ms Kim says they paid a 10,000RMB bribe for her freedom. Three years later she is well established and has a residence permit.

Chinese men will pressure the Chinese government to allow North Korean women to pass into China. The Chinese government will see these women as a source of women to reduce the frustrations of single men who can not find Chinese wives. Chinese leaders are going to have to weigh the foreign policy and domestic policy consequences of their border policy with North Korea. If they continue to clamp down this may just encourage more corruption.

Chinese money is also going to flow to North Korean border guards and officials and corrupt them as well. This is already happening. So the North Korean guards are not all immune to the enticements of cash in exchange for looking the other way. As living standards rise in China and the female shortage worsens the amount of money available for smuggling women out of North Korea will rise.

The shortage of women in China may end up posing an existential threat to the Pyongyang regime more powerful than anything US policy makers are likely to do. North Korean leaders might react to this threat by engaging in market liberalization reforms aimed at raising North Korean living standards enough to reduce the level of desperation of North Korean women.

The regime in North Korea faces a more general economic threat from China because of rising wages in China. The higher the wages go the greater the incentive for Northeast China factory managers and other businesses to turn to the black market to supply cheap North Korean labor. This will pull both men and women out of North Korea. Will that destabilize the regime more or less than the selective removal of women from North Korea?

By Randall Parker    2004 May 20 12:15 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (30)
2004 March 02 Tuesday
North Koreans May Suffer From Hunger Induced Brain Damage

As the Marmot has previously reported and as Barbara Demick describes in greater detail the North Koreans are about 8 inches shorter than South Koreans (same article here) due to the sustained food shortages and famine in North Korea.

South Korean anthropologists who measured North Korean refugees here in Yanji, a city 15 miles from the North Korean border, found that most of the teenage boys stood less than 5 feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. In contrast, the average 17-year-old South Korean boy is 5-feet-8, slightly shorter than an American boy of the same age.

North Koreans are shocked when they find out that South Koreans are so much taller. Imagine what the impact would be North Koreans if they all knew just much much shorter they are than the South Koreans.

To the extent that they ever get to meet South Koreans, the North Koreans are likewise shocked. When two diminutive North Korean soldiers, ages 19 and 23, accidentally drifted into South Korea on a boat, one reportedly was overheard saying they would never be able to marry South Korean women because they were "too big for us," according to an account in the book "The Two Koreas," by Don Oberdorfer.

The United States government ought to be making a very large effort to break through the information monopoly the North Korean government has over the North Korean people by smuggling in radios, books, and other material. The chief goal of such an operation should be to cause the North Koreans to learn just how much worse off they are than South Korea, Japan, and the United States. A secular ideology is disprovable by empirical evidence. North Korea's regime is far more vulnerable to undermining by outside influences than is a regime based on a widely believed religion. Religions based on beliefs about the supernatural are as easily disproven or discredited in the eyes of their believers and so theocratic regimes in religious nations are harder to undermine.

South Koreans fear reunification with the North in part because they fear the Northerners suffer from lower IQs due to sustained hunger and malnutrition.

The issue of IQ is sufficiently sensitive that the South Korean anthropologists studying refugee children in China have almost entirely avoided mentioning it in their published work. But they say it is a major unspoken worry for South Koreans, who fear that they could inherit the burden of a seriously impaired generation if Korea is reunified.

"This is our nightmare," anthropologist Chung said. "We don't want to get into racial stereotyping or stigmatize North Koreans in any way. But we also worry about what happens if we are living together and we have this generation that was not well-fed and well-educated."

About 500 North Korean children have come to South Korea, either alone or with their parents, and they are known to have difficulty keeping up in the school system, say people who work with defectors.

The food problem in North Korea shows no signs of getting better.

BEIJING, Feb. 13 -- A severe food shortage has crippled the U.N. feeding program that sustains North Korea's most vulnerable and undernourished people, according to Masood Hyder, the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator and World Food Program representative in Pyongyang.

He said his organization can now feed fewer than 100,000 of the 6.5 million people it normally does, many of them kindergarten-age children and pregnant women who cannot get what they need to stay healthy from the country's distribution system.

Undermining the North Korean regime ought to be a major US foreign policy goal. That the Bush Administration is not trying very hard to reach the people of North Korea is a major continuing US foreign policy mistake.

By Randall Parker    2004 March 02 02:41 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2004 February 22 Sunday
Morning Star King Next Leader Of North Korea?

You might expect that a highly doctrinaire communist hellish dictatorship would not call a potential future leader by the title "King". But if so then you do not reckon with one Koh Young-hee (also spelled Ko Yong-Hi and Ko Yong-hui), Japanese born Korean lover and likely past and perhaps current wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Koh is referred to in the North Korean media as the "beloved mother" and also has been calling herself "Mother of Pyongyang". Well, Koh had two sons by Dear Leader Kim and she is promoting the title "Morning Star King" for her the younger son Kim Jong Woon (also spelled Kim Jong-un) who may now be the favorite to eventually succeed Kim Jong-il as leader of North Korea.

The scepter in the Hermit Kingdom passed from the Great Leader to the Dear Leader - and will he in turn pass it on to his youngest son, already extolled by some as the Morning Star King?

The previous Asia Times article by Yoel Sano is an excellent tour thru the innards of the North Korean ruling elite and explains the extent to which inter-family ties within the elite and intergenerational loyalty within ruling families ensures stability for the regime. North Korea's regime looks remarkably stable at this point and unless the United States can cut off more external sources of aid and trade the regime looks likely to remain in power and continue its nuclear weapons development program for years to come.

Ko Yong-Hi got her start down the road toward producing a Morning Star King by working as a dancer in Kim Jong Il's personal pleasure troupe.

Kim Jong Chol

Possibly the favourite to succeed Kim Jong Il, this 22-year-old is Kim's son with the former dancing girl Ko Yong-Hi. He was educated in Geneva. His younger brother Kim Jong Woon was recently renamed "Morning Star King" by his mother, according to some defectors' reports, suggesting he may be her choice.

Back on September 13, 2003 the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo was predicting that "Morning Star King" Kim Jeong-woon (Kim Jong Woon or Kim Jong-un) would be annointed Kim Jong Il's successor.

Pyongyang is undergoing preparations to designate the third son of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as Kim's eventual successor. The announcement would be made next Feb. 16, the leader’s 62nd birthday.

That birthday has now come and gone. The precedent of Kim Jong-il's ascension suggests that the annointing of the next ruler of North Korea will not happen suddenly with a single big announcement but instead will unroll gradually as a favored son is appointed to more higher positions that indicate he is the chosen one.

By Randall Parker    2004 February 22 10:27 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 December 11 Thursday
North Korean Activity At Yongbyon Reactor

A US intelligence satellite has picked up signs that the North Koreans may be doing work at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

Seoul's JoongAng Ilbo, citing US and South Korean sources, said that a US intelligence satellite had detected "signs of vapor and fumes" from a coal-fired boiler linked to a nuclear laboratory at the plant for four days this month.

It said a truck was also spotted in the area where the nuclear research center's five-megawatt nuclear reactor is located.

The North Korean regime's nuclear weapons program is difficult to analyse from outside. Any visible activity is difficult to interpret. It could be that the North Koreans are working busily on making nukes or it could be that the regime thinks this sort of activity helps it somehow in negotiations.

The details were reported in the South Korea news paper JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo quoted Seoul officials as saying the fumes were detected on December 2, 3, 4 and 7, and that a truck was spotted traveling in and out of the premises of Yongbyon's five-megawatt nuclear reactor on December 3.

It is winter and presumably quite cold at Yongbyon. So heat from a coal-fired reactor would be easier to detect, coal burning would create fumes, and water vapor would likely be visible.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 11 04:04 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 December 04 Thursday
Wind-Up Radios For North Korea Would Cost Only $20 Each has a post up about cheap wind-up radios that US forces are distributing in Afghanistan.

The 200,000 radios the U.S. is buying will probably cost less than four million dollars. But it appears to be a good investment, as the Taliban and warlords in Afghanistan have gained power, and stayed in power, by taking advantage of the relative ignorance of most Afghans. The radios will provide a lot of information (and music, soap operas, religious programming and much more), and will definitely change the information landscape.

Trent Telenko comments "Now if they would only do this with North Korea.". No kidding Trent. To make enough wind-up radios for the approximately 22.5 million people in North Korea would cost about $45 million dollars. Delivering them might cost more than making them. Some could be put into floatation containers and delivered out of US attack submarines all along the North Korean coastline. Others could be attached to helium or hydrogen balloons (the hydrogen could be generated cheaply from electricity and water) and launched upwind from whereever the winds were blowing into North Korea. This could be done from South Korea (unless our enemies the South Koreans prevented us from doing so) or off the North Korean coastline outside of territorial waters. Still others could be placed in obscure locations in North Korean ships docked in foreign ports.

The Bush Administration's strategy for North Korea is inadequate to deal with the threat North Korea poses. South Korea and China are playing enablers propping up the regime while North Korea's nuclear and missile programs continue under development. The US needs to use more tactics against the North Korean regime. One way the US could weaken the North Korean regime is by breaking the information monopoly that the regime holds over its own people. Many of the radios floated on the water or the air toward North Korea would not make it into the hands of regular North Korean people. But given the low cost associated with making and delivering the radios for the cost of what that the US spends in Iraq in a single week the US could easily afford to send ten times as many radios into North Korea as there are North Koreans to hear them.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 04 06:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2003 November 19 Wednesday
Rumsfeld Assures Japan US Will Not Be Unilaterally Weak With North Korea

While Democrats carp at Bush for pursuing a unilateral policy toward North Korea (see again the Marmot's critique of Josh Marshall complaints of Bush Administration unilateralism in North Korea policy for a great example of this) Bill Gertz's report on a press conference with Donald Rumsfeld and Shigeru Ishiba is a useful reminder that the Japanese fear US weakness toward North Korea more than unilateral US belligerence.

Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing at a news conference with Japan Defense Agency Director Shigeru Ishiba, also said that any U.S. security guarantees provided to Pyongyang would not be made at Tokyo's expense.

Check out the text of the press conference of Shigeru Ishiba and Donald Rumsfeld.

Q: Yes sir, Bill Gertz with the Washington Times. My question is for both of you. First, it’s about the nuclear issue. It's been reported that North Korea is prepared to accept some U.S. security guarantees. Mr. Ishiba, are you concerned that any agreement with North Korea could lead to a weakening of Japan’s security, and Mr. Rumsfeld, since North Korea has violated the ’94 agreement, can North Korea be trusted with any future nuclear agreement?

ISHIBA: For the U.S. to assure in what way the security and safety for North Korea -- I understand that study is ongoing within the United States. Now, this is just, on a hypothetical question and with the guarantee of security to be given to the North Korea and the U.S. has a guarantee of implementing the obligations of the defense for Japan. These two are separate questions. One thing is being given does not mean that other will be undermined. That is not the relationship between the two. With the assurance or guarantee given to the North Korea, and if there is an unjust attack made on Japan, U.S., I am sure, will have no change in its intention to work together with Japan to defend our nation. I believe we are in total agreement between myself and Mr. Secretary.

RUMSFELD: We are indeed in total agreement and the – it is a hypothetical question because the United States government has not gotten to that point. I can say this. The United States government is not going to make any arrangements with any other country, that one or others, that would in any way undermine our security agreement with Japan. Second, with respect to trust, I have always kind of agreed with former President Reagan --trust but verify.

Ishiba appears to stumble here and yet still manages to get in the point that the US has obligated itself to defend Japan in a sentence about a deal with North Korea. The Japanese are afraid the US will be too wimpish in dealing with North Korea and the Japanese do not want to see the United States cut a bilateral deal with North Korea that is not verifiable. Think about that. While the Bush Administration gets criticised for unilateral hawkishness by the Left in the United States and Europe over in East Asia Donald Rumsfeld offers assurances that the United States will not be unilaterally wimpish with the very country that many Bush Administration critics claim the Bushies are being too belligerent toward. While the Chinese and South Koreans try to paint the US as the responsible party for dealing with North Korea to resolve a dispute that is mainly between the US and North Korea over in Japan the emphasis is on the idea that the US has an obligation to defend Japan and had better not make a deal that results in Japan becoming less secure.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 19 11:15 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 November 17 Monday
The Marmot And David Scofield On North Korea

Robert "The Marmot" Koehler, an American citizen living deep inside enemy territory, Kwangju South Korea, takes on Talking Points Memo blogger Josh Marshall's partisan foolish analysis of the Clinton and Bush Administration policies toward North Korea.

The defining encounter came in March 2001 when then-President Kim Dae Jung visited the White House only to be told by the president that we were withdrawing support for his policy. As Jessica Matthews, head of the Carnegie Endowment put it, President Bush took "the architect of the North-South reconciliation and ... publicly humiliate[d] him."

The Marmot takes Marshall to Task.

Look, President Bush simply voiced his skepticism concerning North Korea, skepticism that turned out to be well-founded. Allies do not have to agree on everything, and both Kim and current President and Sunshine fan Noh Mu-hyeon made it a point to say that they reserve the right to disagree with Washington, and that right is surely reciprocal. If Kim Dae-jung was "humiliated" because Bush (who did publically back North-South reapproachment, BTW) refused to publically declare the Sunshine Policy the greatest thing since sliced bread, then Kim should have had thicker skin. And to be frank, it would have been a mistake for Bush to back a policy which, as readers of this blog no doubt have gathered, is based on some rather imaginative premises. It should also be noted that much of the "humilation" that Kim suffered was the result of poor translation work on the part of the Korean press, but that's a whole other story...

Would Josh Marshall have preferred that Bush embrace Kim Dae-jung's foolish policy of bribery of the North Koreans just so that Bush could avoid disagreeing with ("humiliating" in Marshall's parlance) the president of South Korea?

The Clinton Administration did not view the 1994 Framework Accord as a permanent solution because they expected the Pyongyang regiume to collapse. The seemingly craziest part of the deal, Bill Clinton's agreement to make the US one of the funders of the construction of two "peaceful" nuclear reactors for North Korea, only seemed to make sense because the Clinton Administration figured the North would collapse by the time the construction was finished. Construction of those reactors was recently halted by a KEDO members vote because construction was getting too far along and the regime has not passed into the dustbin of history.

There is an obvious conclusion that can be drawn from the reactor construction deal: the Clinton Administration was not pursuing a sustainable policy of containment of North Korean nuclear ambitions. The Bush Administration had to abandon the policy because the North Korean regime has lasted longer than the Clinton Administration policy could have reasonably been expected to work.

Of course, the Clinton Administration policy was already failing while Clinton was still in office with the North Koreans continuing to pursue the acquisition and development of technology for making nuclear weapons through missile-nuclear trade with Pakistan, covert purchase of technology in other countries, and work by their own scientists and engineers.

In response to Marshall's claims that the Bushies are acting all aggressive toward North Korea the Marmot points out some of the rather aggressive moves that the Clinton Administration made toward North Korea including the leak in 1998 of a plan to attack North Korea as a way to send a message to Kim Jong-il and his partners in brutality. The Marmot goes down the timeline and points out how the history of US policy toward North Korea is at odds with Marshall's memory.

While Bush Administration policy changes were a necessary corrective for failing Clinton Administration policies my own view is that Bush policy changes have not been enough to yield a policy that will ultimately be successful.

The real tragedy of the 1994 Framework Accord (a.k.a. Geneva Agreed Framework) that Clinton and Carter are responsible for is that it sent South Korea's internal politics hurdling down a degenerate path. The net result is that the 1994 Accord has turned South Korea into North Korea's bitch.

South Korea's desire to play intermediary between North Korea and the US has manifest into that of an advocate, rather than arbiter. When the North announced in October last year that it had secretly, and in direct contravention of its 1994 agreements, developed a highly enriched uranium program and was planning to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (it was the initial threat of the same by Pyongyang in 1992 that led to the Geneva agreement), South Korea quickly declared that the US must have misunderstood. When North Korea announced in September that it had finished reprocessing plutonium for the manufacture of additional nuclear weapons, it was South Korea that declared that this was false. Contrary to North Korean declarations that it has working nuclear devices and is busily making more, the South proclaimed again, not true.

The South Korean administration maintains the principle of a non-nuclear peninsula, but polls continue to show that few fear the Northern nuclear threat, with many taking quiet pride that the North is a nuclear power. The South, after much persuasion by the US, abandoned its nuclear weapons program in the mid-1970s. An oft-heard phrase in South Korea these days is Korean pride: loosely translated as an embrace of Korean nationalism and independence. A "Korean bomb" would be a boon to many in the South who believe the peninsula has been under the yoke of foreign powers for far too long.

The US no longer has an ally on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea serves North Korea. That is a big loss for US national interests and that loss began as a result of Clinton Administration policy. Kim Dae-jung came to power in 1997 in significant part as a result of the 1994 deal and he pursued policies that were made possible by that deal.

David Scofield, also author of the previous piece and writing from Seoul South Korea, argues the current regime in North Korea can not be expected to adhere to any agreement that might be negotiated.

The success of any agreement rests on all parties involved believing that they will be better served by following the terms - compliance offering something that cheating does not - or conversely, the costs of cheating being higher than the potential reward. Unfortunately, neither is true in the case of North Korea.

The present leadership cannot adhere to its promises, and we should not expect it to. It cannot accept change and retain control at the same time, its power and position being predicated on its ability to extort concessions and yield nothing; cheating is a necessity, not a choice. We should accept this reality and devote all available resources to the principle of leadership change, finding new people to negotiate with, people in whose best interests it is to abide by the principles of a new regional agreement.

Scofield comes to the same conclusion as regular readers of this blog have heard here: regime change is the only way to create a government in North Korea that will be willing to adhere to an arms control agreement. The most disappointing aspect of Bush Administration policy toward North Korea is that, at leaste as far as can be ascertained from public sources, the Bushies are not trying all that hard to make regime change happen. They are working to reduce some forms of revenue flowing to the North. But the South is upping trade and aid and it is not clear that the North is suffering a net decrease in support. The Bushies at the very least ought to be trying to break the North Korean regime's information monopoly over the people in the North. A lot could be done. A billion or two a year could be spent to get radios and books into North Korea, to broadcast more into North Korea, to smuggle North Korean refugees out of China, and to otherwise pursue policies that would have the effects of weakening the North Korean regime. Plus, the Bushies ought to make it clear to Beijing and to the South Koreans that the US views their support for North Korea as acts that threaten US national security and that the US places a higher priority on protecting US national security than on maintaining amicable relations with either Beijing or Seoul.

The Marmot's post and both of Scofield's Asia Times articles are excellent reads and I recommend reading them in full.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 17 11:53 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 November 11 Tuesday
CIA: North Korea Has Validated Working Nuclear Weapons

The CIA says North Korea has working nukes. The CIA presented this assessment as a response to questions raised at a hearing of Congress on 2003 February 11. The assessment is part of a document entitled "Questions for the Record from the Worldwide Threat Hearing" and was provided in an unclassified response in August 2003 to the US Senate Intelligence Committee. The relevant section is in a document now on the Federation of American Scientists website and is found on page 19 of this PDF file.

We assess that North Korea has produced one or two simple fission-type nuclear weapons and has validated the designs without conducting yield-producing nuclear tests. Press reports indicate North Korea has been conducting nuclear-weapons related high explosive tests since the 1980s in order to validate its weapons design(s). With such tests, we assess North Korea would not require nuclear tests to validate simple fission weapons.

There is no information to suggest that North Korea has conducted a successful nuclear test to date.

The North's admission to US officials last year that it is pursuing an uranium enrichment program and public statements asserting the right to have nuclear weapons suggest the Kim Chong-il regime is prepared to further escalate tensions and heighten regional fears in a bid to press Washington to negotiate with Pyongyang on its terms. If North Korea decided to escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula, conducting a nuclear test would be one option. A test would demonstrate to the world the North's status as a nuclear-capable state and signal Kim's perception that building a nuclear stockpile will strengthen his regime's international standing and security posture.


A North Korean decision to conduct a nuclear test would entail risks for Pyongyang of precipitating an international backlash and further isolation. Pyongyang at this point appears to view ambiguity regarding its nuclear capabilities as providing a tactical advantage.

The FAS provides some background on where this assessment comes from.

That CIA assessment, which slightly amplifies past public statements, appears in a new set of intelligence agency replies to "questions for the record" (QFRs) submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee following this year's annual hearing on the "worldwide threat."

Such QFRs are often overlooked because they are provided to Congress months after the hearing that prompted them, and they are made public months after that. But given the relative sparsity of unclassified intelligence threat assessments, they are usually worth reading.

North Korea may have the ability to deliver these nuclear weapons.

David Albright, a physicist who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said the CIA statement suggested a belief the North had already "weaponized" a nuclear device that could be dropped from a plane or delivered by missile.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and CIA do not expect North Korea to collapse from within.

In their political analyses, the American intelligence agencies said the government of Kim Jong Il appears unlikely to crumble from within, although they differed on who would succeed Kim if he died.

Well, given that South Korea and China are propping it up and the United States is not trying all that hard to reach the North Korean people with information about the outside world this seems a reasonable assessment. Why the Bush Administration doesn't try much harder to reach the North Koreans with information about the outside world is beyond me. Also, I would be very curious to know by what political calculations the Bushies have reached the conclusion that it is not worth trying to lean on the South Koreans and Chinese to cut off aid to North Korea.

The United States does not now have a strategy for dealing with the developing threat from North Korea that has a good chance of succeeding. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is rapidly becoming a dead letter. China and South Korea are protecting the North Korean regime.

South Korea seems intent upon continuing with its appeasement strategy come what may. The biggest unknown in how the events with North Korea will play out is the thinking of China's top leaders. Are the Chinese changing their minds about their support for North Korea?

Writing for Japan Today Devon Rowcliffe sees North Korean-Chinese ties as being in jeopardy.

In January of this year, when Pyongyang withdrew from the non-proliferation treaty, Beijing sent a senior official to the North to scorn the country, and briefly stopped oil shipments in February. Energy shipments were again suspended in March in an effort to push North Korea into multilateral talks with the U.S.

By contrast, writing for Asian Times Jaewoo Choo sees North Korea-China ties as firm.

However, what we should not overlook is the true purpose of Wu's visit to North Korea. There were many other agendas at the meeting. This can be inferred from the composition of Wu's delegation, and from the statement he made at the conclusion of his meeting with Kim. The delegation comprised no fewer than seven vice-ministerial officials ranging from political and foreign affairs to economic and defense ministers.

My guess is that it is wishful thinking to believe that China will firmly intervene to either take away North Korea's nuclear weapons or to bring down the regime. If the Chinese leaders do decide based on their own internal deliberations to intervene then it is possible they will eliminate the threat posed by North Korea. But it seems unreasonable to expect this and US policy can not count on it.

Since North-South trade on the Korean peninsula is rapidly rising the economic pressure on North Korea may be getting no more intense and may actually be lifting. If the US was to organize a complete embargo on trade and aid to North Korea from all countries other than China and South Korea then the US might be able to apply enough pressure to bring down the Pyongyang regime. But as South Korea trade with the North increases the potential impact of an embargo by other countries will gradually decline. Bush Administration policy makers will find the policy tools at their disposal will become weaker with time. The Bushies look set to fail in their policy toward North Korea and may already have passed beyond the point where success is possible. North Korea seems likely to continue to be a source of nuclear weapons technology for Middle Eastern governments and could potentially become a source nuclear weapons materials and perhaps even complete working bombs.

Update: For a good latest collection of links to recent goings-on related to North Korea see Robert "Marmot" Koehler's Winds of Change Eyes On Korea post. Robert also has his own blog Marmot's Hole which he writes from deep within enemy territory of Kwangju South Korea.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 11 11:40 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 November 07 Friday
Will North Korea Collapse Or Be Propped Up By Weapons Deal?

Lots of financial analysts think the collapse of the Norht Korean regime is inevitable.

John Chambers, managing director of sovereign ratings at Standard & Poor's, said the inevitable economic collapse could cost South Korea up to 300 percent of its annual gross domestic product.


Chambers told CNN Tuesday the North's collapse was "ineluctable". On timing, he said it could be soon or in the medium time. Either way, it would cost the South "dearly".

The question is whether enough aid and trade to prop up the regime is still getting thru.

"The North is still on the receiving end of donated food from China, Japan, the USA and South Korea," said Mr Morris.

"A sharp reduction in the assistance it is getting either from the West or from China... could push them over the edge," Mr Chambers predicted.

Standard & Poor's director for South Korea agrees with his boss.

"North Korea's economy cannot be sustained in its current state and we think it is highly likely to collapse," said Choi Jung-Tai, the agency's director for South Korea, adding: "When is uncertain."

In a sign of how the money men are looking at Korea they have even moved on from talking about the inevitability of the Pyongyang regime's collapse to bickering about the financially important question of how expensive the aftermath will turn out to be for South Korea. Barclays Capital says the Standard & Poor's cost estimate for reunification is too high.

``The 300 percent of South Korea�s GDP needed for reunification claimed by S&P would represent 75 times the North�s GDP. There is no example in the history of economic development of a country absorbing the equivalent of several hundred times of its GDP in external aid,� Barclays said in a report.

This depends on how one defines "cost". When South Korean corporations invest in factories in the post-collapse north will that be considered a cost or an investment? Also, the size of the cost depends on how the South Koreans handle it. They could rapidly build gold-plated infrastructure for North Korea or they could take a more parsimonious approach and let the growth of the post-collapse North Korean economy to provide a lot of the revenue for upgrading housing, medical faciltiies, roads, bridges, and so on.

So is the collapse of the North Korean regime inevitable? Kim Jong Il has two rays of hope. The first is that South Korea and China continue to send him aid and engage in trade. If Kevin of Incestuous Amplification is correct then the second ray of hope may turn out to be that the Bush Administration may wuss out and make a deal with North Korea for a pretty much unverifiable arms control agreement.

So here's the sequence. US presents evidence of a uranium-enrichment program to North Korea. North Korea admits having such a program. US stops oil shipments based on that program's existence breaking the terms of the 94 Agreed Framework. North Korea declares the Framework dead, kicks out inspectors, breaks the seals on their plutonium, and begins processing some or all of that plutonium. US government tries for a year to put economic pressure on North Korea, repeatedly citing the danger of their out-in-the-open plutonium program and their hidden uranium program as the basis for stopping this growing threat.

Now, via the State Department and intelligence official quoted in the USA today article, we're hearing that the CIA is not certain that a uranium enrichment plant even exists, and that North Korean ineptitude has slowed the overall program to a point of it not being as dangerous as the intel previously pointed to.

Click thru and read all the evidence that Kevin points to as signs of a climb-down on the part of the Bush Administration. He thinks the Bushies are preparing to sign a lame deal with Kim Jong Il. This would give the regime more years of life because such a deal would likely come with big piles of cash to help prop up Kim Jong Il's evil regime.

The uncertainty expressed by the CIA about the state of the North Korean nuclear weapons program has to be considered in light of previous inaccurate assessments. The advanced state of Saddam's nuclear program in the aftermath of Gulf War I was quite a surprise to US intelligence agencies. At the same time, Saddam acted like his weapons programs were further along in advance of Gulf War II than any evidence so far has shown to be the case. Also, the rate of advance of Pakistan's nuclear program surprised at least some analysts when Pakistan demonstrated the ability to explode a nuclear bomb in 1998. Since Gulf War II's aftermath is the less-than-expected amount of evidence for Iraqi weapons programs and the resulting criticism of US intelligence agencies performance causing the CIA to now act in a mode of being more afraid to overestimate than to underestimate the state of a secretive nuclear weapons development program? Also, just how much data do they have to base any estimate upon?

Keep in mind the nature of the North Korean regime.

Pregnant North Korean refugees repatriated after being rounded up in China have their babies forcibly aborted or killed after birth, according to a report that adds more horror to what is known of the Stalinist state's gulags.

An unverifiable US deal with North Korea would leave the regime firmly in control of its suffering people with the United States and other countries serving basically as enablers of that suffering. As it stands now both South Korea and China are firmly in the category of countries willing to serve as enablers of a horrible totalitarian regime. Will the United States join them?

Still, there are hopeful signs that a lame deal won't be signed any time soon. The organization tasked with building a $4.6 billion dollar nuclear reactor project for North Korea as part of the 1994 Frameworld Accord, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), has decided to suspend work on the project.

- The United States won support from key allies Wednesday to halt construction of two nuclear power plants in North Korea for at least a year because of the communist state's atomic weapons program.

North Korea is threatening to seize the uncompleted project and not to allow construction equipment to be removed.

North Korea threatened yesterday to seize the property of an international consortium that has been developing two light-water nuclear reactors on the country's east coast in reaction to an announcement that the project would be suspended for one year.

North Korea is even threatening to retaliate by refusing to participate in 6 party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program and other issues in dispute. Well, we can surely hope they will show the determination to follow thru on all these threats.

To be fair to Mr. Bush, the biggest problem the United States faces is that, as Kevin points out, South Korea and China keep propping up North Korea. The rapidly rising trade between South Korea and North Korea is especially infuriating. The United States ought to pull its troops out of South Korea and stop pretending that South Korea is an ally. If we fail to stop North Korea it will be because of South Korea and China. But we at least should not join those countries in propping up a regime that is both a threat and that is so terrible to its own people.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 07 03:02 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 October 27 Monday
Henry Rowen: Kim Jong Il Must Go

Henry Rowen has written an absolutely great article in Policy Review on North Korea and US policy toward North Korea and neighboring countries. The title of the article states his conclusion: Kim Jong Il Must Go.

If conditions get bad enough, might someone who understands the need for basic economic change seize power in a way analogous to Park Chung Hee’s takeover in South Korea or Deng Xiaoping’s succession to the Gang of Four in China? Both were dictators who, by opening their countries, produced rapid growth and, as a consequence, increased personal freedoms for their peoples — and for South Korea, democracy. As Deng told George Shultz in July 1988 when asked his opinion of Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union, “He’s got it backwards. He opened up the political system without a clue about the economy. The result is chaos. I did it the other way around, starting in agriculture and small businesses, where opening up worked, so now I have a demand for more of what succeeds.” What about political opening? “That will come later and will start small, just as in the economy. You have to be patient but you have to get the sequence right.”

While Deng's comments are very intriguing there is no sign as of yet that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is willing to embark on Deng-style economic reforms.

Rowen was able to talk with former Reagan Administration Secretary of State George Schultz in preparation for writing the article and hence he is able to quote the rather insightful comments the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping made to Schultz.

Perceived and real interests of the US and South Korea have diverged very substantially.

Until circa 1990, one could fairly say that American and South Korean interests were congruent: Both were about the security of the South and its consolidation of democracy. The robustness of Korean democracy is no longer in doubt. The problem is security. Of course both want to avert war, but Americans (and Japanese and apparently Chinese) perceive greater dangers from the North’s missile and nuclear weapons than do South Koreans. Southerners (rightly or wrongly) do not expect the North’s missiles or nuclear weapons to land on them, nor do they see themselves as the target of nuclear-armed terrorists. Americans see themselves as threatened both ways.

The US can not expect any help from South Korea in dealing with the North Korean regime. In fact, the US can expect South Korean policies that help prop up and protect the North Korean regime. South Korea is effectively no longer a US ally even though the US helps to defend the place.

The bottom line for Rowen is very basic: nuclear weapons inspection can not work in a closed society. Therefore Kim Jong-il has to go.

The nuclear inspection task would be formidable, especially for fabricated weapons. The only way to have confidence that they are not present in a country known to have had them (e.g., South Africa) is for the country to be sufficiently open that insiders with knowledge can safely reveal cheating. That condition will not exist in Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. The American effort to round up international support for inspecting and seizing exports of missiles and drugs at least puts pressure on the North in the maneuvering for an agreement. An economic blockade (excepting perhaps some food) might bring Kim down, and might be supported in the Security Council if proposed by the U.S. and China, but that brings us back to how far China is willing to go.

If something like an Agreed Framework Mark II is reached, there will be celebrations over having averted a great danger. One should not be too ready to carp at whatever emerges; this is a problem from hell. But elation would be premature. The inspection requirements for confidence that the fissile material production programs — and any fabricated bombs — are gone are so stringent as to be unlikely to be met, and as Pyongyang demonstrated recently, the inspectors could be thrown out at any time. It is axiomatic that any government headed by Kim Jong Il will have nuclear weapons, despite any agreement signed by his government (unless the Chinese take decisive action).

The Chinese, while claiming to have little influence over the Pyongyang regime, in fact could bring down the regime simply by cutting off food and fuel aid. Also, as Rowen points out, if China was to stop deporting North Korean refugees that would spark a rush for the border by millions of North Koreans. So China's willingness to prop up the regime is the most important external factor keeping Kim Jong Il in power.

Rowen's analysis is weakest in terms of constructive suggestions about how to go about trying to bring a regime change in North Korea. One option Rowen doesn't mention is to make a very large scale effort to get information into North Korea about the outside world. Break the information monopoly that the regime holds over the North Korean people. Large quantities of radios and books could be smuggled in via a number of methods and radio broadcasts into North Korea could be greatly increased. Also, all North Koreans who are outside of North Korea could be reached with reading materials as well.

Max Boot lays out some options for putting pressure on the North Korean regime.

The goals of such a campaign are easy to articulate but hard to accomplish: Cut off food aid to North Korea from various nations. Halt fuel supplies from China and investment from South Korean firms. Do more to intercept North Korean ships carrying illegal goods. Convince neighboring countries to open their doors to North Korean refugees. Finally, try to break Pyongyang's information monopoly. North Koreans' constant diet of outlandish propaganda, reported New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch, includes the claim that the Korean War was caused by capitalist aggression. The truth can set people free.

The Bush Administration and allies are already intensifying law enforcement investigations and intelligence work to reduce North Korean drug smuggling and other sources of revenue for the regime. Another step short of an embargo would be to reduce allowed legitmate trade that North Korea conducts with Japan and other countries.

Jim Hoagland argues that since the North Korean regime survives by use of extortion it will always have an incentive to cheat on any nuclear deal in order to better position itself for future extortion.

Tactics and strategy form a seamless web of survival for Kim, who runs no risk of mistaking one for the other. He is not buying time to experiment with reform communism or gradually open to the global economy. He is buying time "through the methodical export of strategic insecurity," in the words of scholar Nicholas Eberstadt, in a bid to escape change and outside influence.

The decision by the Pyongyang regime against embarking on serious internal reform of the sort Deng implemented in China effectively puts North Korea in a position where it has to find ways to become a security threat in order to be able to extort needed aid.

North Korea does not honor agreements to refrain from nuclear weapons development.

North Korea probably began cheating on the 1994 deal before the ink was dry. Scores of high-explosive tests done in the late 1990s suggest ongoing work to perfect a nuclear detonator. A female scientist who claims to have been in Yongbyon in the 1990s describes schemes concocted to hide covert weapons research. In a transcript allegedly made after she fled into China last year (and obtained by NEWSWEEK through a humanitarian group that arranged her exile in South Korea), she describes deception at the No. 304 Research Institute where she worked, a facility “involved with making both nuclear and chemical weapons.” To dodge IAEA inspections, she says, “we moved all materials and equipment into underground caves.” Eventually, a new plant called the August Facility was constructed. “The place is hidden inside a forest and connected with a new railroad from other facilities,” she added. “It processed uranium for use in other institutes.”

By Randall Parker    2003 October 27 01:50 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 October 21 Tuesday
Peter Maass On Kim Jong-Il, The Last Emperor

In a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile Peter Maass discusses what is known about the nature of the North Korean regime and its ruler. (or if that link doesn't work try this one)

Dictators come in different strains, like poisons. Some are catastrophically toxic; others, less so. Quite often, the harm a dictator will cause is associated with an internal drive to violence or a paranoia that begets violence or a mixture of both. Saddam Hussein is a case in point; his personal viciousness is legendary. Dictators of this sort are easy to read and easy to despise because they are obvious killers.

But what is to be made of a dictator who is charming, as Kim can be, and has never been known personally to raise a weapon or even a hand against anyone? This can be a no-less-dangerous strain of dictator, and in the world today, Kim Jong Il is its most striking example. Though friendly with important visitors, Kim is vicious to his own people. An estimated two million of them died during a preventable famine in the 1990's, and several hundred thousand are in prison and labor camps; many have been executed.


Kim's regime is best understood as an imperial court, clouded in intrigue, not unlike the royal households that ruled Japan, China and, throughout most of its existence, Korea itself. Until the 20th century, Korea was led by feudal kings, notably the Yi dynasty. By creating a personal and uncaring regime, Kim Il Sung wasn't stealing a page from only Stalin; he was also stealing it from Korean history, a fact that helps explain its durability.

''North Korea is a semifeudal society that is still based on traditional Korean values,'' says Alexandre Mansourov, a scholar at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies who was a Soviet diplomat based in Pyongyang in the 1980's. ''There are traces of modernity, but if you look at the structure of thinking, it is very traditional, in a medieval sense.''

The article is a fascinating read. His 22 year old son Kim Jong Chul, born to one of his mistresses, is now considered the front runner for succession when he dies.

Update: Maass was on the Charlie Rose show with former US ambassador to China Winston Lord and KEDO executive director Charles Kartman. Maass argued a point that I've made here repeatedly: The United States should focus more on China than on North Korea because China is the country which has the most amount of leverage over North Korea. Where does most of North Korea's energy come from? China. Where does nearly half of North Korea's food come from? China. Kartman tried to argue that China does not have that much leverage over North Korea. But if the Chinese cut off their aid to North Korea the regime would probably fall. That's a lot of leverage. If China and South Korea cut off aid the regime would definitely fall.

By propping up the North Korean regime the Chinese and South Koreans are making the United States much less secure in the future. The United States should hold countries accontable when they behave in ways that make the world a more dangerous place for the United States. We shouldn't call such countries allies or friends. The bottom line results of their policies should be what we measure them by.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 21 01:18 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 October 13 Monday
Stalin Chose Kim Il-sung To Lead North Korea

As this article in the Washington Post explains, North Korea's first communist leader Kim Il-sung spent World War II in a Soviet training camp and his son Kim Jong-il was born in that camp.

Kim Il-sung was one of the more talented students and was soon put in charge of a battalion of Korean partisans, he said. "But we were not specifically grooming him for leadership then. Stalin decided that much later," said Popov. Another former KGB officer, Park Il Peter Alexandrovich, was assigned to give Kim Il-sung ideological training after his return to Pyongyang in 1945. "Kim was a common man. He did not fight against the Japanese. He simply escaped from the Japanese," Park has said. Moscow was originally grooming another man, Kim Du-bong, as a potential leader, but he failed to meet expectations, he said.

The official story is that Kim Jong-il was born on North Korea's Mount Paekdu while assorted seemingly supernatural things happened around him to indicate that he was somehow blessed and that his father was a heroic resistance fighter against the Japanese in World War II. The reality is that the totalitarian killer Stalin put into power Kim Il-sung, Kim never saw any fighting, his son was born in Siberia near the village of Vyatskoye, and now his son runs a regime that has the deaths of millions of people on its hands as a consequence of decisions made by Stalin in the 1940s.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 13 12:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 September 25 Thursday
Windows Into North Korea's Economy

Small signs of market forces growing in North Korea.

Official sanction: Still, evidence is mounting that the economic lives of ordinary North Koreans are radically changing. Another aid worker who visits North Korea frequently said he was impressed by the number of bicycles in cities on the poor, industrial east coast, most of them made in Japan. “There were bicycles everywhere. To me, that’s an indicator of some kind of progress,” he said. “Something is happening.” Small-scale commercial activity had picked up and people were making economic choices for the first time in their lives. “Along the roadsides you would see these ladies with basins full of fruits and vegetables” for sale, he said. On previous trips they would scurry away when foreigners passed, but not this time, he said. “Clearly, this had some kind of official sanction,” he said.

Meanwhile the Los Angeles Times has a report from a trade fair in North Korea where the sales representatives from other countries describe how North Korean government organizations routinely buy expensive things that are inappropriate for their economy. (LA Times, free reg. req'd)

Gianpiero Foddis, a technician for an Italian tile company, Longinotti, said he was surprised that last year the North Koreans bought more than $1-million worth of equipment for making luxury tiles.

"What they bought is one of the most expensive [tile-making] machines in the world. But the electricity is not stable. The people are not professionals and the quality of the material is not good," Foddis said. "It might fail after a few months."

The North Koreans couldn't be talked out of eel growing equipment even though their weather isn't suitable for raising eels.

The bulk of the economy is still in government hands but small amounts of private enterprise are being tolerated around the edges. These conditions might continue for many years to come.

The booming market for mobile phones in Pyongyang has grown to 200 Motorola and Nokia mobile phones sold per month.

According to the tourism administration's Web site (, it costs as much as 1,110 euros or $1,295 to purchase a mobile phone, which includes the cost of activation.

Hey Marmot, can you have a peek at that site and tell us whether that is what the site reports (in what I'm guessing is in Korean language) about mobile phone prices? Is that a cost for tourists to pay? Do locals who are well-connected perhaps pay a special lower price as a reward being heroes of the glorious communist state?

By Randall Parker    2003 September 25 04:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 September 22 Monday
South Korea Undergoing Rapid Social Transformation

The divorce rate in South Korea is rapidly rising.

Still anchored in Confucian values of family and patriarchy, South Korea is fast becoming an open, Westernized society — with the world's highest concentration of Internet broadband users, a pop culture that has recently been breaking taboos left and right, and living patterns increasingly focusing on individual satisfaction.

Social changes that took decades in the West or Japan, sociologists here like to point out, are occurring here in a matter of years. In the last decade, South Korea's divorce rate swelled 250 percent, in keeping with women's rising social status.

A country that industrializes rapidly will be affected by the changing incentives that industrialization creates. At the same time, the people will absorb ideas from already industrialized countries more rapidly because of movies and other means of transmitting mass culture. Absent theocratic rule that suppresses social changes the changes which are occurring in South Korea seem inevitable for any country that fully industrializes.

South Korea has a higher divorce rate than the European Union. However, lumping all the countries of the EU together all too frequently obscures a wide range of variations. Also, the EU might have a lower divorce rate due to higher rates of unmarried cohabitation.

In 2001, the rate was 2.8, which was above the European Union's average of 1.8 and Japan's 2.3, though below the United States' rate of 4.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 22 12:39 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 September 09 Tuesday
China Blames US For Failure Of North Korea Talks

A cheeky statement from Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi reveals that he has a low assessment of the Bush Administration's ability to recognize obvious rivals and enemies who seek to undermine US attempts stop North Korean WMD proliferation.

BEIJING, Sept. 3 -- China expressed dissatisfaction today with the U.S. position on North Korea's nuclear weapons program taken at last week's six-party talks in Beijing and said the next round of negotiations would depend on the United States.

A Chinese official elaborated on statements made by Wang Yi, China's vice foreign minister and the host of last week's talks, who told reporters Monday in Manila that he considered the United States the "main obstacle" to settling the nuclear issue peacefully.

Attempts to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program peacefully face two main obstacles: China and South Korea. Both countries prop up North Korea economically. Both operate to protect North Korea from American diplomatic and economic pressure. If the Bush Administration had any guts we'd see the White House Press Secretary reading out a statement that "China is the main obstacle for settling the North Korean nuclear weapons program issue peacefuly". But that is too much to expect from the Bush Administration.

Between China and South Korea China is obviously the worse obstacle to US ambitions to rein in North Korea as China uses North Korea to defeat general American anti-proliferation efforts.

U.S. officials said the intelligence community has determined that China and North Korea have cooperated in the production and delivery of components for missile and WMD programs to a range of Middle East clients. They said in many cases China, which last year announced export controls on military and dual-use technologies, has produced the components and exported them through North Korea to avoid U.S. sanctions.

Now, wouldn't it be great for the US leadership to state the obvious and to tell the American public that China is a promoter of nuclear, missile, and other forms of weapons proliferation? That is too much to expect of the hapless Bush Administration. In the face of all this America's clueless Secretary of State Colin Powell thinks US relations with China are just great.

Citing shared concerns about North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and other issues, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday U.S. relations with China are at their highest point in more than 30 years.

Statements like Powell's are one of the sources of my pessimism with regard to efforts to stop North Korea's nuclear program.

On the bright side, there is one way this crisis will not get worse: at least former president Jimmy Carter is going to stay out of it.

Traveling on an agenda promoting aid to Africa, he said he had no plan to repeat his 1994 trip to Pyongyang, which opened paths to the first nuclear agreement with North Korea.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 09 09:34 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 August 27 Wednesday
Nicholas Eberstadt on North Korean Nuclear Weapons Program

Here's a very important article by Nicholas Eberstadt on the extreme unlikelihood that North Korea will agree to verifiable nuclear disarmanent.

North Korea is entirely unlikely to be talked out of its nuclear weapons program. This happens to be one of those sorry international disputes in which the most desirable outcome is also the least likely. Indeed, the practical obstacles to securing an irreversible and verifiable end to Pyongyang's nuclear program through diplomatic negotiations alone are not just formidable, they are overwhelming.

Stanley Kurtz agrees with Eberstadt and offers up possibilities I fully agree with.

What are those options? We can try to pressure the Chinese to force regime change, but the Chinese will not act unless they are convinced that America will otherwise go to war with North Korea. We can interdict North Korean shipping and trade in hopes of reducing their exports of nuclear materials. But enough is bound to get through to eventually lead to a nuclear blast in some American city. And the interdiction itself, if it is reasonably effective, may lead to war. Finally, we can go to war with North Korea. I have said for some time, and still believe, that war is the likely outcome. The administration will negotiate, but the negotiations will break down when it becomes clear, as it inevitably will, that the North will not allow effective verification. Meanwhile, during the drawn out negotiations, the North Koreans will continue to develop their nuclear weapons. Once the failure of the negotiations has become obvious, we will be on a path to war, either in the short or medium term. We will intensify interdiction, pressure the Chinese to force regime change, and hope that a bomb doesn’t get through. But at some point, if China doesn’t act, and the extent of North Korea’s nuclear development becomes obvious, we will be pushed into war. The best hope to avoid war is a credible enough threat of it that China finally acts. But the odds still favor war.

The most likely outcome continues to be that we first lose an American city to a terrorist nuke attack and only then attack North Korea for having helped proliferate nukes to the point where some ended up in terrorist hands.

Also see the Marmot and Kevin at IA on Eberstadt's article.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 27 09:32 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 August 21 Thursday
Assorted Naval Exercises, WMD Proliferation, And North Korea

The New York Times reports that as part of the Proliferation Security Initiative (see here and here for background on the Proliferation Security Initiative) US, Australian, and other allied navies will be carrying out interdiction exercises in the Coral Sea near Australia to train for intercepting North Korean shipping. (or see here)

Administration officials and Asian diplomats said that the exercise would be carried out in the Coral Sea off northeastern Australia in September and that it was officially described as directed at no one country. A principal intention, however, was to send a sharp signal to North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, they said.

There is still no diplomatic agreement on the conditions under which it will be acceptable to intercept North Korean shipping. But the Times gives the impression that diplomatic efforts are under way to come up with an agreement between a number of countries on rules for doing so.

The Times also reports on the DPRK Illicit Activities Initiative:

Under a separate program, known as the D.P.R.K. Illicit Activities Initiative, referring to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name, there has been a quiet crackdown by many nations against the North's narcotics trade, counterfeiting, money laundering and other efforts to earn hard currency.

It would be very interesting to know just how successful this crackdown has been.

In spite of the supposed split between the United States and Europe note that aside from the US, Japan, and Australia, all the rest of the Proliferation Security Initiative nations are European.

Air and ground interdiction exercises are planned as well, involving the 11 countries that have signed on to the plan, called the Proliferation Security Initiative. They are Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the United States.

China is sending mixed but slightly encouraging signals about how it will respond to the Proliferation Security Initiative.

China has given its first assurance it will not allow North Korea to evade any international sanctions on exports of weapons of mass destruction by using Chinese territory for transit.

But it also warned yesterday that a naval screen being assembled by Australia and 10 other nations against such exports could have consequences for regional stability and interfere with ongoing diplomatic efforts.

The US Navy is also planning a submarine hunting exercise off the coast of Japan.

The Navy plans to begin testing a new method for hunting hostile submarines this fall off the coast of Japan, and the test will include looking for the real thing: diesel-electric North Korean and Chinese subs prowling in the Sea of Japan.

The US Navy will be testing the Littoral Airborne Sensor Hyperspectral (LASH) system for identifying underwater objects by small changes in color visible from the surface during the day.

A third naval exercise which has already started involves ships of Russia, Japan and South Korea in exercises near North Korea.

Russia, traditionally an ally of North Korea, embarked Monday on a 10-day maritime exercise, partly in waters near North Korea, that will involve two traditional enemies of the North, Japan and South Korea. The exercise is the first time that warships from those three countries have conducted joint maneuvers.

That is an interesting grouping. The presence of South Korea in the group is especially interesting. Why are the South Koreans doing this? To engage in security exercises separate from the United States? To send North Korea a message to back down?

The most curious and telling move by the Russians, though, is a land exercise near the North Korean border to train for handling a large refugee influx should the North Korean regime begin to teeter on the brink of collapse.

...border troops and civil defense officials are to conduct drills based on the premise that huge North Korean refugee flows could start as a result of a new war on the Korean peninsula or by the collapse of the government of Kim Jong Il.

Are the Russians doing that to send a message to the North Koreans? Or are they doing it because they think there is a substantial chance that such preparations may be useful in the foreseeable future?

Russia is also engaging in naval exercises with the US.

Russia said its naval vessels would link up with U.S. coastal forces in exercises in the Bering Straits...

North Korea is of course denouncing these exercises.

Slate's Fred Kaplan, seemingly forever excited by signs of various imagined imminent breakthroughs in negotiations with North Korea, is excited about Russia seeming to turn its back on North Korea. I think the importance of Russia in all this is exaggerated. South Korea and China are the countries that are doing the most to provide the Pyongyang regime with economic aid, trade, and diplomatic support to protect it against the United States. The facts on the ground for North Korea can substantially change only if either South Korea or China reduce aid and trade with North Korea or if the US and its allies start running real naval operations (not just practice exercises) to intercept North Korean shipments.

Naval interdiction against North Korea could potentially be very important if (really big if) it actually is put into practice. Illustrating this, the Washington Post has an excellent article about how the 1999 discovery by customs agents in Kandla India of missile parts and production equipment in a North Korean ship headed most likely to Libya demonstrates the kind of weapons and weapons technology trade engaged in by North Korea.

When the ship's doors were finally reopened at gunpoint, the reason for the extreme secrecy became clear. Hidden inside wooden crates marked "water refinement equipment" was an assembly line for ballistic missiles: tips of nose cones, sheet metal for rocket frames, machine tools, guidance systems and, in smaller crates, ream upon ream of engineers' drawings labeled "Scud B" and "Scud C." The intended recipient of the cargo, according to U.S. intelligence officials, was Libya.

While the previous article provides an insight into North Korean weapons sales a second excellent Washington Post article outlines the many efforts that North Korea has been making to purchase and import components needed for nuclear weapons development.

On April 12, in a dramatic but little-noticed intervention, French and German authorities tracked the ship to the eastern Mediterranean and seized the pipes. German police arrested the owner of a small export company and uncovered a broader scheme to acquire as many as 2,000 such pipes. That much aluminum in North Korean hands, investigators concluded, could have yielded as many as 3,500 gas centrifuges for enriching uranium.

"The intentions were clearly nuclear," said a Western diplomat familiar with the investigation. "The result could have been several bombs' worth of weapons-grade uranium in a year."

As the second Washington Post article linked to above demonstrates, North Korea's ability to send diplomats to other countries and to trade with many countries provides it with opportunities to earn hard currency and to skirt around export restrictions to buy the equipment it needs for its nuclear weapons development program. If governments that currently allow North Korean visitors and that allow North Korean diplomatic missions and business fronts to operate on their territories were to restrict the number of North Koreans they allow on their soil that would reduce the effectiveness of North Korean smuggling operations. If countries were to break off diplomatic relations with North Korea that would even further reduce the regime's ability to acquire desired equipment. As it stands now the North Koreans have so many agents working abroad that it is just a matter of time before they succeed in acquiring anything that they attempt to purchase.

When commentators speak of increasing the pressure on North Korea one has to ask in each case what exactly that means. The North Korean leaders don't mind being pariahs. They don't mind having few friends. What matters to them is what they need, what they want, and what they can get away with. They may change their position if they sense that trends are moving in a direction not favorable to them. But unless trends are moving in a direction that threatens the survival of the regime or which will totally frustrate their ambitions they are not going to cave in and give up nuclear weapons development. So the various initiatives and exercises either on-going or planned only matter to the extent that they lead to events that substantially reduce the Pyongyang regime's ability to do things that it would otherwise be able to do.

The big problem that the United States continues to face in dealing with North Korea is that China and South Korea are still aid-and-trade partners for North Korea and there is still no official sanctions regime in place that would provide the US with the diplomatic legitimacy it needs to entirely stop North Korean trade by sea.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 21 01:19 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 August 20 Wednesday
South Korea Still Busy Appeasing North Korea

Rallies against a vicious tyranny are a thing to apologize for in South Korea.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA--In a part of the world where diplomacy usually means never saying you're sorry, South Korea's president publicly apologized to North Korea on Tuesday for a rally at which anti-communists burned a North Korean flag and an effigy of leader Kim Jong Il.

The nationally televised statement by Roh Moo Hyun paved the way for North Korea to participate in the Universiade, an 11-day student athletic tournament taking place in the South Korean city of Taegu.

Protest organizer Seo Si Joo reasonably asks "Why should President Roh apologize for the democratic right of citizens to freely express their opinion?". Well, that's a really good question Seo Si Joo. It would be very interesting to hear how South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun answers that question. Signs on that score are not hopeful. President Roh Moo-hyun, leader of a fairly free and quite prosperous nation, apparently doesn't pine for the day when joyous crowds of North Koreans burn North Korean flags in celebration of the regime's overthrow.

"It is improper to burn North Korea's national flag and the portrait of leader Kim Jong-il. I feel regretful over this," the spokeswoman quoted him as saying.

"I hope this will not happen again," he said.

Gosh, I hope it will happen again and on a much bigger scale involving tens of millions of people.

Meanwhile, with trade between South and North Korea over $600 million last year the South Korean government is moving to implement a financial and trade agreement with North Korea in order to make that trade go even higher.

The agreements, signed in December 2000, call for the two sides to protect each others' investments, avoid double taxation, open a direct route for financial transactions and establish a panel to settle trade disputes.

While South Korea is preoccupied with appeasing North Korea and building up inter-Korean trade Georgetown University professor Victor Cha thinks South Korea should look beyond its own preoccupations and join in efforts to intercept North Korean shipping to end the North Korean missile and WMD trade.

This autumn, countries that are members of the Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI, will likely begin exercises in the Pacific Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to practice search and seizure operations against the transfer of materials for weapons of mass destruction, or WMD.

These activities could represent the beginning of a new global norm, but they will bypass South Korea -- despite its national aspirations to become a player on the world stage -- because Seoul cannot look past its own preoccupations.

With appeasement demanding so much of President Roh's time I can't see how he could find the time to help prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. He's a busy man after all. Perhaps Roh could steal a page from North Korea's playbook and mercilessly suppress even the smallest signs of dissent from his policies. Then he wouldn't have to spend time apologizing for the crazy antics of freedom-loving protestors. Why not do this? After all, if Roh doesn't think people should protest against the behavior of the Pyongyang regime then he must not think there is any problem with the actions that Kim Jong-il takes.

Update: Marmot's Hole and Incestuous Amplification have extensive coverage of the flag-burning apology episode. First, Marmot Robert Koehler weighs in:

This is not the first time Widaehan Suryong Roh Mu-hyeon Dongji has reacted strongly to the burning of the North Korean flag. Back in June, Korean riot police forcibly stopped anti-North Korean demonstrators from setting the Nork flag ablaze. The previous year, then President Kim Dae-jung stopped protestors from burning North Korean flags and portraits of Da' Fat Man during the Asian Games in Pusan. The irony, of course, rests not only with the hands-off approach the government takes with the burning of the American flag - in point of fact, the North Korean flag is one of the few foreign flags that can be legally burned in South Korea, given that Seoul does not actually recognize North Korea as a nation.

Double standards about US and North Korean flags with the North Koreans getting more respect in South Korean? Who would have expected it? Okay, leave aside those who pay attention to what happens in South Korea. Who else would have expected it? Oh, alright, leave aside those who expect long-time American allies [Ed. former allies me: yeah, okay, former allies] to routinely dis on America for protecting their asses, who else would have expected it? Look at dogs. They are very loyal. Would they have expected it? No, of course not. Of course, dogs in Korea get eaten as delicacies. So maybe Robert Koehler doesn't expect Korean dogs to display loyalty. But isn't that the point? If a country isn't loyal to its dogs then why should we expect it to be loyal it its allies? [Ed. former allies me: yeah, okay, former allies] So what is going on in South Korea is a logical outcome of their use of dogs as human food.

Kevin at IA includes in his analysis of the flag burning-apology episode the important point that sports events do not build world peace.

The Korea Times:

Tension exists on the peninsula due to the North’s ambition to build weapons of mass destruction. We sincerely hope the North Koreans’ participation at the Daegu Universiade will contribute to ease tensions, promote peace and mend sour ties.

You know what I'm fucking sick of?  Listening to any asshole with a mouth blabber on about how every athletic competition, concert, and dance festival that includes both North and South Korea is "promoting peace" or "easing tensions" on the Korean peninsula.  Guess what fucksticks?  Archery competitions and concerts aren't promoting anything but archery and shitty pop music.  Why is it that every damn South Korean delegation has to make the argument that South Korea deserves an Olympics or a World Cup or a frog-fucking festival based on said event's potential for promoting peace, reconciliation, or reunification with North Korea?  Is there a single shred of evidence to support that theory?  Is it a pathetic play for pity?  Did the 2002 Asian Games in Busan -- in which North and South Korea marched together under one flag -- convince North Korea to cease their production of nukes?  Did it stop them from murdering 6 South Korean sailors last summer?  Did it prevent them from firing at South Korean soldiers in the DMZ last month?

Please, shut the fuck up about promoting peace.  It's a broken record and I'm tired of it, particularly in light of the fact that you bastards take every opportunity to piss on American soldiers, who are the real reason there's been 50 years of peace on the peninsula.  That's right, North Korean flute concertos don't contribute one iota to the protection of South Korean lives.  The GIs that you spit on, kidnap, harrass, disrespect, call murderers, and generally

What is it about people who most loudly promote peace? If you think "peace activist" do you immediately think "fool"? Or do you immediately think "idiot" and then only as an afterthought "fool"?

Update II: For anyone hoping that the opposition party in South Korea would take a hard line against the apology is going to be disappointing.

The opposition Grand National Party released a statement arguing that President Roh's decision to offer an apology is "understandable but premature."

Premature? What, South Korea should have waited a whole day or maybe even two days before apologizing?

Then there is the treatment of the North Korean athletes. They are not allowed to defect.

To protect the North Koreans and prevent possible defections or other incidents, the delegation at Busan last October was tightly guarded and sealed off from outsiders. Taegu organizers have vowed similar tight security this month.

The South Koreans are badly in need of a moral compass. They must have lost theirs.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 20 04:02 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 August 13 Wednesday
China And South Korea Enable North Korean Nuclear Program

Peter Huessy says China has the power to stop North Korean nuclear weapons development.

For example, Joe Cirincione at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace charged that the combination of U.S. missile defenses and nuclear forces—“first the shield, then the sword”-- was undermining China’s deterrent, though it remains unclear what it is China was deterring the U.S. from doing. More likely, the PRC is concerned the U.S. is more likely to come to the defense of its allies in the region if we maintain both a missile defense and a nuclear deterrent, rather than a nuclear deterrent alone. Failing to deter potential Chinese aggression would be an open invitation to further military adventures, certainly not a sensible U.S. policy to follow.

The Bush Administration is thus pushing the PRC to make a choice between continuing its proliferation policies and finally shaping up. In my view, the Chinese communists in Beijing have all the power they need to stop not only the missile deployments and sales of the Kim Jong-Il government, but its nuclear programs as well. The key is what future the Chinese government officials now with the upper hand in Beijing decide: to pursue a China that fully integrates with the development of the Pacific region, its investment, trade and growth, or a China that seeks hegemonic control over the Pacific and its future.

There is debate about the extent of China's influence over North Korea. But China's aid to North Korea in the form of fuel and food is essential for the survival of the Pyongyang regime. Therefore, North Korea's continued development of nuclear weapons is possible because China allows it to happen. The Chinese clearly place a higher priority on the survival of the Pyongyang regime than they do on stopping its nuclear weapons development effort.

There are only about 3 possible ways to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons:

  • The US invades and overthrows the regime.
  • The US smuggles in large numbers of radios and books and reaches the North Korean people with a great deal of information about the rest of the world and this inspires the North Korean people to rise up and overthrow their government.
  • China cuts off aid to North Korea and joins with the US and its allies to enforce sanctions. The Pyongyang regime falls.

The Bush Administration doesn't appear to be willing to do a military build-up for a war. The US military is rather overstretched at this point anyhow and Congress would have to fund a military build up to make an attack practical. This seems unlikely.

An internal revolt seems unlikely unless some part of the military carries out a coup. Internal revolts against highly tyrannical regimes which still have effective and vigorous mechanisms of repression are rare. The state of mind of the officers in the North Korean military is the biggest wildcard in this scenario. Possibly a US covert operation could reach them with enough information and offers of substantial bribes to sway some loyalties. But I think this unlikely.

China is obviously unwilling to cut off aid. The Bush Administration seems unwilling to criticise the Chinese for failing to do so.

It is possible that the next round of negotiations will build up support among US allies for further cuts in aid and trade with North Korea. Even if US allies came to totally agree with the US on this point that would still leave non-allies South Korea and China supporting North Korea. As Incestuous Amplifier Kevin points out, China and South Korea are going to stick with North Korea come what may.

I support a hard negotiating line in order to flesh out a failure earlier rather than later, but I think the hawks in the Pentagon are equally wild-eyed optimists if they believe they'll ever succeed in rallying support from other countries for further pressure. Once negotiations begin, the North Koreans have to be smart enough to know that as long as they even remain at the table -- regardless of what they're saying or how much they're cooperating -- South Korea, China, and Russia will claim that the process is working. Germany, France, and Russia did the same thing with inspections in Iraq, and Iraq bought itself an extra year by playing the G/F/R against the US and Britain. North Korea could easily buy itself 3-4 years considering the fact that the potential costs of a war are exponentially higher.

You can follow the news from the Korean peninsula from day to day but keep in mind that no matter how much seems to be happening diplomatically at any point and no matter how hopeful various talking heads are of reaching a peaceful solution major changes would have to happen in the positions of both the Chinese and South Koreans for North Korea's nuclear program to be stopped at some point short of war. I think that unlikely and I'm betting on North Korea becoming a substantial nuclear power.

Update: Also see Marmot Robert Kohler's critique of a Korea Times op-ed by Tom Plate:

And Tom, you seem to have made a couple of slight typos there - concerning China, you wrote that its "cooperation with South Korea and the United States on the Korean issue has become dramatically helpful," when you should have written, "cooperation with South Korea against the United States on the Korean issue has become dramatically unhelpful." If either the Chinese or the South Koreans had wanted to nip this problem in the bud, they could have done so. But the Chinese would rather see their influence in the region grow while at the same time forcing the United States (its greatest competitor) to unilaterally shoulder the diplomatic and financial costs of a "negotiated solution," and the last two South Korean presidential administrations have been much more concerned with "inter-Korean detente" and arranging corrupt business deals in the North than with the possibility of a North Korean nuclear device going off in LA or New York. To the extent that Beijing and Seoul have cooperated at all, they have done so out of fear that the US might do something "drastic"; once we take that "drastic" option off the table - as preferred by Seoul, Beijing, and Tom Plate - the Chinese and South Koreans will no longer have any interest at all to work with Washington, and they'll go back to simply trying to bend the Americans over..

It is, at best, naive to refer to either South Korea or China as a friend or ally.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 13 03:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2003 August 11 Monday
Radio Smuggling Campaign: Give the Ear to a North Korean

A group is going to start smuggling radios into the most isolated country in the world: North Korea.

The North Korean government's monopoly on news inside the Stalinist state is being challenged by South Korean activists, who plan to float radios across the border carried by helium baloons.

The initial shipments will be done by balloons.

They plan to fly more than 20 balloons, each six metres tall and carrying about 30 small radios, into North Korea within the next two weeks from either China or South Korea, organizers told a news conference in Seoul, without elaborating.

They are starting out with a small budget.

Organisers estimate the cost of sending the radios at $7,000.

This is a worthwhile cause.

The Free North Korea site has posted a message from a leader of this effort, Korean-American human rights activist Rev. Douglas Shin:

--How are we planning to smuggle these radios?
Over the land (i.e. hand-carried), by sea (eg. in a bottle or by unmanned boat), and by air (eg. by balloon or by UAV—unmanned aerial vehicle or ’drone’). The details are available upon request by relevant parties.

--How can you help?
Each package will include one solar-powered radio, one sheet of waterproof paper containing whatever printed message the donor wants to send (eg. Christian tract, freedom notice, introduction to the donor), and a 500-won North Korean note to buy a few kilos of rice with. The radios cost about $20 right now and the price is going down.

The donor can contribute with money, their radios (must be light, compact, and solar-powered), logistical support, manpower (eg. participation with the smuggling by all means), and/or even broadcast contents. In addition to two South Korean and two American radio stations that broadcast daily to North Korea, it costs about $180 for an hour of airtime for North Korea at a commercial transmission service such as VT Merlin.

--Where can you send help?
You can send your support to Korean Peninsula Peace Project, a California non-profit corporation in Los Angeles:

11901 E. 176th Street #144
Artesia, CA 90701

+1-562-458-5744 (mobile)

Website (soon to open):

The idea of using an unmanned boat is pretty clever. If the North Koreans come across the boat they won't be able to kill anyone. A boat could be preprogrammed to follow a course and guide itself using GPS. They'd just need some sort of device that could trigger at a desired location to release the sealed radios into the water near a coastline and then the boat could return toward South Korea.

(thanks to Tom Holsinger for the heads-up on this)

By Randall Parker    2003 August 11 08:13 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2003 August 06 Wednesday
Negotiations With North Korea Unlikely To Help

Does it matter whether the US negotiates with North Korea and under what format the negotiations take place? Yes, though the main reason is not because of what the negotiations will or will not produce. For reasons amplified on below it seems unlikely that the US will be able to negotiate a deal with North Korea for a verifiable end to North Korea's nuclear prorgam. But nature of the terms the US agrees to for holding the negotiations sends a signal to North Korea as to whether the US feels it is negotiating with a weak hand. Kevin at Incestuous Amplifications lays out reasons why the chattering classes are making too big a deal over the agreement to hold a meeting to conduct multilateral/bilateral negotiations.

There's going to be an assumption by all parties that the typical belligerent North Korea will come to the table, so any behavior even slightly above that expectation will be seen as "progress" from the other 4 parties at the table and likely lead to consensus for further talks, more delays, and more time for North Korea to travel further down the road of nuclear development.

As an example of how the strategy can work, I would point to the Iraqi behavior in the months leading up to the war. They started becoming more cooperative, more open, offering up documents and revelations that they hadn't for the previous 12 years. Of course it wasn't enough, but it led France, Germany, China, and others to point to that behavior as proof of cooperation. Of course compared to the deception and stonewalling of the past, it seemed like progress, but relative to what was necessary for real progress to be made, it was nothing of the sort.

The bar has been set so low with North Korea, that even small steps get magnified and blown out of proportion. This story is actually a perfect example. The sole fact that North Korea is even willing to sit down at the table is being cited as significant progress.

Some people think the US is basically marching toward inevitable victory over North Korea. See, for instance, Steve Den Beste's analysis. By contrast, and partly in response to Den Beste, Kevin argues a more pessimistic interpretation.

The only problem I have is with Den Beste's conclusion. He believes that North Korea agreeing to the talks themselves is a major diplomatic victory for the Bush administration. I don't. The fact that NK plays hard to get doesn't turn a simple sit-down into a victory. If you're facing a hostage situation and the terrorists refuse to even answer the phone for a week, and during that week they kill a hostage per day, when they finally do pick up on day 8 is that a victory for the cops placing the call? In terms of the overall situation, no. And by all measure, since the last talks in April, North Korea has been killing a hostage per day, or as we like to call it, processing plutonium.

Getting them to sit down at the table is not a victory. We've had far too many sitdowns and far too many failures to consider it such, and I believe these talks are doomed to failure from the start anyway. The only relevance of the North Korean concession on the talks is that it will allow them to fail more quickly, allow that failure to be seen by our allies, and allow us to strengthen our position for further economic pressure.

Kevin makes a great point about how a failure of the talks will help build support among our allies for a greater reduction of trade with and aid to North Korea. That is important.

Most of the debate about whether either the multilateral portion or US-North Korea bilateral portion of the talks will be most important is based on an assumption that I think is fallacious: that the talks will be important as negotiations with North Korea. North Korea is playing for time while it develops nukes. It is determined to make nukes unless stopped by either China with a total aide cut-off or by the US with an invasion. The negotiations that matter the most are the negotiations between China and the United States because such negotiations might cause a change in China's approach toward North Korea. After that, the negotiations between the US and its allies matter mostly for the reason Kevin cited: to build up support for more informal sanctions and aid reduction. An expansion of the informal sanctions will cost North Korea. Though it is far from obvious that such sanctions can tip the North Korean regime into collapse or into agreeing to verifiable nuclear disarmament

The main purpose for the US to agree to hold talks with North Korea is to have talks that are multilateral in order to try to get the interests of other parties such as Japan and South Korea granted more legitimacy among the international talking heads. It is valuable for the Bush Administration is to shift the terms of the debate over North Korea's nuclear weapons program so that the conflict is not portrayed as simply a spat between the United States and North Korea. This makes it easier for the US to ask other parties to end trade with North Korea and to cut off aid. That the Chinese were willing to pressure the North Koreans to meet in the multilateral setting in exchange for a bilateral session as well represents a small victory for the Bushies. It might signal a willingness of the Chinese to apply more pressure on North Korea going forward. But even if it doesn't (and it seems presumptuous to assume that it does) at least it helps the Bushies show that the US is not the only country with a strong interest in stopping North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

The big question to ask about North Korea is this: Why is the North Korean government developing nuclear weapons? Let us look at potential factors in the thinking about nuclear weapons development in the minds of the elite of the Pyongyang regime in North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-il.

  • The Pyongyang regime may simply be trying to extort larger dollops of aid from the US and other countries in exchange for stopping its nuclear weapons program.
  • The problem with the previous point is that the Pyongyang regime may instead want to become a nuclear power in order to be in a stronger position to extort even greater amounts of aid once it becomes recognized as a nuclear power. Their involvement in negotiations may just be a move to buy time and placate China.
  • The possession of functioning nuclear weapons and technology for making nukes may be seen by the Pyongyang regime as useful for increasing revenue from weapons sales. How much do they think they can sell individual nuclear weapons for?
  • The Pyongyang regime may want a credible deterrent to prevent a US-South Korean land attack. This seems hard to credit given that they already have the ability to kill hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of South Koreans in event of a war. Also, the North Koreans have pursued nuclear weapons development for many years even while the US was in a very accommodating posture toward North Korea. But if they are already determined to get that deterrent why should they change their minds at a negotiation session?
  • The Pyongyang regime may believe they can survive reductions of other forms of aid as long as the Chinese continue to supply aid and they may believe that the Chinese will continue to supply aid. Therefore they may believe that they have sufficient economic resources to keep their regime in power and to follow thru on their nuclear weapons development efforts.
  • The Pyongyang regime may believe that they have enough of their nuclear weapons program spread out to sites that the US does not know about that they can weather an air strike against their nuclear weapons development sites and still be able to continue to make progress toward building a substantial number of nuclear weapons.

Some commentators believe (against considerable evidence to the contrary in my view) that North Korea's nuclear weapons development program is just a bargaining chip to give up in order to get more aid. In this view, the increase in the level of aid that North Korea was getting from the US, South Korea, and other countries in the late 1990s was not enough for the regime and the regime decided to make a bid for a big increase in aid. If this assumption is incorrect then the negotiations can not result in a deal to stop the North Korean program in exchange for large bribes labelled as aid.

People who cheer negotiations, whether bilateral or multilateral, do so based on the assumption that negotiations can cause a substantial change in the positions of the participants. What reason is there for such optimism when applied to North Korea?

In some respects the US negotiating position is weakening. Memories of September 11, 2001 are fading and being replaced by daily reports of problems in Iraq. The fading of those memories also decreases a recently strong American public desire to see the world changed to make it less of a threat to the United States. The war against terrorism has provided a sense of urgency that has given the Bush Administration the support it needed to attack Iraq. Yet that sense of urgency is fading and is being replaced a more partisan national debate in the run-up to the 2004 election in which the reasons for the war in Iraq and the aftermath play a large role. The level of objection raised about Iraq does not bode well for the ability of the Bush Administration to make credible threats to North Korea or Iran let alone to launch an attack on either. Iraq was far easier to invade than Iran would be and Iran would be far easier to invade than North Korea. Even worse, about half of all US deployable combat divisions are already deployed in Iraq. Even if a moderate amount of political will existed to do a military build-up near North Korea the US would lack the ground troops needed to do so.

As the British military news publication Jane's points out in "On imperial overstretch: can the USA afford to send its troops here, there and everywhere?" US ground troops are already overcommitted.

Twenty-one of the US Army's 33 regular combat brigades are already on active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea and the Balkans, amounting to roughly 250,000 fighting men and women. And this does not include a substantial number of US troops regularly stationed in Germany, Britain, Italy and Japan, or smaller contingents now scattered around the world. A traditional calculation assumes that for every soldier deployed on an active mission, two more are required to be kept in reserve, either in order to rotate those in action or to prepare for that rotation. Under this assumption, the USA has already reached its limit today. But, to the frustration of the Pentagon, neither US diplomatic priorities nor the sheer pace of international developments appears to take this into account.

The constraints of a small military weaken US bargaining power with both China and North Korea. Absent a credible US military threat to North Korea and as long as the Chinese are willing to keep the regime supplied with food and fuel why should the North Koreans stop developing nuclear weapons? They may believe they can get more aid by extortion if they make a lot of nuclear weapons and then demand the aid. A few percent of South Korea's economy shipped north per year under a nuclear threat may be an appealing prospect to the North Koreans.

Since the prospects of the US being able to directly bring enough pressure to bear on North Korea are by no means certain we need to look next at China's role. There are a number of possible reasons why the Chinese could decide to cut off aid to North Korea and basically discipline or even overthrow their client:

  • The Chinese leaders could fear that a nuclear North Korea could cause South Korea and Japan to go nuclear.
  • The Chinese leaders could fear that Taiwan might respond to nuclear proliferation in the region to justify their own nuclearization. This probably matters much more to the Chinese leadership than what South Korea or Japan might do since the Chinese want to get total control of Taiwan.
  • The Chinese might want to keep North Korea from getting nuclear weapons simply in order to keep North Korea more easily manipulable by China.
  • The Chinese leaders might decide that if North Korea makes nuclear weapons, sells them abroad, and then some are used that China may be held at least partially responsible. Then again, they might not be too worried about that. It would be valuable to the US to signal publically to the Chinese that the US would hold China responsible if that happened.
  • The Chinese might decide that if they do not stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program then the US will do so with military force and will do so in a way less favorable to long term Chinese interests. But the Chinese have to believe that the threat of US use of force is credible for them to come to that conclusion.

But keep one thing in mind: China has not yet halted aid shipments to North Korea. China's aid is essential for the Pyongyang regime and China also facilitates North Korea's arms trade with overflight rights. If the Chinese saw North Korea's nuclear weapons development program as an urgent high priority problem they would have played the aid card already. Yes, they did cut off an oil pipeline for a few days. But they resumed it and we have no idea what that was about. It could have been a spat over something unrelated to North Korea's nuclear weapons development program. China might decide to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons development program. Or it might just continue along on the current path and do nothing about it except host diplomatic negotiations between North Korea, the United States, and other interested countries.

Until either the US commits to a major arms build-up in preparation for an attack on North Korea or China becomes willing to play the aid card against North Korea my guess is that North Korea's nuclear weapons development program will continue. Therefore the net position of the US in its attempt to stop North Korea will continue to deteriorate.

There is one big wild card in all this: events. A big terrorist attack in the US would reawaken American public anger at terrorists and shift attention toward future threats. A successful attack by Al Qaeda would have the curious effect of giving the Bush Administration more leverage over both China and North Korea because the American public would be angry and in the mood for hardball confrontations.

I try to avoid triumphalist conclusions in my analyses. The world's biggest problems look to me to be hard to solve and, in some cases, unlikely to be solved until some terrible events transpire (e.g. in this case explosion of a terrorist nuclear bomb in a US or other Western city). This coming round of negotiations with North Korea strikes me as nothing to cheer about. The US is now going to sit down at a table with North Korea and 4 other countries. This changes no facts on the ground in North Korea. If I was placing a bet I'd still bet on North Korea's eventually exploding a nuclear bomb and making a bunch of them. My odds for Iran doing the same are lower but still more likely than not.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 06 02:55 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2003 August 04 Monday
China Feels Forced To Apply Pressure To North Korea

North Korea has agreed to multilateral talks.

SEOUL, South Korea –– North Korea said Friday that it has agreed to multilateral talks on its suspected development of nuclear weapons but will push for one-on-one talks with the United States during the proposed negotiations.

Stephen Blank says China is leaning on North Korea.

On repeated occasions Chinese spokesmen have publicly and clearly warned their US interlocutors that under no circumstances would the United States be allowed unilaterally to decide the fate of the Korean Peninsula. China will not be passive or quiet and thus will act, quite strongly if necessary, to safeguard its interests and equities in Korea. That warning could easily signify a willingness to use force either against the Americans or, as some China specialists have warned, against North Korea's territory to prevent Washington from fashioning a unilateral solution that would place its troops on or close to China's border. Since this war could easily become a nuclear one and the Korean War itself was a sufficiently horrible experience for all concerned, these are hardly easily acceptable options. Yet if North Korea is metaphorically tied to China, its decision to go over the cliff inevitably drags China along with it, something Beijing is naturally reluctant to accept. Therefore Beijing is exerting every effort to persuade Pyongyang to enter into genuine negotiations with Washington before its nuclearization becomes an issue to be settled exclusively by the deployment of troops.

But as CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam points out, China has maintained all along that it could not pressure North Korea as long as the US was improving its military capability in the neighborhood.

A commentary in the official China News Service on Tuesday said Washington's recent deployment of high-tech, rapid-response units in South Korea was an effort to "put more military pressure on North Korea." The Chinese leadership has all along indicated it can only exert pressure on North Korea if the U.S. were to de-escalate military preparations against the Kim regime.

The Chinese were posturing. The determination of the Bush Administration to maintain a hardline stance against North Korea - the very position that the Chinese maintained was counterproductive - forced the Chinese to decide they had to start leaning on North Korea. The US and its allies can not put enough pressure on North Korea to force the Pyongyang regime to cry uncle as long as China continues to support North Korea. The game is really between the US and China. Can the Bush Administration convince the Chinese that the US will take really radical steps if the Chinese do not intervene? That is what this game is about at this point.

Update: In my view, the only effective way to pressure the Chinese to cut off aid to North Korea would be to make full scale preparations for war against North Korea. A big air power build-up, carrier deployments, and deployments of Army and Marine divisions would make it clear to the Chinese that either they deal with the problem or we deal with the problem.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 04 12:15 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
United States To Take In Large Numbers Of North Koreans

The US government is going to try to organize methods to get North Koreans out of China to the United States. US Senator Sam Brownback says South Korean can't do it.

"There is an exodus of massive proportions taking place out of North Korea," said Senator Brownback, who put the figure at about 300,000 people.

"South Korea really cannot be expected to take all of these refugees fleeing [via] China."

Is Brownback serious? South Korea has a population of over 48 million. If all 300,000 North Koreans who might now be living in China could be gotten out of China that would amount to less than 1 percent of the current population of South Korea. South Korea would easily handle this. The problem here is that the South Korean government and probably most South Korean people don't want to deal with the North Korean refugees. This is an issue that some gutsy American politicians ought to take up with some really loud and repeated complaints about South Korea's lack of compassion for their fellow ethnic Koreans living in China under difficult conditions.

Aside: If Marmot Robert Koehler and Kevin of Incestuous Amplification know of any polls done on South Koreans about North Korean refugees I'd be very curious to hear what the polls show.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 04 12:09 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 23 Wednesday
North Korean Bank In Austria Used For Spying

The North Korean Golden Star Bank in Vienna Austria is used for spying and probably for acquiring technology.

The report says: "There are detectable efforts by the North Korean secret services to place its agents in diplomatic and non-diplomatic positions in Austria. The camouflage for these activities is Europe's only established branch of the North Korean state bank, which is located in Vienna, as well as martial arts clubs established around the country."

It added that the North Koreans are "finding it increasingly difficult to raise the finances to fund the further development of weapons of mass destruction, as well as for the modernisation of middle-range missiles, and are looking increasingly to the West for the needed know-how and technical components, which means it is vital for Austria to make sure it keeps a close eye on North Korean representatives".

The Austrian authorities claim they do not have enough evidence to justify shutting down the bank. Is that true? If so, is this state of affairs a consequence of Austria's banking secrecy laws that make it easier for banks to hide from authorities what they are doing?

By Randall Parker    2003 July 23 10:21 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 21 Monday
China, North Korea, the US, and Arms Control Verification

The Marmot tears apart a foolish New York Times editorial on US policy toward North Korea and emphasizes the key role that China ought to be made to play. (my emphasis added)

I'm not quite sure why the NYT thinks it's a good idea to help the North Koreans achieve their goal of finding "additional revenue to sustain its country's imploding economy and finance its armed forces and advanced weapons programs." And discount that "obsessively worried about an American military attack" bullshit - that's just what Pyongyang would like you to believe. It sounds better than "we are obsessively worried about the Americans ignoring our little gangster kingdom and simply letting it collapse on its own." And "permanently" and "verifiably" are two words not found in the North Korean vocabularly, at least as far as its nuclear weapons program is concerned. The North Korean nuclear weapons program is, to put it bluntly, the only thing aside from drugs and missile exports that generates hard currency for the country. They are not going to give that up. They will agree to temporarily freeze it ala 1994, however, until such time that either financial or domestic political contingencies dictate that its time for another "crisis" with the United States and its allies.

Mr. Bush understandably dislikes the idea of rewarding North Korea for giving up its nuclear program. Diplomacy isn't always pretty. But if it can prevent a nuclear North Korea without a catastrophic war, Washington must give it every chance.

You're damn right - diplomacy isn't always pretty. And with the North Koreans, it's also futile. I agree that we should give diplomacy every chance, but the diplomacy needs to be focused on China, NOT North Korea. If I trusted North Korea enough to believe that a permanent and verifiable end to its nuclear program could be achieved through negotiations, I might be willing to give it a go. The problem is, I don't. If a North Korea free of nuclear weapons is your goal, then you have to make the North Koreans believe that their possession of nuclear weapons constitutes a clear and present danger to their regime survival. Right now, they do not believe that. Why? Because they read the New York Times just like eveyone else, and therefore have naturally come to the conclusion that the Americans will pay them before things get too hairy. Trust me, if the New York Times came out tomorrow with an editorial that read "BOMB THE FUCKERS," you can rest assured that the North Koreans would significantly lower their demands. Yet their (accurate) reading of the history of US-DPRK relations and their (also correct) understanding of the American press encourages them to be as obstinate as humanly possible. They need to be broken of this habit, and the best way to do that is to ignore them. China is the key to solving this crisis, anyway. If you are going to talk, then you might as well talk to people who understand (or need to understand) the dynamics of power politics. The ugliness of diplomacy is something that everyone can enjoy - including Beijing. So how about it, China? Wanna play a little hardball?

I agree with Marmot Robert Koehler that China ought to be bringing serious pressure to bear on North Korea. North Korea is China's responsibility. China has supported and continues to support North Korea economically by supplying 40% of North Korea's food and 70% of its energy. China also facilitates North Korea's arms trade with Middle Eastern countries by allowing aircraft carrying arms and skilled personnel to transit Chinese airspace and land at Chinese airbases en route to the Middle East. At the same time China defends North Korea diplomatically by protecting it from UN Security Council resolutions and other forms of diplomatic pressure. But the Chinese continue to pose (and, really, it is a pose) as honest brokers between the United States and North Korea as if China bears no responsibility for what North Korea is doing. Robert Marquand of the Christian Science Monitor basically appears to believe China's posture that China is just serving as facilitator to bring together two unreasonable opposing countries.

The recent provocations by Mr. Kim seem timed to coincide with an unusually public and vigorous Chinese diplomatic effort to bring the US and North Korea to the negotiating table, experts say. This weekend, Chinese envoy Dai Bingguo was in Washington, after being granted a rare audience the previous week with Kim, in an effort to restart three-way talks held in Beijing in April.

China's attempt to bring the US and North Korea to the negotiating table is seen as a vigorous effort. Well, it is vigorous alright. But it is an effort designed to hide Chinese responsibility for what is happening in North Korea and to hide China's obvious role as North Korea's protector. The irony is that even this meager diplomatic effort on the part of the Chinese is meeting with additional North Korean provocations such as the recent DMZ shooting incident and the move of artillery toward the DMZ.

The Bush Administration is placing too much importance on maintaining good relations with China. When it comes to North Korea and its nuclear weapons program China is part of the problem. China is not acting to discipline North Korea even while China treats North Korea as a client state. The US government ought to repeatedly publicise this basic fact.

Now, suppose China was willing to step up to the plate and play hardball with North Korea. Can anything short of an overthrow of the North Korean regime prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons? Kevin at Incestuous Amplification outlines the extremely difficult problem of arms control verification in North Korea.

Under what fantasy inspection and verification scenario are we to expect that all 15,000+ underground sites will be fully accounted for, opened to inspections, and ultimately destroyed? Even given an inspection process which could theoretically account for and monitor 90% (an extraordinarily high and unreachable goal) of the underground sites, that would still leave 1500 sites free to house whatever type of biological, chemical, or nuclear program Kim Jong Il so desires to stage his next extortion attempt. Is there any circumstance under which the above scenario could be considered a successful elimination of the North Korean threat? If not, what is the standard for success and what is the probability of reaching that standard through a negotiated deal?

Given that the network of underground military-industrial sites is already in place, and given that they won't be voluntarily destroyed by North Korea in any deal, doesn't that leave us with no option but have permanent monitors (or monitoring systems) in every single one of those underground sites? Meaning that even if we were to verify that a complete dismantling took place, doesn't the existence of that undergound network require that the vast inspector presence be permanent in order to prevent them from simply using those same facilities to build a new nuclear facility once inspectors leave?

The realities of trying to carry out an inspection and verification process in a country with such an extensive network of underground caves and complexes, as well as a long history of secrecy, evasion, lies, and more lies, is such that there is realistically no way to guarantee full compliance outside of regime change. That fact leaves us in a position of deciding whether we're willing to provide economic aid, energy, diplomatic recognition, and all the other goodies that will have to be part of any deal....and yet still never be 100% sure if North Korea is holding up their end of the deal. It's an enormous price to pay for the privilege of rolling the dice. We paid the price in 94, rolled the dice, and crapped out. This time, the price goes up but the odds haven't changed.

Kevin also draws attention to an opinion piece in the NY Times on North Korea by Ian Bremmer.

Accordingly, America's worries should not focus on Pyongyang's lobbing a nuclear bomb toward Tokyo or sending a million troops across the border to Seoul. Either of these actions would bring about the end of the North Korean regime — and Mr. Kim knows it. America is not, as former Secretary of Defense William Perry warned this week, on a "path to war."

Instead, North Korea is a threat because Mr. Kim needs more money to stay in power, and so will do what he can to get it. To this end, North Korea has become one of the world's most aggressive exporters of drugs and ballistic missiles. If that commerce turns to nuclear technology, Mr. Kim will fuel a crisis of global proportions.

If China could be induced (e.g. thru the threat of US trade sanctions) to play hardball with North Korea could an agreement be reached that would allow sufficiently in depth and sustained verification of North Korea's underground facilities and above ground labs and factories as well? If such a deal could be done and the deal allowed the North Korean regime to survive would the deal be ethically acceptable for the US to sign? Keep in mind that if China, the US, Japan, and South Korea sign up to guarantee the North Korean regime's security that effectively the agreement would condemn over 20 million North Korean people to continue to live under that regime.

Life is hell for the North Korean people.

According to relief groups, 60 percent of the children in North Korea suffer from silence and malnutrition. Tuberculosis and other diseases are also spreading, but doctors are practically powerless to treat them.

“In North Korean hospitals, there is nothing. There is no running water, no heating system, there is no soap. There is no medicine,” says Vollertsen. “That's the reality in North Korea. And nobody knows about that.”

He said some hospitals have to use empty beer bottles for IV's. But many hospitals have simply shut down.

While driving his jeep around the country, Vollertsen said he saw hungry, malnourished people everywhere foraging for food: “And I saw little children at the roadside picking up all those little insects and whatever they can eat. Women who are looking for some leaves and special herbs.”

Food aid to North Korea could be greatly increased. Essentially, the vast bulk of the North Korean people could, in theory at least, be supported by aid from other countries. But if we were willing to sustain the spending required to supply the aid and to pay for large numbers of inspectors stationed throughout North Korea and if the North Korean regime was willing to accept this (unlikely in my view) then would this be a morally acceptable solution? Even if food and medicine were being shipped to North Korea in quantities large enough to take care of the needs of the North Koreans there would be no guarantee that the regime would distribute it to all North Koreans. Plus, the North Korean people would still be living in a Stalinist dictatorship where hundreds of thousands suffer and die of hunger, beatings, and illness in a brutal prison system.

Would the food aid even be well distributed? The regime divides up the North Korean people effectively into 3 groups: the loyal, the questionable, and the disloyal. Would the latter two groups be allowed to be fed well if large amounts of aid came in? Or would the grain go to feeding animals and to make alcohol to give the top third more meat and alcohol? Or would some even be exported on black markets? Governments have done this with international aid in the past after all.

If China and other countries (including the United States) had not kept the Pyongyang regime propped up with aid the government would have collapsed years ago. If we prop up the regime with security and aid guarantees in exchange for an end to its nuclear weapons program we are essentially allowing the North Korean people to be held hostage while we pay blackmail for our own security. Is that a morally acceptable outcome? Think about it.

Update: As a timely reminder that North Korea's ruling regime does take international food and divert it to its own purposes China e-lobby in their most recent North Korea Report links to an earlier North Korea Report where they, in turn, linked to human rights activist Norbert Vollertsen's claim that the Pyongyang regime diverts international food aid to their own purposes.

Vollertsen charged that World Food Program (WFP) humanitarian and food aid to North Korea, much of it supplied by the U.S., was being diverted to the communist regime.

I've posted on food aid diversion previously with this quote from Suzanne Scholte, President of Defense Forum Foundation, who says international aid is going to the North Korean military.

We hear again and again from defectors that they never saw any humanitarian aid. When Colonel Choi testified in the US in 1997, he said that 100% of the aid was being diverted. He said while the NGOs are present, the aid is distributed to the families, but as soon as the NGO trucks drive out of town, the army goes back in and takes all the food back. Furthermore, when I was in Tokyo in 1999 at the International Forum on North Korean Returnees hosted by Professor Haruhisa Ogawa, I stated that all humanitarian aid should be stopped. It was controversial at the time and not many people would join me in this demand. But after my remarks, two Japanese women secretly approached me. They had recently been to North Korea to see their families. They confirmed exactly what Colonel Choi said. Their families were forced to sign papers stating they had received a certain quantity of rice, but the army took the rice as soon as the NGOs left the area. But the paper signed by the family was shown to the NGOs to convince them the aid had been received by the family.

The best way to help the North Korean people is also the best way to end the threat of North Korean proliferation for good: bring down the regime. A total aid cut-off - including aid from China - might well do just that.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 21 10:38 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
North Korea May Be Operating Second Plutonium Processing Site

Krypton 85, a radioactive gas produced by plutonium reprocessing to make nuclear bomb material, has been detected by US sensors around North Korea in a pattern that suggests the gas is coming from somewhere other than the Yongbyon nuclear facility. This strongly suggests that North Korea is doing nuclear processing at some hidden site.

The Financial Times has learned that at least one Asian country has received intelligence that North Korea may be operating a secret nuclear plant, hidden underground to avoid detection by spy satellites.

Keep in mind: The US can not do an air strike on a facility whose location is unknown. If the location can be discovered but the facility is deep underground then current US bombs may not be able to destroy it anyhow.

The New York Times says the North Koreans have 11,000 to 15,000 deep underground industrial sites. Therefore there are many potential locations for the underground processing facility.

What concerns American, South Korean and Japanese analysts, however, is not simply the presence of the hard-to-detect gas but its source. While American satellites have been focused for years on North Korea's main nuclear plant, at Yongbyon, the computer analyses that track the gases as they are blown across the Korean Peninsula appeared to rule out the Yongbyon reprocessing plant as their origin. Instead, the analysis strongly suggests that the gas originated from a second, secret plant, perhaps buried in the mountains.

The North Koreans probably have several underground sites reprocessing plutonium or enriching uranium.

Diplomats are fussing over the news of a second nuclear facility.

The existence of a second nuclear plant in addition to Yongbyon, would raise the military and diplomatic stakes for America.

"This takes a very hard problem and makes it infinitely more complicated," an Asian official told the newspaper. "How can you verify that they have stopped a programme like this if you don't know where everything is?"

No, this latest news does not raise the stakes. Why only just now should we think that North Korea has been moving plutonium to other sites? Lots of vehicles seen leaving Yongbyon months ago were suspected to be carrying fuel rods or reprocessing equipment or both. Also, the North Koreans have long been suspected of operating uranium enrichment centrifuges at one or more unknown locations. So how is this latest report suddenly making the problem enormously worse? It isn't. This latest report helps to serve as a reminder of what we already had strong reason to believe: North Korea has secret nuclear weapons development sites that are very well hidden underground.

Jon Wolfsthal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says our intelligence information about North Korea is very limited.

How much confidence can anyone have about intelligence estimates regarding North Korea's nuclear programme, in light of the row over Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Unfortunately, for policymakers and the public alike, the answer is not much.

Overthrow of the Pyongyang regime is about the only certain way to put an end to the North Korean nuclear weapons development program.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 21 01:47 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 July 18 Friday
The Guardian Sympathises With North Korean Regime, Not Populace

Reading The Guardian of London frequently helps to clarify my own thinking because they do such an excellent job of collecting up bad arguments.

No one has a clear strategy for defusing the Korean crisis, least of all the Bush administration, which has undercut South Korea's efforts to promote detente. Though China is now playing a more active role, a new non-nuclear agreement will be hard to achieve: Pyongyang is unlikely to place itself in the position of Iraq by giving up its nuclear capability. Those who hope that the Kim Jong-il regime will collapse should reflect on the consequences of a refugee exodus which already gives Seoul nightmares.

Examine the reasoning. The downfall of a regime that would free over 20 million people from a brutally repressive system is bad because many of the poor hungry souls would flee into South Korea and burden the South Koreans with having to feed them. Oh horrors. Oh absolute horrors. It would be even worse than what happened when East Germany collapsed. After all, the East Germans were not nearly as hungry. The editors of The Guardian are not the least bothered that the North Korean people live in a Stalinist dictatorship. But to inflict the South Koreans with a refugee problem? That would be a nightmare.

Also, note the sympathetic tone struck about the North Korean regime. They are only doing what any reasonable leftist would do when faced with the presence of US military forces in a neighboring country: building nuclear weapons. Never mind that North Korea has been working on nuclear weapons development for decades during periods of time when the US obviously had absolutely no interest in invading North Korea. Obviously in the minds of The Guardian editorial board North Korea's nuclear weapons program is justifiable as a rational respond to American capitalist-imperialist aggression.

US policymakers have historically become interested in North Korea when North Korea has acted in a threatening manner. The US has reluctantly paid to keep US forces in South Korea as a deterrent against a North Korean attack. North Korea has to make rather threatening moves in order for the US to take notice. What motivates those threatening moves? Some say the North Koreans see nuclear weapons development as a means of extorting aid. Others say the leadership are paranoid and truly believe the US has long conspired to invade and overthrow their regime.

If extortion of aid is their motive then one can see why The Guardian finds the North Koreans such sympathetic figures. If a left-wing regime is poor then the Leftists think the Right-wing capitalists are somehow to blame. The Guardian believes if North Korea is not prospering it must be because the capitalistic countries haven't sent them enough aid to allow them to get ahead (really, I'm not making this up. read the whole editorial). But is China getting ahead because of international aid? Are some parts of India experiencing the growth of high tech industries as a result of foreign aid? Of course not.

Then there is the idea that the North Koreans are doing what they are doing out of paranoia. Well, Hitler thought the Jews were running a massive international conspiracy that at least partly justified in his mind what he did. I think there is a lesson that can be drawn from this: There are times when some group's belief that the whole world's out to get them itself serves as a justification for the civilized world's really setting out to get them. Paranoiacs living in isolation on a remote mountainside imagining various conspiracies are probably best left alone. But paranoiacs setting out to develop nuclear weapons while selling other dangerous weapons technologies are best dealt with in some fashion to remove the threat that they pose.

Update: While making fun of the Korean Herald's editorial staff Marmot's Hole blogger Robert Koehler gives the North Korean argument on the need for nuclear weapons to defend itself the derisive treament it deserves.

. And let me state for the record that I don't give a rat's ass about North Korea's security concerns - a one million man army, a gazzillion artillery tubes focused on Seoul, and a well-known arsenal of chemical and biological weapons were all the "security guarantees" that it needed. Nothing pisses me off more than listening to people - the Korea Herald included - link the North Korean nuclear program to some new-founded security concern that Pyongyang discovered after Bush called Kim Jong-il a big meanie. North Korea's drive to aquire nuclear weapons dates back to at least the 1980s, and probably goes back to the 70s.

The older I get the more I realize that some basic truths need to be constantly repeated.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 18 01:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
Evidence Of North Korean Nuclear Reprocessing Grows Stronger

Fox News reports that the US has found signs that Yongbyon is reprocessing plutonium fuel rods into nuclear bomb material.

The United States also has multiple intelligence sources confirming that the North Koreans have been actively reprocessing at their Yongbyon (search) nuclear plant, the facility U.S. officials say is the possible center of North Korea's uranium reprocessing efforts. A Pentagon official also confirmed to Fox News that U.S. intelligence has detected traces of the uranium byproduct "Krypton 85" (search) in the air near North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility.

Keep in mind that the Yongbyon facility is where the North Koreans have (or had?) their 8000 plutonium fuel rods. Somewhere else they are suspected of having uranium enrichment centrifuges running that are producing weapons grade uranium.

Let us put this in historical perspective. From a rhetorical standpoint North Korean started escalating the crisis in 2000 while Clinton was still President.

There was relative calm until 2000 when the North Koreans started re-issuing threats about reconstituting its nuclear program and resuming ballistic missile tests unless Washington granted concessions and normalised relations with Pyongyang.

However, the first substantive changes in North Korea's activities post-1994 (when North Korea signed the Framework Accord with the United States to supposedly halt North Korea's nuclear program) probably started happening in 1997. See this timeline of North Korea's nuclear program. The timeline may not be correct. But it is widely accepted that A. Q. Khan, hailed as the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, paid many visits to North Korea in the late 1990s.

"We developed hard confirmation of the program this summer," says a senior administration official. "There are shards of evidence of the North Korea-Pakistan nuclear relationship going back to 1997. Those turned into pretty clear suspicions by 1998, and in 1999 the North Koreans committed to this program."

On November 24, 2002 David Sanger reported for The New York Times details of the technology swap between Pakistan and North Korea.

North Korea provided Musharraf with missile parts he wanted to have available for use against India. In exchange, Pakistan sold technology and machinery to make highly enriched uranium for North Korea's clandestine effort to build a nuclear bomb.

Some in the Bush Administration say North Korea has been trying to enrich uranium ever since they shut down the Yongbyon plutonium-producing reactor in exchange for aid from the US, Japan, and South Korea.

Armitage has provided the earliest estimate of the program’s origin, testifying February 4 that the U.S. government noticed “some anomalies in [North Korean] procurement patterns” starting in 1994. Similarly, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated during a March 26 hearing before the House Appropriations Committee that North Korea started the program to enrich uranium “before the ink was dry” on the 1994 Agreed Framework.

Yossef Bodansky says North Korean-Iranian nuclear cooperation predates the better known later cooperation between North Korean and Pakistan.

Asserts Yossef Bodansky, director of the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare: "We know there is cooperation between North Korea and Iran in the nuclear field. The Iranians have a very comprehensive military nuclear program, and North Korea has been crucial in that." He cites Middle East intelligence sources that indicate the collaboration began in the mid-1990s.

What can the United States do, short of military action, to stop North Korea's nuclear program? The answer to that question depends at least in part on how deep are North Korea's financial reserves. If Kim Jong-il has enough financial reserves to continue to buy loyalty and keep the core pillars of the regime functioning then he can keep developing nuclear weapons until he has so many that the US can not credibly threaten him. If a recent report Hae Won Choi wrote for the Wall Street Journal is accurate then the Pyongyang regime has $5 billion dollars in cash reserves to keep itself afloat in the face of attempts by the United States to reduce its sources of revenue.

According to interviews with high-level defectors, South Korean businessmen and Asian intelligence officials, Division 39 has generated a cash hoard as large as $5 billion that is salted away in places as disparate as Macau, Switzerland and Pyongyang. It produces a steady flow of money that Mr. Kim uses to buy political support and loyalty. Intelligence officials have also tied it to Pyongyang's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Look at it from Kim's perspective. He may be thinking that he just has to hang on for a year or two until he has a large pile of nuclear weapons and better means to deliver them. Then the US will be faced with a fait accompli. Japan will be reluctant to participate in air strikes at that point because Kim could plausibly threaten to retaliate with miniaturized nuclear warheads deliverable by missiles.

Update: Another point to note about the above history: The 1994 Framework Accord started to fail from the moment it was signed because it did not include an inspections regime that would allow a very large group of inspectors unlimited access to the entire country. Kim Jong-il could just shift to working on uranium enrichment with no means for the other parties of the 1994 agreement to know what North Korea was up to. No negotiated deal will work without a massive inspections capability. But Kim Jong-il will never agree to such terms. I've posted on this in the past. But you can read a more recent post at by Kevin at Incestuous Amplification where he delves into the need for verification and links to Stanley Kurtz's arguments on the subject.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 18 12:15 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 17 Thursday
Debate On Letting More North Koreans Into US

Writing for the Washington Post Glenn Kessler reports on an internal debate in the Bush Administration on whether to let more North Korean refugees into the US.

Officials have not yet settled on how many refugees the United States would be willing to accept a year. One faction is pushing for as many as 300,000 refugees, while officials who believe such a step would hurt relations with China have countered with a proposal to limit the number to 3,000 in the first year, an official said.

China should be on the receiving end of deteriorating relations. Why should we worry about hurting US relations with China? Why not turn it around? The US government should tell the rulers in Beijing that unless they start letting more refugees flee into China from North Korea that China will suffer from deteriorating relations with the US.

We should very loudly and repeatedly criticise South Korea's government for failing to aggressively try to get North Korean refugees out of China. The South Koreans do not want the US to start a war with North Korea because South Koreans will die in the war. But the South Korean leaders are not offering the United States a viable alternative strategy to pursue. Appeasement of the Pyongyang regime is a failed policy. We should tell the South Koreans that they can either start making major efforts to smuggle North Koreans out of China and Russia or the US will start building up bombers in Japan and Guam in preparation for major air strikes against North Korea.

The US should make it clear to China and South Korea that they are responsible for presenting to the US an alternative solution for how to not only stop but also reverse North Korea's nuclear program. The South Korean and Chinese governments have effectively become the Pyongyang regime's protectors. We should hold them accountable for this protection. What North Korea does is made possible by years of Chinese and now also South Korean support for the North Korean regime. It should not be up to the United States to engage North Korea in negotiations. The US should go to China and South Korea and say that they must come up with proposals for how they are going to rein in their protected monster regime. China and South Korea should be made responsible for diplomatic negotiations with North Korea or for an overthrow of the North Korean regime if that is how they choose to solve the problem. We should tell the South Koreans and Chinese that if they fail to stop North Korea or to present the US with a viable plan for stopping North Korea then the US is going to start conducting high seas and air interdictions of North Korean trade followed eventually by a long series of air strikes against North Korea until the regime collapses.

The editors of the Christian Science Monitor see historical parallels between the North Korean refugees and the fall of communist East Germany.

One model is close from recent history. The Soviet bloc of nations began to unravel in 1989 when East Germans voted with their feet after Hungary opened a door to the West. One communist regime after another collapsed under popular pressure - although not in Asia's communist nations, and especially not in North Korea.

This parallel has some problems. The East Germans had a route out through a fairly open border with Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovakian government was not trying to stop them. Also, the East Germans had higher living standards and were more able to afford to flee (little things like cars and fuel help). Also, the internal system of controls in East Germany was decaying. At the same time, the West Germans at that point were happy to see their fellow Germans making it out of East Germany. Aside from these many substantial and important differences the parallel fits. If China and South Korea were to start acting more like Czechoslovakia and West Germany then the prospects for fleeing North Koreans would improve enormously and te number fleeing would no doubt increase. Still, difficulties would remain. Fleeing North Koreans would still face major obstacles in their attempts to reach the Chinese border in the first place. Plus, the North Korean people know less (and actually believe a lot of false things) about life in South Korea than the East Germans knew about West Germany in 1990. So the US still needs to make a large effort to reach the North Koreans with news about the outside world.

US Senator from Indiana and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Richard Lugar points out that China is violating the UN Refugee Convention in its handling of North Korean refugees.

It is clear that absent a major shift in policies by their government, desperate North Korean citizens will continue to flee the country. The United States has repeatedly urged China to live up to its obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention, which prohibits the forced return of refugees to places where they face possible persecution. China has refused, citing an agreement it has signed with North Korea to send such "food migrants" back across the border. The administration and Congress must continue to press China on this point.

The even bigger offender here is South Korea. The Koreans claim to feel great ethnic solidarity with their distant relatives in North Korea. Yet South Korea's government is not trying to run a massive underground railroad to deliver the North Koreans from bondage. That the Bush Administration and US Senate are debating whether to let in thousands or hundreds of thousands of North Koreans while the South Koreans do little speaks volumes about South Korean hypocrisy and selfishness. If the South Koreans are going to be so obviously selfish then why should the US restrain itself in its actions toward North Korea for the benefit of South Korea when doing so puts the US at greater risk for nuclear terrorism?

There is one big advantage to letting North Korean refugees into the US rather than into South Korea: The US government will not try to silence those refugees when the refugees reveal things about the North that the Southern government does not want the world to know. It is hard to run a policy of appeasement if defectors come out and say things about life in North Korea that would tend to make people think the North Korean regime ought to be overthrown...

By Randall Parker    2003 July 17 03:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
On Claims About North Korean Intentions

Currently there is a debate raging in the United States and in Great Britain about whether the Bush and Blair governments misled their publics about Saddam Hussein's intentions and activities with regard to weapons of mass destruction. Keep in mind that debate as you read arguments about what the Bush Administration should do about North Korea.

First we have the Boston Globe editorializing for negotiations with North Korea as the only realistic option available in an editorial entitled "Korea delusions".

PRESIDENT Bush's handling of the nuclear threat from North Korea has long suffered from a realism deficit. But now that Pyongyang is claiming it has processed plutonium from the 8,000 spent fuel rods that were stored until recently at the North's Yongbyon nuclear reactor site, Bush's policy of doing nothing and denying reality has become a serious threat to the nation's security.

Might it be that the Boston Globe's editors the ones who are deluded? While the Globe's language is imprecise the Globe's editors seem to be implying that North Korea has processed all 8,000 fuel rods. How do they know? Note that there have been news reports based on claims of North Korean officials that they have indeed processed all 8,000 fuel rods. But some analysts (see below) think those claims are wildly exaggerated.

The Globe's editors also do not address the issue of enforceability of any agreement with North Korea. We now know (or do we?) that North Korea was processing uranium to enrich it even while Clinton was still in office. We do not know where the North Koreans have been doing uranium processing or how much they are doing. But that is just the point: we do not have access to the vast bulk of North Korea. Even while the Framework Accord was in effect inspectors had access to only a very small area.

Aside: Suppose the CIA reported that the agency's analysts believed the claims of the North Korean regime but then suppose the North Korean regime suddenly fell and it was found that these reports were false. Would the Bush Administration's critics then claim the Bush Administration was trying to deceive the American public?

Of course, then there are the reports that the North Koreans have processed only a small number of fuel rods.

The director of the National Intelligence Service, Ko Young-koo, told a National Assembly committee yesterday that the intelligence community believes North Korea has reprocessed “a small number” of the 8,000 spent plutonium fuel rods at its nuclear facility at Yeongbyeon.

Is this South Korean report an honest assessment by South Korean intelligence of what the North Koreans have done? If it is an honest assessment is it correct? If the US accepts it and Bush Administration decisions are influenced by this report will US action have been influenced by the political machinations of the South Koreans?

We have an incredibly high stakes crisis over North Korean efforts to develop nuclear weapons and yet it is far from obvious what exactly the North Koreans are doing. We don't know the quality of the information that the South Koreans are using to form their assessment. Do the South Koreans have an agent in the Yongbyon facility? They aren't going to reveal this publically of course. But even if they did would that make their report more accurate? The South Koreans might have recruited a North Korean to provide them with intelligence. But if so that North Korean may be acting as a double agent. We just do not know.

Unofficial North Korean spokesman Kim Myong-Chol from the Centre for Korean-American Peace says North Korea already has hundreds of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States.

"American Intelligence on North Korea is very, very flawed. It's years behind facts. North Korea has hundreds of nuclear warheads, all looking upon American cities. If American ships interject our ships, North Korea will retaliate against American mainland, on New York Washington and other cities,

This is probably posturing. The North Koreans have not done the scale of either missile testing or nuclear testing required to have that capability. But while that extreme claim is easy to dismiss there is still a wide range of plausible claims about North Korea's activities and intentions that can reasonably be entertained. Has the North regime A) processed a few fuel rods, B) processed all the fuel rods, C) built a few nuclear weapons, D) built a dozen nuclear weapons, or E) something else entirely? Also, what about the nuclear fuel it removed from Yongbyon before the 1994 Framework Accord? Did it make a few nuclear weapons from them? Also, what is the state of North Korea's uranium enrichment program? Did it get a lot of uranium enrichment centrifuges from Pakistan with which it is now making bomb material and nuclear weapons? Is it sending either nuclear materials or processing equipment to Iran? For all of this we do not know.

Some observers think the North Koreans are not trying hard to make nuclear weapons and instead are just trying to bluster and bluff in order to improve their bargaining leverage.

"They apparently did some reprocessing in late April but it appears that they have not yet engaged in full-scale work," said Daniel Pinkston, senior research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies with the Monterey Institute of International Studies.


"I think there's an incentive to misrepresent actual facts, an intention to exaggerate their resolve to increase their bargaining leverage," he said.

How does Pinkston know? Should we just relax, negotiate a deal with North Korea, rest assured they will abide by its terms? (assuming of course that the North Koreans would even come to terms - big assumption IMO)

Others think that Kim Jong-il is pursuing much more ambitious goals. Don Granberry, in a letter to Korea Web Weekly, say Kim Jong-il is close to driving a wedge between the United States and Japan over North Korea and even close to achieving a forceable reunification of the Korean peninsula under rule of the Pyongyang regime.

How can he do this? Simple. He tests a nuclear warhead somewhere in the Sea of Japan and then announces that he has a weapon of the same exact type as the one just tested somewhere in Japan. Finding a concealed nuclear weapon is no mean feat. The Japanese would not cooperate with the US in a conflict with the DPRK until the warhead was found--and may not ever cooperate in such a conflict at all in the future. The Japanese are very much inclined to settle things through negotiation as we all know very well. Despite the outrageous claims being made by KCNA, the Japanese are about as likely to start a war as my three year old grandson. They are going to be even less inclined to fight if they are confronted with the possibility of being nuked again.

This would buy Kim the time and leverage he needs to negotiate the unification treaty he wants with President Roh. It also gives him enormous leverage over the Japanese and he would likely get the Reparations Settlement he wants from the Japanese. The US would have no choice but to sit on its hands throughout this entire ordeal.

Is Granberry correct? Would Kim Jong-il use the threat of a nuclear attack to force the reunification of the Korean peninsula under his rule? Or would he simply use the nukes to extort several percent of South Korea's GDP as aid payments to North Korea every year while perhaps also earning extra income by selling extra nukes to Iran or Libya?

Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman argues we should give in to North Korean blackmail.

It's a sound principle to refuse to give in to blackmail. But if someone were holding a gun to your child's head, you'd probably be willing to pay a ransom rather than see her killed. Sometimes the stakes are so high that submitting to extortion is the least horrible option.

I admire his frankness even as I disagree with his position. By contrast, you won't hear William Perry or the President Roh of South Korea explicitly acknowledge that they are basically arguing that the US should give in to North Korean blackmail.

What we know about North Korea is pretty limited and some of it is wrong. There are lots of people with lots of opinions on the subject. But who is correct? Certainly someone out there will be able to look back and say at some future date "I was right". But if you asked a lot of people what the high and low temperatures were going to be in your town a year from now you'd be guaranteed to get at least one right answer if you just asked enough people. Yet guess work is still guess work. You'd have no way to know a year ahead of time which of the thousands of people you asked would end up being right. This is the problem we face with North Korea.

When we consider everything we don't know we need to keep in mind some basics. If the word "evil" has any meaning at all then the regime that rules North Korea is evil. It maintains an enormous Gulag prison system that Stalin would recognize and understand. It maintains a very vigorous and brutal system of repression and ideological indoctrination and lets in little information about the true picture of what the rest of the world is like. It allowed somewhere between several hundred thousand and 2 million of its people to starve to death rather that introduce economc reforms. Hundreds of thousands of its people have fled into China looking for food and work. Many more would flee if the regime didn't hunt for and severely punish those trying to get out and if the Chinese didn't try to find them and deport them back into North Korea.

North Korea seems somehow nutty as compared to Stalinist Russia. South Korean and other diplomats report that North Korea's top diplomats are known for suddenly getting hysterical as a group in meetings. The reasons for these bouts of hysteria are rarely obvious to those sitting on the other side of the negotiating table. The North Koreans make claims and demands that are extremely unrealistic. They frequently come across as sounding crazy. Not a few visitors to Pyongyang describe the place as Kafkaesque with loudspeakers coming on early in the morning to tell people they are living in a socialist worker's paradise.

What else do we know? Nuclear bombs have a destructive capacity so enormous that it is hard for the human mind to grasp. What would a brutal nutty regime do with nuclear weapons? Would it sell them? Would it use them to blackmail other countries? My bottom line is that we can not afford to risk finding out.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 17 10:51 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 July 16 Wednesday
Check Out Incestuous Amplification On Korea

Just noticed a new blog, Incestuous Amplification, written by an American in South Korea. He writes with considerable attitude. Kevin examines South Korean anti-Americanism.

In Korea?  The anti-American protesters wear Nikes and Reeboks.  They stop at McDonalds or Burger King on the way home from burning American flags.  They then fire up their Dell or Compaq with Windows XP to go to the bulletin boards on Yahoo! Korea to post their anti-American diatribes.  When they're finished with that, they head out to watch the Matrix Reloaded and pick up the latest Britney Spears CD on the way home.  The next morning, they wake up at 6 AM so they can make it to the English school to learn the language of the Americans from an American teacher, so that their ultimate goal of getting an MBA from an American university may become a reality.  Until that dream becomes a reality, they'll call up their travel agent to confirm their 14-day tour of San Francisco, LA, Las Vegas, and Seattle during summer vacation and simultaneously check on English study programs in America for their children, who have American passports courtesy of a coincidental well-planned visit to an LA hospital in the 8th month of pregnancy.  What song is playing on the stereo as our America-hater is arranging her tour of America?  "Fucking USA!"

Kevin examines the South Korean feeling of historical grievance.

Herein lies the problem with modern-day Korea....too many open wounds and festering scabs. Nothing ever heals because the people refuse to allow the healing process to take place. If the Japanese or other outside forces don't pick at the scabs, then Koreans will do it themselves, just to make sure the blood still flows and the painful memories of victimization are seared into the consciousness of the next generation. The older generation of Koreans are like lepers covered in sores, oozing in puss, and bleeding from every orifice. Instead of drifting away quietly, they're giving the younger generation a big, sloppy, leprosy kiss...passing it along and guaranteeing that the disease continues to flourish.

Kevin, the guy who writes Incestuous Amplification, may be serving in the US Army in Korea or is working as a civilian near the border. One comment he makes, "anyone currently living in the killbox, including me" in reaction to Rummy's OPLAN 5030 to militarily mess with the North Koreans sounds like it is coming from someone who is standing somewhere within range of North Korean artillery.

Also, on the subject of American bloggers living in South Korea, if you haven't been to Marmot's Hole then go check out what Robert Koehler has to say. Robert took this post of mine on anti-Americanism and in his own post made my own points back to me with more clarity and better organisation. (note to self: use more bullet point lists)

Update: Kevin is a consultant to a South Korean company and lives in Seoul.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 16 03:43 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
William Perry Says US Moving Toward War With North Korea

Former Clinton Administration Secretary of Defense William Perry thinks current actions by the North Koreans and the Bush Administration will inevitably lead toward war.

From his discussions, Perry has concluded the president simply won't enter into genuine talks with Pyongyang's Stalinist government. "My theory is the reason we don't have a policy on this, and we aren't negotiating, is the president himself," Perry said. "I think he has come to the conclusion that Kim Jong Il is evil and loathsome and it is immoral to negotiate with him." The immediate cause of concern, Perry said, is that North Korea appears to have begun reprocessing the spent fuel rods. "I have thought for some months that if the North Koreans moved toward processing, then we are on a path toward war," he said.

Perry faults Bush for this. He thinks it is possible to make a deal with North Korea. Frankly, I find his reasoning hard to credit. Our problem is that we can't do a deal with the North Koreans that they wil stick to. North Korea started working in uranium enrichment during the Clinton Administration. How could we verify any deal that we made?

In liberal circles there is a widely shared assumption that a negotiated solution always exists. To believe this assumption requires an act of faith in the face of a lot of human history.

Donald Rumsfeld is thinking more about military solutions. He wants a better war-fighting plan than the existing Operations Plans OPlan 5026 - Air Strikes and OPLAN 5027 Major Theater War - West. USA Today is now reporting a new operations plan called OPLAN 5030.

One scenario in the draft involves flying RC-135 surveillance flights even closer to North Korean airspace, forcing Pyongyang to scramble aircraft and burn scarce jet fuel. Another option: U.S. commanders might stage a weeks-long surprise military exercise, designed to force North Koreans to head for bunkers and deplete valuable stores of food, water, and other resources.

Is 5030 a serious plan? Or is it meant to spook North Korea's regime?

Fred Kaplan comes down firmly on the side of a negotiated solution.

Essentially, Kim's minions say he will abandon his nuclear program and open up the reactors to inspection, in exchange for a U.S. non-aggression pact and the resumption of some economic assistance. This isn't a bad deal, really.

Kaplan thinks that the North Koreans are ready to deal. More likely they are just stalling for time while they develop nuclear weapons. Once they have a lot of nukes Kim Jong-il probably figures he will be able to deter a US attack, extort a lot more aid from South Korea and Japan, and even earn a large amount of revenue by selling nuclear weapons to Middle Eastern governments and terrorist groups. From his standpoint becoming a nuclear power probably looks far more attractive than trying to strike a deal with the United States for aid in exchange for not developing nukes.

Does Kaplan think that North Korea is going to hand over its processed plutonium, processed uranium, and uranium enrichment centrifuges? If they agreed to do so how would we know that they are not cheating? We'd probably find out that they cheated when an American city suddenly got vaporized.

Short of air strikes or full scale war what else can the United States do about North Korea? I've previous posted (here and here) on the Proliferation Security Initiative. While the goal of that initiative might seem to be to stop the sale of WMD by North Korea by interception of WMD shipments it is unlikely to be able to accomplish that directly. A nuclear weapon or weapons grade bomb material would be so small that ways to smuggle it past ships and aircraft enforcing a partial blocakde would likely be found. However, that does not mean that the Proliferation Security Initiative has no value. If it has the effect of reducing illicit drug and missile sales then it will reduce the revenue that the regime receives. It will also demonstrate to the Chinese the seriousness with which the US treats the developing threat posed by North Korea.

The other remaining option that gets far too little attention is to attempt to reach the North Korean people with news about the outside world and ideas that they know little about. I've posted an assortment of suggestions on how this might be accomplished. Also see this post for more on that idea.

We will some day pay a high price to take out the North Korean regime. The big question is whether we will be willing to pay that price before an American city is nuked.

Update: The Sydney Morning Herald reports Beijing examined the option of invading and taking control of North Korea.

The result of the study was negative. The People's Liberation Army concluded that although the Chinese-North Korean border was only lightly defended, the Chinese lacked the logistical capability of racing to the demilitarised zone facing South Korea.

"That this kind of thing is being considered in China tells us about the gravity with which this is being regarded in Beijing," said a senior Western diplomat closely following the crisis.

The report claims that the Chinese have decided they can live with a reunited democratic free market Korea on their border because they believe Korean nationalism will basically then drive the US off the Korean peninsula. Well, that is probably true. But it is also true that at that point the US wouldn't see a good reason to stay there anyhow.

The report also makes the Proliferation Security Initiative sound pretty limited initially. Each member of the initiative will board North Korean ships in their own territorial waters but initially not on the high seas. How will this stop North Korean shipments to the Middle East? Doesn't sound like it will.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 16 12:28 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 13 Sunday
Defector Park Gap Dong Calls For Preemptive Strikes Against North Korea

Park Gap Dong, a North Korean defector living in Japan and head of The National Salvation Front for Democratic Reunification of Korea, formed by North Korean government officials who have defected, calls for US military strikes against targets in North Korea.

Park Gap Dong, former chief of the European Section for Propaganda, said that the U.S. should use "pre-emptive strikes against selected targets" to overthrow the brutal North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il and destroy the nuclear weapons program.

"We cannot expect to bring down the regime of Kim Jong-il by internal means. A pre-emptive U.S. strike against selected targets inside North Korea will succeed," stated Park.

Park says if we fail to act the North Koreans will not overthrow their own regime and the regime will continue to export nuclear weapons technology.

North Korea will continue to develop and export nuclear weapons technology no matter what the U.S. does and despite whatever schedules of inspections are established, Park said.

"Kim Jong-il made the decision that the development of nuclear weapons would be the only guarantee of the safety and security for the North Korean regime. They will not give up these weapons but will instead hide them from inspectors," said Park.

It is worth noting that Park is living in Japan. North Korean defectors who are living in South Korea are probably not free to state such radical views on what should be done about North Korea.

Would a preemptive attack on North Korea by US aircraft bring down the Pyongyang regime? Would Kim Jong-il flee into exile as Park argues? I have no idea.

Park is arguing for a rather drastic course of action. But if we assume that North Korea will sell nuclear materials, technology, and even whole bombs then it becomes necessary to stop the regime somehow. Are there any other alternatives that might work instead? Without Chinese help the prospects for a non-military way to force the North Korean regime to refrain from making many nuclear bombs seems remote. There is only one other serious option and it is what the Bush Administration is preparing: interdiction of North Korean trade with some sort of air and naval blockade. The Bush Administration is calling this plan the Proliferation Security Initiative.

10 other nations have joined in planning interception of North Korea air and sea traffic.

Yesterday's decision means the US, Japan, France, Germany, Poland, Portugal Spain, Italy, Holland, Britain and Australia will be able to conduct joint exercises on the interception of ships, and shipments by air and land.

Some observers doubt that the Proliferation Security Initiative can work even at sea.

The Department of Defense is authorized to provide support to law enforcement agencies and military personnel with counter drug responsibilities. DOD provides training, upgrades equipment and maintains a series of intelligence initiatives both in terms of collection, analysis and dissemination of intelligence among law enforcement, military and intelligence services, command and control systems that allow allies to communicate that information real-time as well as the ability to assist them with minor infrastructure. It is not clear however whether or not these justifications are sufficient to meet the requirements of international law.

An additional problem relates to the effectiveness of a blockade or naval interdiction. Trying to interdict WMD may prove as difficult as interdicting narcotics. While US sensor capabilities are substantial it is likely that some North Korean shipments will penetrate the blockade.

To work for air shipments the US will need to intercept North Korean air traffic leaving China headed for the Middle East. This is especially difficult because the North Koreans and Chinese might cooperate to shift shipments to Chinese aircraft. Even if they didn't do that the US would need to keep track of aircraft flying across China on the way toward the airspace of Afghanistan or Pakistan. Also, no reports I've seen on this have provided any indication of whether Pakistan will allow the US to intercept North Korean aircraft over Pakistan and force them to land.

Which choice will yield a more desireable outcome? An informal selective blockade or preemptive air strikes? For now at least the Bush Administration has chosen the less drastic selective blockade (called by some in the Administration "Cuba Lite") over the more drastic choice of air strikes. In a way that seems prudent. If the airstrikes do not bring out the desired result the diplomatic fall-out would be very difficult for the US and the North Koreans would be motivated to strike back somehow. Still, if we could somehow know that airstrikes would bring down the Pyongyang regime then they'd be a more attractive choice.

Upon reflection, I do not believe either option will work.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 13 10:44 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 July 09 Wednesday
On China's Aid To North Korea And Sanctions

How much aid does China give to North Korea? How much leverage does that aid give China over North Korea's behavior? What leverage does China really want over North Korea and toward what ends? Alexandr Nemets and John L. Scherer provide aid figures from 2000.

Beijing increased its economic support of Pyongyang following the May 2000 meeting. Exports from China to North Korea - primarily crude oil, oil products, grain and food items - jumped from around $330 million in 1999 to a little more than $450 million in 2000. Chinese imports from North Korea decreased from nearly $42 million to $37 million. Exports minus imports amount to subsidies from Beijing to Pyongyang, and these grew from $288 million to $413 million.

The CIA World Factbook 2002 provides no amount for Chinese aid to North Korea.

$NA; note - nearly $300 million in food aid alone from US, South Korea, Japan, and EU in 2001 plus much additional aid from the UN and non-governmental organizations

The Korea Times reports China supplies most of North Korea's energy and almost half its food.

One dilemma for Beijing is that should not loosen its grip over Pyongyang because that would weaken its influence in the region. Bearing this in mind, China cut off its crude oil supply to the North for three days just before the trilateral talks in March, a reportedly diplomatic warning. It supplies 70 percent of North Korea’s energy and 40 percent of its food.

As for why is China giving North Korea aid: My guess is that they are doing it simply to prop up the regime. They are not gaining any leverage over the North Koreans that restrains the Pyongyang regime's behavior. Writing for The Christian Science Monitor Jasper Becker reports that scholars trolling thru Eastern European and Soviet archives from the Cold War era found Eastern bloc countries gained very little leverage over North Korean behavior in exchange for their aid.

"It shows how dependent North Korea has always been, and how extremely skillful it has always been at getting enough aid," says Kathryn Weathersby, who runs the Korea Initiative as part of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project in Washington.

"It also shows that over the decades, China and Russia gave a lot of aid but gained very limited leverage," she says.

Only a cessation of aid would give China a significant amount of leverage over North Korea. But to get that leverage the Chinese would probably have to allow the situation in North Korea to become desperate. China seems unlikely to do that.

Time magazine has an excellent article on what the US and allies are trying to do to cut off weapons parts sources, weapons exports, and other aspects of North Korean trade. Toward the end of the article there's a telling comment about China's refusal to stop the North Korean arms trade flights over China.

Ultimately, choking off North Korea's trade will depend upon participation of its two traditional allies and major trading partners—China and Russia. Senior U.S. officials, according to sources, are constantly wheedling China to deny overflight rights to suspicious planes exiting North Korea, without success. Last week, China and Russia blocked a proposed condemnation of North Korea's nuclear arms program by the U.N. Security Council.

China is not just trying to prop up the North Korean regime by providing aid. The Chinese are actively facilitating North Korea's arms trade. Since that trade appears to include North Korean assistance to the Iranian nuclear weapons development program the Beijing regime is effectively conspiring with North Korea to help Iran develop nuclear weapons.

The United States has responded by forming an 11 nation group called the Proliferation Security Initiative made up of Australia, the US, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Poland, Portugal, Japan and the Netherlands. By the way, what country (aside, of course, from China) is notably missing from that list? South Korea won't join the Proliferation Security Initiative. (joking aside to Robert Koehler: Yes, South Korea is not on friendly nations lists that I make). Well, Proliferation Security Initiative needs to be able to shut down North Korea's arms and arms technology trade. But if the US wants to proceed according to international law (at least according to international law as assorted US allies interpret it) some US allies such as Australia would prefer UN backing for sanctions. Of course, China and probably Russia as well would block a Security Council Resolution. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has floated the idea of creating a multi-country agreement outside of UN jurisdiction that would give an appearance of international law to a sanctions regime against North Korea.

"We need to work through a lot of that and see whether there's a need to change international law or whether we could put together some sort of international convention that countries would voluntarily sign up to and having signed up to the convention would take on certain obligations to address the problem of this trade," he said.

US Under Secretary of State John Bolton is talking a tougher game.

JOHN BOLTON, US UNDER-SECRETARY FOR ARMS CONTROL: We want to let the proliferators know that we're going to go beyond words and treaties and agreements. We will take action to defend ourselves against the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

One incredibly handy aspect of US air bases in Central Asia is that US aircraft could probably intercept aircraft travelling between North Korea and Iran.

The plans under discussion could even eventually lead to the scenario of PSI coalition members forcing suspicious aircraft to divert course and land.

The only possible obstacle might be Pakistan. Flights could follow a path that passes directly from China to Pakistan. But if Pakistan will let the US intercept flights bound for Iran then the North Korean airborne trade with Iran could be cut off.

Bottom line: China and South Korea aren't going to help. The US and some allies may move without their acquiesence and without UN blessings to do air and sea-based interception of North Korean trade headed for the Middle East.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 09 07:36 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2003 June 23 Monday
Newspapers Rare In North Korea

National Review writer John J. Miller points to an interesting report of a trip to North Korea written by Congressman Joe Wilson (R SC).

Throughout the city we saw countless billboards, murals and statues showing adulation for the Communist leaders and outright hatred and slander against America and South Korea. During my visit, I never saw a single newspaper sold, read or carried. This lack of media reveals the most totalitarian dictatorship ever devised, especially in what we know as the Information Age. Radios only receive government stations; televisions only receive North Korean stations; movies are government-developed, and the public has no access to fax machines, Internet connections or cell phones.

This is an argument for making a major effort to send radios and books into North Korea. The people there are information starved. What they do get is false propaganda. But the regime is so poor that even its ability to distribute propaganda has become extremely hobbled. The North Koreans would respond to outside sources of information if only ways could be found to reach them. See the comments section of this previous post for a number of suggestions for ways to get radios and books into the hands of North Koreans.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 23 11:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 22 Sunday
Japan To Install Missile Defenses In 2007

The Japanese government has decided to purchase the Raytheon Patriot ballistic missile defence system and another missile defense system.

The interceptor missiles to be mounted on Aegis-equipped destroyers are called Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), while the state-of-the-art surface-to-air missiles are called Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3).

The SM3, still under development by the US Navy, will intercept ballistic missiles at an earlier stage than the Patriot.

The SM3 is a more ambitious system, designed to take out ballistic missiles in the midcourse phase beyond the Earth's atmosphere. SM3s would be deployed on Aegis destroyers reconfigured to accommodate the weapons.

One recent report, while officially disputed, suggests an obvious motive for the Japanese plan to install missile defenses.

Japan's vulnerability to an attack by North Korean missiles may have increased dramatically, with reports yesterday that Pyongyang has developed several nuclear warheads for its ballistic missiles.

The United States unofficially told Japan in March that, for the first time, it had confirmation that North Korea had produced the warheads, Japanese media quoted officials as saying.

North Korea might possess the capability to launch a nuclear weapon on a rocket.

According to the majority view of U.S. experts, Pyongyang already has downsized nuclear warheads to about 1 ton each--small enough to be carried by the North's Rodong medium-range ballistic missile and almost one-fifth the size of the 4.9 ton Fat Man plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.

The US government has been urging the Japanese government to deploy missile defenses for quite some time and the Japanese government has been dropping hints that it would do so. Therefore this latest announcement is unsurprising. Japan may also eventually deploy the US Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) which is currently under development and may be ready for a 2007 roll-out. These plans should be seen as part of a wider pattern of cooperation between the United States and Japan in response to the increasing threat posed by North Korea. Another sign of the deepening of that cooperation are the recently reported plans to move a major US Navy intelligence headquarters from Hawaii to Japan.

The US navy is considering relocating the Pacific Fleet's patrol and reconnaissance headquarters from Hawaii to Japan by the autumn, a news

Nuclear tipped missiles from North Korea are not the only national security threat worrying the Japanese. While likely a lesser concern a recent report of an attempt by Al Qaeda to build up cells in Japan must be causing some alarm in Japanese national security circles.

Six members of the Al-Qaida terrorist network hiding out in Pakistan, planned last year to enter Japan secretly, government sources said Thursday.

Although they had fake passports, the plan failed because a Japanese Muslim, who was asked to be their guarantor, refused, the sources said.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 22 04:17 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
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    2003 June 19 12:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2003 June 15 Sunday
South Korean Advisor: Sanctions Could Halt North Korean Nuke Program

Dr. Cho Soon-sung, a senior advisor to South Korea's ruling Millennium Democratic Party, says economic sanctions could induce North Korea's regime to abandon nuclear weapons development.

Cho said China, a longtime economic and military supporter of North Korea, will not oppose the moves by the United States and Japan to punish Pyongyang with economic sanctions. "North Korea will discard its nuclear program if economic sanctions are imposed on the country," Cho said.

This same fellow appears to have been arguing against sanctions less than two weeks previously.

"We should not cut off economic aid. There is a humanitarian problem: The people in North Korea are starving," said Cho Soon-sung, senior adviser to South Korea's ruling party.

Perhaps Robert Koehler can explain?

By Randall Parker    2003 June 15 03:07 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 June 07 Saturday
US Troops To Withdraw From Korean DMZ

In a totally unsurprisng move that has been foreshadowed by both public and off-the-record comments for months the Bush Administration announced that US forces will withdraw from proximity with the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea.

According to the statement released in Seoul, U.S. troops will first move from about 15 bases near the DMZ to two major bases, Camp Casey and Camp Red Cloud, north of Seoul. In a second phase, the troops will move to "key hubs south of the Han River," which bisects Seoul, the statement said.

The US will be spending big money to strengthen the defenses of South Korea.

Meanwhile, Washington has pledged to invest $11 billion over four years to bolster South Korean defenses - including upgrades to Patriot antimissile systems, a squadron of AH-64D Apache helicopters, and other capabilities aimed at better countering North Korean missile and artillery attacks. Other enhancements include high-speed vessels that can more rapidly ferry Marines from Okinawa to the peninsula and the planned rotation to South Korea of the Army's newest force - the wheeled, medium-armored Stryker brigade.

What is not clear from the various reports is whether the US will buy equipment for the South Korean military to own or if it will just buy equipment for the US military to operate in South Korea. Surely the South Koreans can afford to defend their own country and ought to increase their defense spending to be better able to do so. Hopefully the US forces withdrawal from the DMZ area will pressure the South Korean government to increase defense spending.

The US sees other advantages in a pull-back from the DMZ.

Rumsfeld wants to give the U.S. forces in Korea the flexibility to train for missions elsewhere in the region. This will be facilitated by having most of them consolidated at hubs like the Osan air base south of Seoul and the Chinhae and Taegu areas in the southeast.

Putting US ground troops near the DMZ seems pointless. They are not needed to guarantee that US will play a role defending South Korea. If the North attacks the South there is no doubt that the US will retaliate against the North. In fact, the US would welcome the opportunity to have a reason to hit North Korea hard with an intense heavy series of air strikes.

The South Korean government does not want to see US forces withdraw from the proximity with DMZ because the South Koreans think the US will be more likely to launch a preemptive air strike against North Korea if US troops are not within range of a retaliatory North Korean artillery barrage. While this withdrawal of US troops will put the US in a better position to do that the reason the US can't entirely eliminate the North Korean nuclear weapons development program with an air strike is that the location of the North Korean uranium enrichment centrifuges remains unknown. Therefore the US can't destroy them with an air strike.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 07 02:41 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 05 Thursday
Chinese Elites Still Split On North Korea Strategy

CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam reports that China continues to hold back on pressuring North Korea over nuclear weapons development. While hawks in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) want to do more to help strengthen North Korean defenses liberal advisors to President Hu Jintao favor lining up with other countries to apply an economc squeeze to North Korea.

A group of hardliners even suggested that Beijing send ethnic-Korean PLA experts to North Korea so that the two countries' enhanced military ties would go undetected by the West.

More liberal advisers to Hu, however, have argued it is time Beijing ended the "lips-and-teeth relationship" with Pyongyang -- and worked closely together with the global community in squeezing the rogue regime.

Even if Hu wanted to go alone with his more liberal advisers on North Korea policy it is not clear that he has enough power to do so. Former President Jiang Zemin still holds some key positions and has many allies. The bottom line here is that China may continue to maintain the current policy of trading with North Korea and supplying it with enough aid to keep the Pyongyang regime in power. Given that North Korea's nuclear program is on-going China's position is effectively not so much in support of the status quo but instead in support of North Korea's eventual development of many nuclear weapons.

Lam has another report that shows just how much China continues to not see itself as a status quo power. China does not want to join the G8 club of industrialized countries because it wants to maintain image as an opponent of the status quo powers.

Moreover, while improving its ties to First World countries, Beijing is eager to maintain its position as a leader of Third World countries, particularly those in Africa and the Middle East.

Update: David M. Lampton, director of the Nixon Center's Chinese Studies program, sees signs that the Chinese leadership are rethinking their relationship with North Korea.

For the first time the Chinese apparently see that they could be the victims of proliferation. Further, nuclear proliferation around China's borders likely wouldn't stop with Pyongyang. It would spread to South Korea, then possibly Japan, and perhaps Taiwan. China would face nuclear regimes at all points of the compass.

The United States could play the "Taiwan card" with China by threatening to help Taiwan go nuclear if China doesn't help stop North Korea. Probably the US ought to avoid even mentioning that idea for now. But if China continues to support North Korea then US policymakers ought to consider that option. Still, the Chinese might come around for all the reasons Lampton outlines and so the US ought to avoid threatening China to get China to move on North Korea. Though if Taiwan was a nuclear power that would certainly make it easier for Taiwan to remain independent. So maybe after the North Korean regime falls the US ought to help Taiwan to go nuclear or look the other way while it figures out a way to do it on its own.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 05 10:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 01 Sunday
Other Powers Reluctant To Apply Economic Sanctions To North Korea

Writing in The Washington Post Doug Struck reports that the Bush Administration continues to meet resistance from China, South Korea, and Japan for sanctions against North Korea.

Bush administration officials have said they want to pursue both negotiation and pressure to further isolate North Korea. But South Korea and China -- and to a lesser extent Japan -- remain reluctant to squeeze the impoverished country by cutting off its few sources of income with sanctions or a blockade.

The most effective method the United States could use to get the South Korean and Japanese governments to go along with sanctions would be to convince them that the alternative would be something they'd like even less: an American preemptive strike against North Korea. However, my guess is that the Bush Administration is not ready to play that kind of hard ball over North Korea. Currently the US has too many problems in the Middle East (over 4 out of 10 US Army divisions tied down in Iraq, the Saudi Arabia/Al Qaeda problem, the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and the Pakistan/Afghanistan problem) and doesn't have enough resources to bring to bear on North Korea.

Update: In an interview with Yusuke Takahashi of Japan's NHK Television Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz effectively calls on China to signal North Korea that China will cut off economic aid if North Korea does not back down on nuclear weapons development.

Takahashi: Mr. Secretary, a month ago, Secretary Rumsfeld said that he talked about US forces in the Korean peninsula, and of course of the DMZ, and he tried to more (inaudible) or more air oriented and sea oriented, and that that kind of discussion and impression for Japanese that the United States have been thinking about to increase the presence in Okinawa.

Wolfowitz: No, it’s rather, we’re still doing our thinking, so I don’t want to say that we’ve come to conclusions. But the thinking I’ve seen about Korea involves rationalizing our posture in Korea, not shifting our posture from Korea to Japan. I think in fact in some ways it would be to give our posture in Korea a little bit more of the character that it already has in Japan, which is not so focused on heavy ground force deployments and a bit more outward looking, a bit more of a maritime orientation.

Takahashi: And fifth question is North Korea. This morning you sounded a little soft spoken (laughter). I’m sorry to say that nobody expect that Mr. Kim Jong Il suddenly become a reformer like Deng Xiao Ping in communist China. Why don’t we seek a regime change in that country like we did in Iraq and if not, why can’t US give the North Koreans the security guarantee they ask? That non-aggression pact or some such kind of guarantee.

Wolfowitz: Well, I’m not quite sure what anyone thinks that by itself is going to accomplish. It’s not -- if we were talking about it in the context of the kind of major change that I talked about, there are many things that could be on the table, but if take a view that North Korea’s never going to change, that Kim Jong Il will continue to rule the country and continue to pursue the insane policies he’s pursuing, then it’s hard to see any successful outcome other than that country increasingly heading towards collapse. But I think what is essential is for everyone in North Korea to get a message that comes not just from the United States, but from all the regional powers, that they face a fundamental choice. Now it’s true, maybe there are only a few people in North Korea who have any ability to make that choice, but I think the clearer it can be presented to them including to Kim Jong Il, the better chance there is of a peaceful outcome and I think we all want to see a peaceful outcome because war in Korea would be quite a terrible thing.

Takahashi: But if they were to escalate the situation again, would you specify that what is the additional step that we can make to stop them from exporting nuclear reactive materials?

Wolfowitz: Well, there’s a great deal we can do in that regard. In fact this wasn’t the purpose of our operation in Iraq, but we’ve just taken one customer away from them. There are a lot of other things that can be done to prevent the export of those materials and it will be important, because as I said in my comments, I think the greatest single danger posed by what they’re doing is in fact the potential export. But, look, the further North Korea goes up this escalatory road, the further it’s going to have to climb back down at some point. They’re not improving their security by what they do and they’re wasting their limited national resources and what they need to understand very clearly, and that message has to come not just from the United States, but from Japan and South Korea and Russia and most of all from China, is that the help that they are getting now is going to dry up if they keep going down this road of provocative behavior.

If the Chinese leaders continue to be unwilling to apply economic sanctions against North Korea then the Bush Administration is going to need a Plan B.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 01 12:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 May 27 Tuesday
North Korean Defector Hwang Jang-yop Allowed Out Of South Korea

Former North Korean party ideologue Hwang Jang-yop defected from North Korean in 1997. Only now has the South Korean government finally agreed to allow him to visit the United States.

Shin Young-jin, an aide to Hwang, yesterday told cable news channel YTN that the government granted Hwang permission to take the trip, which will likely start June 15.

South Korea's government under Kim Dae Jung denied him permission to travel to the United States most likely because they didn't want him saying things in the United States that would upset the North Korean regime.

The real reason for the ban, Park said, was that the Kim Dae-jung administration wanted to avoid upsetting Pyongyang.

Hwang Jang-yop's freedom of movement was less important to the South Korean government than their appeasement of North Korea. With Kim Dae Jung replaced by Roh Moo-hyun and with Roh trying to build better relations with the United States Hwang Jang-yop began lobbying US congressmen to apply pressure to the South Korean government to give him permission for a trip to the United States.

Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-level North Korean official ever to defect to the South, sent letters to some influential U.S. congressmen early this year, asking for their help in enabling him to visit the United States.

His efforts have paid off at a time when the North Korean regime is becoming even more belligerent than usual in its statements.

North Korea's government is so easily offended that it recently threatened South Korea with some unspecified disaster if South Korea challenged North Korea over the regime's nuclear weapons development efforts.

North Korea condemned a recent summit between President Bush and South Korea's president, and warned Tuesday of an ``unspeakable disaster'' for the South if it confronts the communist state over its nuclear weapons programs.

South Korea's government didn't stay mad about this latest threat for very long. It has returned to appeasement as usual with another annual rice shipment.

South Korea agreed Friday to give North Korea 400,000 tons of rice after the two sides settled a dispute over a perceived threat from the communist North following recent U.S.-South Korean talks.

Still, South Korea's government is showing increasing signs that there are limits to its policy of appeasement of North Korea.

Asked by ruling party lawmakers if the rice shipments would continue even if the nuclear standoff deteriorated, Vice Finance and Economy Minister Kim Gwang-lim the shipments would have to be delayed.

US President George W. Bush is less afraid of doing or saying things that will anger North Korea.

"We will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea," Mr. Bush said at a Texas news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. "We will not give in to blackmail.

"We will not settle for anything less than the complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea's nuclear-weapons program," he said.

A Washington Post profile of Kim Jong-il written by Peter Carlson serves as a useful reminder of just what sort of regime Hwang Jang Yop will describe when he comes to the United States.

Battered by floods, decades of mismanagement and cutbacks in aid from the former Soviet bloc, the North Korean economy collapsed in the 1990s. Factories closed, offices went unheated, electricity flickered on and off. In the countryside, peasants ate grass and bark.

"If you went a little outside the center of Pyongyang," Hwang Jang Yop wrote in his memoir, "the roads were filled with people who were reduced to mere skeletons."

South Korea's government appears to be realizing that appeasement alone may not work and that it can not afford to pursue only appeasement if the Bush Administration will not do so as well.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 27 02:52 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 May 21 Wednesday
Russia Uses North Korean Laborers

As bad as it may seem for the North Korean workers in the Russian far east it would be worse for them if they were in North Korea

Two North Koreans interviewed at an apartment renovation project here said their unit leader told them they must earn a minimum of $400 a month (close to the local minimum wage), which for most means moonlighting at private jobs. They are allowed to keep $100. This money, the men said, they either send home to their families or carry back on their yearly vacations. Although they often work 16-hour days, sleeping in apartments they are renovating, they said they considered themselves lucky to be working in Russia and hoped to renew their contracts.

North Korea first started supplying laborers to Russia during the Soviet era. The most curious thing about the continuation of the arrangement now is that Russia is becoming suffiiciently capitalistic that the North Korean workers are getting a view into the larger outside capitalistic world. One can only wonder what they think of what they see and hear.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 21 01:25 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 20 Tuesday
CFR Report On Foreign Policy Options With North Korea

An indpendent task force of foreign policy notables sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations has released a report entitled Meeting the North Korean Nuclear Challenge (PDF file).

The report makes several proposals for US foreign policy regarding North Korea:

  • Restore greater harmony in U.S.-ROK relations.
  • Enunciating a clear policy and building a strong coalition.
  • Engage in serious, early, and direct negotiations with North Korea.
  • Develop a short-term proposal to test North Korean intentions.
  • Redouble efforts with China to pressure North Korea.

The CFR folks want the United States to pursue greater diplomatic efforts with all parties. The problem with South Korea is that the South Koreans really have different interests. In a war against North Korea they'd suffer the larger number of casualties. Whereas if North Korea sells nukes and those nukes get used by terrorists the United States is likely to suffer the largest number of casualties.

It is not clear how the United States can convince the Beijing regime to pressure the Pyongyang regime. The Beijing regime understands on a gut level that while China's economy may be better managed than North Korea's the United States is a threat to the ideological basis for the Beijing regime while the gang in Pyongyang are not. As the CFR panel acknowledges, the Bush Administration has already made strong appeals to China to act to rein in the Pyongyang regime. The biggest source of leverage that the United States has with China comes from the Chinese belief that the United States may be willing to attack North Korea if other options fail. The best way to convince China to try harder to pressure North Korea would to take actions that strengthen the belief in Beijing that the United States will launch an attack to bring down the Pyongyang regime if other options fail.

Then the CFR panel comes in with an interesting kicker:

  • Contingencies. Should negotiations fail and North Korea reprocess its spent fuel or test a nuclear weapon, the United States should seek to secure more meaningful sanctions and consider imposing a blockade designed to intercept nuclear exports and other illicit or deadly exports. Allied support would be critical.

The problem with this step is that the Beijing regime may turn out to be unwilling to go along with a sanctions regimen and may block an attempt to get UN approval for such a regime. What is surprising is that the CFR panel is willing to support sanctions and even naval blockade if their other proposals fail to turn North Korea away from the development of nuclear weapons. That is a harder line than I'd expect a panel convened by the Council on Foreign Relations to adopt.

A naval blockade by itself will probably not bring down the regime as long as China is willing to keep it supplied. Also, a blockade will not prevent the export of nuclear fissile materials.

The report speaks of attempts to carry out economic reform in North Korea:

Its continuing efforts to carry out a modicum of economic reform have suffered serious setbacks. As a result of sustained economic failure, North Korea has turned itself into something of a mafia-ruled state, earning sizeable sums from drugs and counterfeiting.

Efforts to carry out economic reform have suffered serious setbacks? What efforts? What setbacks? The North Korean regime dances around the idea of making reforms but always retreats from making serious large-scale market-oriented reforms because it fears that reducing the amount of control it exercises will lead to a revolution. The report even acknowledges this obvious reason why economic reforms are not happening in North Korea:

But the media’s emphasis on an “imminent” American attack and the buildup of the role of the military may reflect some leadership concern regarding domestic stability. Both Russian and Chinese sources have hinted at growing dissension within the leadership. One thing remains clear: the leadership still believes it cannot open up the country and the economy for fear it will lead to the destruction of the regime.

Consider what this means: the regime's leaders fear economic reform will lead to the overthrow of the regime. But at the same time nothing short of economic reform that allows a larger market economy will improve the lot of the North Korean people. Therefore the lot of the North Korean people will not improve as long as the regime remains in power. Does anyone care about the suffering of the North Korean people? If so, regime overthrow is the best option for ending the deprivation and cruelty that characterize life in North Korea.

Following the Israeli, Pakistani, or Indian models, one would expect that if North Korea had been sprinting towards a full-scale nuclear weapons program, it would have done so as quietly as possible. This was, in fact, how North Korea pursued its HEU program. Yet between last October and this February—and arguably since then—North Korea has openly telegraphed its escalatory moves, including, for example, its moves to eject IAEA inspectors from the country and restart its nuclear facilities. This pattern is consistent with an effort to bring the United States to the bargaining table, though it is not necessarily incompatible with a decision to build nuclear weapons.

North Korea's pursuit of the HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium) program began while Clinton was still in office and lots of aid was flowing to North Korean from the United States, South Korea, and Japan. The most obvious interpretation of North Korea's move is that, yes, it does want to build nuclear weapons and get the United States to agree not to attack it. Then the next logical step for it once it has nuclear weapons would be to try to wring even larger amounts of aid from the US, Japan, and South Korea.

Look at the world from Kim Jong-il's vantage point: he believes he needs to allow his economy to stay very centrally controlled and very broken. He also knows that the possession of a lot of nuclear weapons would be a great deterrent against attack and great to use to extort larger aid payments that he desperately needs for his decaying economy. From his vantage point he needs more aid and nuclear weapons. Plus, once he has enough nukes for his own purposes he can sell some on the black market. He can always use more cash and so the ability to do that has got to be pretty appealing.

The North Koreans may not be willing to accept a diplomatic solution that includes a sustained and large force of international inspectors granted free rein to look at every corner of the country. Even if the North Koreans were willing to do so the US would be faced with the problem that any system of inspections may not be able to detect continued secret North Korean nuclear weapons development efforts. But it may not be possible to get the North Koreans to submit to an inspections regime as long as China is keeping North Korea supplied.If the United States can not convince the Beijing regime to cut off North Korea then the only option remaining may be an invasion of North Korea to overthrow the regime.

Update: A naval quarantine of North Korea would be hard to organize:

But turning those interdictions into a strategy may prove difficult. The United States Navy carried out the Cuban quarantine itself; this one would require nervous South Korean and Japanese politicians risking a confrontation with an angry neighbor, as well as the cooperation of the Chinese. China, concerned that refugees would flood across the border, fears a collapse of the North Korean government.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 20 03:00 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 May 17 Saturday
Religious, Human Rights Activists Pressure Bush, Roh On North Korea

South Korean President Roh's visit to Washington DC has been occasion for various human rights activists and religious figures to speak out about US and South Korean policy toward North Korea. Human rights activist Norbert Vollertsen, who has travelled extensively in North Korea, accuses the South Korean government of trying to cover up the extent of the atrocities committed by the North Korean regime.

"It's genocide what's going on in North Korea," he said. "And as a former human right lawyer, I should expect even one comment about the situation in North Korea. There was nothing. We were very much disappointed."

He says the South Korean government does not want to publicly recognize the atrocities committed in the North. He accuses the South of trying to silence Northern refugees who have defected to China, Vietnam and other countries.

Vollertson says South Korean President Roh should speak out about the atrocities committed by the North Korean regime.

Dr Vollerston said: "Mr Roh Moon-hyun, during his visit as President of South Korea, and as a former human rights lawyer, was not talking about these children in North Korea. These are human rights violations, it's genocide what's going on in North Korea, and as a former human rights lawyer, I should expect at least one comment about the situation in North Korea. There was nothing."

Separately, religious leaders and human rights activists have released a letter arguing the South Korean government does not want to see the collapse of the North Korean regime.

"We are further troubled that South Korean officials have sought to maintain the Pyongyang regime in power because they fear that South Korea's economy would be harmed were the people of North Korea to become free," the letter said.

A coaltion of activists have organized to send a strong letter to President Bush about North Korea.

The activists, led by a powerful coalition of conservative Christian churches, political pressure groups close to the Republican Party and human rights advocates, want to pressure the United States into pursuing a more aggressive policy to change the North Korean regime.

The text of letter to President Bush by major conservative figures pushes for a harder line toward North Korea for human rights reasons.

The visit of South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun poses challenges, and great opportunities, for the administration’s historic march towards human rights, religious freedom and democracy – and for its post-9/11 campaign to banish the specter of terrorism and terrorist blackmail.

We are concerned that President Roh has recently characterized the policy of openly confronting Pyongyang’s brutal and inhuman conduct towards its own people as “an obstacle … to peace.” We are further troubled that South Korean officials have sought to maintain the Pyongyang regime in power because they fear that South Korea’s economy would be harmed were the people of North Korea to become free.

We call on you to reject any policy counsel based on such views.

We believe that silence towards the Pyongyang regime’s vast system of gulags, towards the death sentences it imposes on dissidents and religious believers, and towards the mass starvation it imposes on all but its favored élites, is neither an honorable nor a prudent option. We believe – as did President Reagan in his dealings with the former Soviet Union – that tyrannical regimes are always more fragile and subject to internal collapse than their blustering postures make them seem to be.

We are confident that you share these views. We applaud the stand you have taken and hope that you will reject any call to further subsidize or legitimize the Pyongyang regime. Instead, we hope you will urge President Roh to join you in publicly calling for a speedy end to the oppression and suffering of the people of North Korea.

We call on you to give voice to desperate cries for freedom from the tormented people of North Korea. By so doing, we are confident, you will again advance the linked causes of freedom and security for the world at large.

Among the signatories: Chuck Colson, Michael Horowitz, Diane Knippers, Father Richard John Neuhaus, Paul M. Weyrich, and Michael Novak.

More comments from a couple of the signatories:

“We cannot be silent in the face of the most repressive nation on earth,” said IRD President Diane Knippers at a press conference held at the Hudson Institute today. “Silence regarding North Korea’s tyranny is a betrayal of the hopes and ideals of all humankind – a tragic rejection of the hard-won commitments to universal human rights.”

Knippers directly addressed concerns some have raised about military and economic security in confronting North Korea’s human rights violations. “Respect for human rights and for human dignity never undercuts security or economic justice,” Knippers said. No regime which treats its own people with such disregard can be expected to act in accord with international norms on other issues, Knippers explained. “Indeed, a nation’s internal record of respect for human rights is the single most reliable predictor of that nation’s external intentions and integrity.”

Michael Horowitz, a human rights activist and signatory to the letter, had hope for the people living under the violent oppression of the Kim Jong Il regime. He predicted that the North Korean regime will implode, asserting, “The human spirit is alive, even in North Korea.”

The South Korean government's appeasement policy toward North Korea requires that it avoid stating the obvious. Since that policy helps to support the continued existence of the North Korean regime it simultaneously condemns the North Koreans to suffer and to have their suffering be ignored by many South Koreans.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 17 02:50 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 12 Monday
Story Of Defector From North Korean Army Women's Artillery Unit

Writing from Seoul South Korean for The Christian Science Monitor Robert Marquand reports on the story of Baek Yi, a defector from an elite women's artillery unit.

After she joined, Baek was no longer allowed to speak to ordinary North Korean citizens, on pain of being discharged. She was told that mixing with civilians might cause her to "go soft," as she puts it. "Being soft is the worst thing that can happen to you in the People's Army," because it means you are not thinking from the basis of going to war.

Unfortunately Marquand either did not ask her what most other soldiers in the North Korean Army believe about the regime and the rest of the world or she provided little insight when asked. His article is interesting but doesn't provide enough information about the core question of the state of mind of most of the soldiers serving in the North Korean military today.

My guess is that most of the people serving in the North Korean military simply do not know enough about the rest of the world to realize just how much worse off they are than South Koreans or Americans. The United States should carry out various sorts of covert operations to circumvent and defeat the mechanisms which the North Korean regime uses to keep the North Korean people ignorant of the outside world. The North Korean people live in an information monopoly controlled by the North Korean regime and even a partial defeat of that monopoly will weaken the control that the regime holds over the populace.

At this point the United States is many months or even years away from an outright war against the North Korean regime. Also, a formal UN agreement for economic sanctions that would include a closing of North Korea's border with China to aid and trade seems a distant prospect. The United States can not carry out preemptive air strikes against North Korean nuclear weapons development facilities because US intelligence has not been able to identify the locations of the North Korean uranium enrichment facilities. Under these circumstances in which multilateral sanctions and military attacks are not likely I see several major initiatives the United States could work on that would help American strategy against the North Korean regime:

  • Pursue covert operations designed to reach the North Korean people with news and information about the outside world.
  • Pursue covert operations designed to corrupt any portions of the North Korean government that have contact with the outside world.
  • Make a major effort to help North Koreans who have made it to China to escape from China. Also, help them simply to live and to learn more about the larger world
  • Develop weapons systems that can rapidly destroy the artillery pieces that the North Koreans have dug into the sides of hills and mountains.
  • Develop and deploy theater missile defense systems in the region.
  • Develop and build the assets needed to conduct an amphibious invasion of North Korea without South Korean help.
  • Assign many US and allied law enforcement and intelligence agents to the task of penetrating and shutting down North Korean trafficking operations in drugs and other contraband that generate revenue for the regime.

Out of all of the above items my guess is that the only one has been targeted by the Bush Administration for a substantial effort is the interdiction of contraband smuggling. It is an appealing way to try to cut the flow of funds to North Korea. Recent news reports suggest that Japan may also make a bigger effort to stop North Korean drug smuggling. Given that Japan is probably North Korea's biggest market for black market amphetamines a bigger Japanese effort to cut down on drug smuggling from North Korea could lead to a substantial reduction in funding for the North Korean regime from drug smuggling.

The United States needs to pursue a broader range of efforts to deal with the threat from North Korea. The narrow range of options mentioned in most debates are just not sufficient to deal with the problem that North Korea poses.

Update: Reaching the North Korean populace with information about the outside world is valuable for any of three major future scenarios:

  • Suppose the US reaches the point of launching a military attack on North Korea. A key element of an attack should be to reduce the motivation of the North Korean people to resist an invasion. The more they know about how much better off they would be if post-invasion the less motivated they would be to resist the invasion.
  • An internal revolt would be more likely to happen and, if it happened, to bring down the regime if the people in the North Korean military and populace knew just how much worse off they are living under their current system of government.
  • If the people are less motivated to fight an invasion and are more likely to support a revolt then Kim Jong-il's negotiating hand will be weakened. He will feel more pressure to agree to terms to eliminate his regime's nuclear weapons development program.

A massive effort to reach the North Korean populace with news about the outside world makes good strategic sense.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 12 10:29 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
Direct Threat To Kill Kim Jong-il Is Useful Method Of Deterrence

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il went into hiding for 50 days starting in mid February because he is fearful the United States will try to kill him with precision guided munitions.

WASHINGTON - U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, went into seclusion during the final buildup to the war in Iraq because he feared that he too might be the target of attack. That has led the Pentagon to consider new ways to hold him at risk as a method of deterrence on the peninsula, officials said.

The US review of force deployment in and around North Korea is focusing on identifying high priority targets and developing the ability to hit them all in a relatively short period of time. However, the US has one big problem: it needs to develop a good way to rapidly take out the artillery pieces and rocket launchers that are aimed at Seoul and other targets in South Korea.

The Washington Times recently interviewed South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in Seoul and Roh made it clear that he does not want South Korea to become a batteground for implementing the preemption strategy.

I fully understand the mood and the circumstances that gave rise to such a doctrine. But I would like to discuss with President Bush that the circumstances on the Korean Peninsula may not be appropriate for applying this principle from the very beginning.

The reason for this South Korean reticence is easy to understand: they do not want to be killed in a massive North Korean artillery and missile barrage.

About half of South Korea's 46 million people live in or near Seoul, which is about 30 miles south of the world's most heavily fortified border and within range of an estimated 12,000 North Korean artillery pieces. U.S. officials fear that casualties in the first two weeks of a war could top 1 million, mostly civilians.

Some estimates of deaths from a major missile attack on Seoul with chemical warheads run into millions killed.

For South Korea the perception of the threat from the North is not growing as much as it is for Japan and the United States. The South Koreans have long lived under the threat of the artillery. Some of the artillery shells and missiles probably can carry chemical and perhaps even biological agents.

What the United States military needs to do is to turn the technical prowess of defense contractors toward coming up with ways to rapidly destroy the artillery which North Korea has buried in caves on mountainsides and hillsides. This should be pursued in parallel with economic sanctions and a major effort to break the North Korean regime's information monopoly over its own people.

Update: President Roh does not want US troops pulled back away from the DMZ. The US wants to move them away for a few reasons. The most notable reason is that if the US launches a preemptive attack on North Korean nuclear weapons facilities the US does not want US soldiers within range of a North Korean retaliatory artillery shelling aimed solely at US troops.

The US has a basic problem: US and South Korean security needs have diverged. What does the most to protect the US will cost a great many South Korean lives. While it is possible that a US strike against North Korea will save more South Korean lives in the longer run the South Koreans are not convinced of this.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 12 10:56 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 April 28 Monday
North Korean Teenage Refugees Struggle To Adjust To South Korea

New York Times Magazine has an excellent article by Michael Paterniti about North Korean teenagers who escape North Korea to go to South Korea. It is entitled "The Flight of the Fluttering Swallows".

It was easy to forget that they had been born into one social experiment and were now suddenly part of another. In North Korea, they had been required to take daily ideology classes in which they were versed in the illustrious past of their leaders. Given the mythopoetics of the North Korean government and the propaganda -- Kim Il Sung singlehandedly beat back the Japanese, then the Americans; Kim Jong Il showed such scholarly aptitude that his teachers came to him for lessons -- they were instructed that their lives should be molded in the image of these gods and that strict discipline, order and sacrifice were necessary to achieve a state of juche, or self-reliance based on what was best for the collective.

In cloistered North Korea, little of the outside world penetrates or, if so, often comes as a distortion. Se-ok, the most world-savvy of the group, once asked, ''Is it true that every home in America has a robot?'' One boy said he had heard that there were extremely wealthy Americans who made $35,000 a year, every year. And if the fluttering swallows had heard rumors of places beyond their country where life was better -- China, Japan, America, South Korea -- there was no hard evidence to support the claim.

These kids provide a window into the mindset of all the people who are still in North Korea. For a variety of reasons illustrated by this article the North Koreans do not adjust well to South Korean society. A collapse of the North Korean regime would present South Korea with a problem far larger than the problem that West Germany has gone thru in reintegrating with East Germany. The gap in outlooks in life and in understanding of the world is far greater between the two Koreas than it was between the two Germanies.

The problem posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons development program and other Weapons Of Mass Destruction (WMD) development programs is heightened by the degree of isolation of the North Korean people. It is difficult to know just how much most North Koreans know about the outside world but there are indications that most know very little.

If North Koreans knew just how worse off they were than the rest of the world (especially South Korea and the United States) their support for their own regime would decline markedly and their desire to flee their own country would rise dramatically. With that thought in mind here are some ideas for how the US might be able to break the information monopoly that the North Korean regime has over the people of North Korea.

  • US attack subs should be loaded up with books and small radios (photovoltaic or mechanical piezo-electric powered), told to go up along the North Korean coast line, and then release their cargo to float to the surface and then to shore. Surface ships could do the same from a greater distance where the prevailing currents are favorable.
  • CIA agents in China and Russia should pay people to smuggle the books and radios over the border.
  • Books and radios should be attached to balloons when the winds are in a favorable direction so that they float into North Korea.
  • Book contents: Lots of pictures of life in South Korea, China, and places further afield combined with descriptions of life. Plus assorted classical novels, biographies, history books, etc.
  • CIA covert operators should work to get these materials and some cash (dollars or Chinese currency - not sure which is better but I've read dollars are used in NK black markets) into the hands of North Korean refugees living in China. The message then will get back into North Korea that there is help for them in China if they can only reach there. Plus, the cash will feed the development of a black market. A bigger black market will weaken the government.
  • Radio broadcasts: More frequencies and more kinds of content. Spoken book reading radio programs in Korean should be done continuously with multiple books on multiple frequencies at once.
  • Radio development: multiple US, Japanese, Taiwanese, and South Korean firms should be approached to propose designs.
  • The CIA should consider funding the development of a tuner that will fit inside of existing NK radio designs so that someone with an NK radio could change its guts to get more frequencies while outwardly the radio would look the same. Ditto for tuners for NK TV sets.

This all should be done on a massive scale. While it will not by itself bring down the North Korean regime it will reduce the support for the regime (which could be useful if military operations become necessary) and will make it more corruptible as well.

We just spent tens of billions on Iraq and were spending $2-3 billion per year on patrolling the no-fly zone. We ought to be spending $2-3 billion per year to break the NK information monopoly.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 28 01:01 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 13 Sunday
North Korea Is Inflating Its Currency

In an AP article that reviews the state of North Korea's economy attention is drawn to an aspect that many other accounts fail to mention: the North Korean regime is running a highly expansionary monetary policy that is causing raging inflation.

Inflation in North Korea is believed to be running at more than 200 percent. The official value of its currency, the won, was slashed in August as part of market reforms to try to revive the economy. One U.S. dollar used to buy about 2 won, it now gets 142. Rates on the black market are as high as 700.

Inflation of a currency is a curious thing to do in a command economy. If just about everything was owned by the state there'd be no point to inflating the currency. But inflation of the currency gives government agencies cash to use to buy from the black market. The black market can at least partially compensate by raising prices in expectation of future currency expansion.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 13 11:43 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 12 Saturday
North Korea May Accept Multilateral Talks

North Korea drops its absolute opposition to multilateral talks.

``If the U.S. is ready to make a bold switchover in its Korea policy for a settlement of the nuclear issue, the DPRK will not stick to any particular dialogue format,'' the North's KCNA news agency quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.

Its not clear that this really amounts to much of a concession. North Korea is demanding a non-aggression treaty with the United States. However, the "bold switchover" that the North Koreans seek may be the acceptance by the US of North Korea as a nuclear power with on-going nuclear weapons production.

Meanwhile, in a statement to Interfax news agency Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov hints that Russia will drop its opposition to sanctions against North Korea if North Korea starts making nuclear weapons.

"We will oppose this approach as long as our North Korean colleagues maintain common sense," Losyukov said. "But Russia will have to seriously consider its position, as the appearance of nuclear weapons in North Korea and the possibility of its using them close to our borders goes categorically against Russia's national interests."

South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun says North Korea's leaders are scared by what they saw in Iraq.

"And furthermore, in 2001, there was mention of preemptive strikes against North Korea," he said. "The United States has named North Korea as one of the axis of evil, and has even mentioned the possibility of a nuclear attack against North Korea. So I think North Korea can't help but to feel very nervous and afraid. Especially watching the recent Iraqi war I'm sure they are very much terrified . . . petrified by the Iraqi war."

Russia and China want to keep the UN Security Council out of involvement in dealing with the North Korea nuclear weapons development problem.

Moscow and Beijing prefer not to put pressure on North Korea through the United Nations but Chinese and Russian diplomats say they have pushed hard behind the scenes to get Pyongyang to shift tack away from insisting on bilateral talks only.

At the recent closed doors discussion of North Korea's nuclear weapons program China blocked issuance of a UN Security Council statement put forward by the United States to condemn North Korea's nuclear weapons development program.

But in a private meeting of envoys from the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China that took place late on Monday, Paris and London backed that approach but Beijing was strongly opposed while Moscow was hesitant, diplomats said.

Kim Jong-il is scared. The recent demonstration of US military prowess has definitely got his attention. But he's still probably unwilling to abandon his nuclear weapons development programs (plural on "programs" because he's pursuing plutonium and uranium bombs) under any circumstances. Russia and China want to keep the UN out of it and deal with the issue privately. Russia and China are pressuring North Korea but it is not clear that they are both able and willing to apply enough pressure to North Korea to get it to entirely abandon its nuclear weapons development programs.

Absent a credible US threat to North Korea Kim Jong-il will see no reason to abandon his nuclear weapons development programs. He wants nuclear weapons in order to increase his leverage to get aid (i.e. use nukes for blackmail) and to bring closer the day of unifying the Korean peninsula under the rule of his regime. Plus, any other types of weapons his regime has developed to date have been sold for needed currency. On the other hand, the ability of the US military to bring down his regime increases his determination to develop nuclear weapons to use as a deterrence against attack. The problem, in a nutshell, is that Kim Jong-il's motivation to develop nuclear weapons is pretty strong with or without a credible US threat to the existence of his regime.

The problem from the US perspective is that it is hard to imagine an inspections regime for North Korea that could work well enough that the North Korean regime would also agree to. The inspectors would need total unimpeded access to all of North Korea. Even with that level of access it is uncertain that the inspectors could find all of the sites that the North Korean regime has for doing nuclear weapons development.

War continues to be an unappealing option because the casualties for all concerned would be orders of magnitude higher than what has been seen in the war to topple Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. The North Korean regime would probably manage to fire hundreds of thousands of conventional and chemical artillery shells at populated areas in northern Seoul and kill hundreds of thousands. Also, it might fire missiles with chemical warheads at sites deeper into South Korea and possibly kill millions of South Koreans with chemical weapons. North Korea might even fire chemical warhead missiles at Japanese cities.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 12 11:17 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 10 Thursday
Kim Jong-il Puts All Triplets In Orphanages

The North Korean monster Kim Jong-il is afraid of triplets.

ALL triplets in North Korea are being forcibly removed from parents after their birth and dumped in bleak orphanages. The policy is carried out on the orders of Stalinist dictator Kim Jong-il, who has an irrational belief that a triplet could one day topple his regime.

Kim Jong-il is one of those people who deserve very much to be killed - perferably in a way that causes him a great deal of pain.

This report brings to mind Matthew 2:12-16.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.

Kim Jong-il is demonstrating that the Biblical report about the action of King Herod over 2000 years ago is quite plausible and well within the bounds of what humans are capable of.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 10 11:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
Latest Number Of North Korean Defectors To Reach South Korea

Yonhap News reports that 270 North Korean defectors made it to South Korea in the first quarter of 2003. For all of 2002 the number of North Korean defectors was over 1000 but the article does not provide an exact figure. To put that in perspective, South Korea received 583 North Korean defectors in 2001. Therefore the number of defectors reaching South Korea rose again in 2002. While Yonhap News provides a figure of 214 defectors reaching South Korea in 1Q 2002 at the second link I had previously cited another source which put that quarter's number at 162.

While the number of refugees making it to South Korea continues to rise the vast bulk of the refugees that make it out of North Korea do not make it any further than China. Many are either caught and sent back or they return on their own in order to bring supplies they acquired in China back to their families in North Korea.

The number of North Koreans who make it to South Korea is easily measurable. But in terms of we could learn about the conditions and beliefs of people inside of North Korea the more interesting figures would be about how many North Koreans are trying and succeeding to get to China. Numbers about that are much harder to come by.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 10 01:00 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 23 Sunday
On The Plight Of The North Koreans

First we look at aid flowing into North Korea and where it is going. Then we look at the North Koreans who, out of desperation and hunger, try to leave North Korea to get food in China and to get to a country where they are less likely to starve to death or to be killed.

In a 2001 article Fiona Terry of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) explains why Médecins Sans Frontières withdrew from North Korea.

Refugee testimonies corroborate this: some report having carried food from military storage to nurseries before a UN visit, and others speak of being mobilised to dig up areas to exacerbate flood damage in preparation for a UN inspection.

MSF began to understand that the North Korean government categorises its population according to perceived loyalty and usefulness to the regime, and those deemed hostile or useless were expendable. In fact, in 1996, Kim Jong-il publicly declared that only 30% of the population needed to survive to reconstruct a victorious society. With no possibility of directing aid to those most in need, MSF withdrew.

A May 14, 2001 Le Monde article by Philippe Pons shows Kim Dae-Jung's Sunshine Policy has done little to help the North Korean people.

Since the visit of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung to Pyongyang, it appears that the prisoners are treated better: "In general, if we are caught going to or coming back from China, we are interrogated, beaten with clubs, and robbed of everything we have. But it seems like Kim Jong-il has said that refugees are harmless and that as a consequence should not be beaten anymore," says the wood carrier. Apart from this he sees no change: "When Kim DJ came, we had great hopes. We thought that all would be fixed. And then nothing changed. Today, we expect nothing. We even wonder whether he really came." Does the population accept this situation? "To revolt? It's unthinkable! If you raise your head, it is chopped. You and your family," he says.

All refugees know that their country receives foreign aid. But few among them claim having received any. The wood carrier heard on South Korean radio (which is forbidden) that tons of rice had arrived from South Korea and the US. "I never saw any of it, and I wonder if the South didn't lie about that," he says. In Chongjin, a youth heard that when a ship carrying aid is unloaded under UN watch, the military dresses as civilians and maneuvers to take everything. Another refugee from Onsong says that several times he carried aid bags in 1997 and 1998 from a hangar where the food was stocked "in case of war" to a kindergarten, in anticipation of a UN inspection.

Has food aid to North Korea simply allowed the North Korean regime to spend less money to import food so that it can spend the money on importing arms and supplies for its military? Had there never been any foreign aid at all would there be any fewer people alive in North Korea today?

Suzanne Scholte, President of Defense Forum Foundation, says the aid is going to the North Korean military.

We hear again and again from defectors that they never saw any humanitarian aid. When Colonel Choi testified in the US in 1997, he said that 100% of the aid was being diverted. He said while the NGOs are present, the aid is distributed to the families, but as soon as the NGO trucks drive out of town, the army goes back in and takes all the food back. Furthermore, when I was in Tokyo in 1999 at the International Forum on North Korean Returnees hosted by Professor Haruhisa Ogawa, I stated that all humanitarian aid should be stopped. It was controversial at the time and not many people would join me in this demand. But after my remarks, two Japanese women secretly approached me. They had recently been to North Korea to see their families. They confirmed exactly what Colonel Choi said. Their families were forced to sign papers stating they had received a certain quantity of rice, but the army took the rice as soon as the NGOs left the area. But the paper signed by the family was shown to the NGOs to convince them the aid had been received by the family.

The North Korean refugees are badly treated by the governments of China and North Korea and the South Koreans are for the most part not happy to see them showing up in South Korea.

North Koreans who manage to make it to South Korea have to spend a year under control of the government before being allowed out into society. One of the reasons cited by the South Korean government for this approach is the understandable fear of spies. However, another reasons is to keep out Korean-Chinese.

But a NIS spokesperson said the reason "might be that you can't do a press conference when you don't even know if they are real refugees or not." They could be Korean-Chinese from China trying to sneak into Korea disguised as defectors to work illegally, or they could be spies, he said. Fair enough, except it is hard to see what the security risk is here. And why would any self-respecting North Korean spy pick such a difficult way to get into porous South Korea?

The reference to Korean-Chinese is meant in the same way that one uses hyphenation of ethnicity and nationality in the United States. There are a large number of ethnic Koreans who have long lived in China as Chinese citizens.

The Northeast of China has a 2 million-strong ethnic Korean minority, is home to some of its worst performing State Owned Enterprises, and its cities "boast" near 40 percent unemployment.

Think about this. There are over 20 million North Koreans living a horrible existence. Some starve to death every day. Others are either outright killed by the government or die from the abuse of torture and from being kept in horrible prisons. As a result there are estimates of North Koreans living in Northeast China that run from 100,000 and up as high as 300,000. In the face of this the South Korean government is not making a large concerted effort to help the North Koreans living in China to make it to South Korea. The South Korean government is more concerned with keeping Korean-Chinese out of South Korea.

Those Korean-Chinese are in China in part due to the legacy of Japanese colonial rule over North and Manchuria. Some were also sent there (willingly? Its not clear) during the earlier years of Mao's reign in China. North Korean refugees in China attempt to pretend to be Korean-Chinese in order to blend in.

One can find terrible suffering and injustice in many parts of the world. But in terms of lack of freedom and sheer repressiveness North Korea has no peers. Next door to it is a highly advanced and industrialized society populated by people of the same ethnicity. You might expect South Korea to be eager to help the North Koreans who make it to China. After all, in theory at least all North Koreans are eligible for South Korean citizenship.

South Korea has a long-standing policy of accepting North Korean refugees. However, as the number of North Korean refugees increased, procedures for acceptance became longer and the package offered by South Korea to new refugees was reduced. Recently several court rulings were issued which determined that every North Korean was, according to the South Korean constitution also a South Korean. It is not clear yet how these court rulings will influence asylum procedures. North Korean refugees who have been accepted by South Korea appear to have considerable difficulties adjusting to South Korean society.

One comes across accounts of North Koreans who have made it out of China and into other countries who are waiting in those countries to get visas to travel to South Korea.

The number of North Koreans who have made it all the way to South Korea since 1954 is pitifully small.

The US wants neighboring countries to help allow the escape of North Koreans, hoping that emigration can speed up regime change in North Korea, much as it did in Eastern Europe. South Korea's Constitution provides that North Koreans can become citizens of the South, but only about 2,000 North Korean refugees have been accepted since 1954. China asserts that North Koreans are economic migrants, and has since 1999 refused to allow the UNHCR to interview those in China. The US is expected to pressure the new South Korean government to accept more North Koreans, thus encouraging China to establish refugee camps.

There are people who think that the North Korean regime could be brought down by a massive outflux of refugees. Keep that in mind as you read along here.

The incredibly small number of North Koreans who make it to South Korea are already viewed as a problem in South Korea.

The first gathering of international NGOs to discuss North Korean human rights in October 1999 originally placed this issue on the bilateral agenda between Beijing and Seoul (see "Deepening Intimacy and Increased Economic Exchange," Comparative Connections, Vol. 1, No. 3). Estimates of the number of North Korean refugees illegally staying primarily in Jilin and Liaoning Provinces in the PRC range from official estimates of 10,000-30,000 to unofficial estimates of 100,000-300,000. From the mid-1990s, the flow of North Korean defectors has increased exponentially to over 148 in 1999, over 312 in 2000, and over 583 last year. This year, defections are occurring at a slightly higher rate than in 2001, and the adaptation of North Korean defectors to South Korean society is a social strain that is just beginning to emerge in Seoul.

Put these numbers into perspective. South Korea has a total population of 48 million people. They could easily absorb all the North Koreans currently hiding in China. If the South Korean government really cared it would be trying very hard to help the North Koreans in China to reach South Korea. Instead, the work of helping the North Koreans in China is carried out by private groups with no official support. These groups are being cracked down on by the Chinese government and their effectiveness is decreasing.

While the number of North Koreans who have made it to South Korea has risen dramatically in the last few years the total number of refugees who make it to South Korea is still an incredibly small percentage of the total number of refugees who try to leave North Korea.

Some 538 North Koreans resettled in South Korea in 2001, double the number of resettlers or defectors in 2000; a total of 2,000 North Koreans live in the south. Between January and March 2002, 162 North Koreans have reached South Korea. The numbers are expected to climb as more North Koreans flee the chronic food shortages and extraordinary isolation that make life so difficult at home. However, once in the south, many have a hard time integrating - their unemployment rate is very high, and many live entirely on government assistance.

The number who make it from China to South Korea is well less than 1 percent of the number who make it as far as China.

While I haven't been able to find a figure for the total number of North Korean refugees who made it to South Korea in 2002 the 162 number for the first quarter probably translates into a number that is less than 1,000 for the entire year of 2002. That figure might represent a high point because China is cracking down on the North Koreans living in China.

The humanitarian aid workers who attempt to rescue North Korean refugees face the brutal determination of the Chinese authorities, who deem the assistance of North Korean refugees as a criminal offense... Predictably, in this context, support for North Korean refugees in distress is diminishing and assisting them has become a challenge that increasingly few aid organizations, crushed by this sanction policy, are able to undertake.

In late 2002 China launched a massive effort to hunt down the North Koreans living in China to return them to North Korea.

Within the past three years, China has arrested and forcibly repatriated thousands of North Koreans in flight from their own country in search of asylum and assistance. Since early December 2002, as a way to definitively eliminate the embarrassing question of North Korean refugees, China has launched a new manhunt in collusion with North Korean security services. As of mid-January 2003, 3200 North Korean civilians in China have already been repatriated as a result of this so-called "100 day campaign". 1300 others are awaiting their repatriation in the detention centers of Tumen and Longjing. The systematic and organized dragnet taking place in China leaves North Korean refugees no other alternative than a desperate flight to a third country, at the risk of their very lives.

It is difficult to know how successful this campaign has been. Some sources claim that the number of North Korean refugees in China has dropped by a full order of magnitude. However, without access to secret Chinese and North Korean figures about the rate of deportation of people back into North Korea it's hard to know how credible those estimates are.

South Korea says it can't do much about the refugees but it really doesn't want to anyway.

South Korea feels that it must tread lightly, given the geopolitical realities. Foreign Minister Soon Young Hong took some heat for his cautious attitude.[13] Although some NGOs have called attention to the refugees' plight,[14] The South Korean media have been discouraged from reporting on the problem. In 1999, only 149 North Koreans were accepted as immigrants. True, that was more than double the number of defectors allowed to immigrate to the South during the previous five years. However, the number is small in comparison with how many would like to come. The government is ill-equipped to handle incoming refugees, and there is little support among the South Korean population for a large influx of Northerners.

This "tread lightly" comment is nonsense. The Chinese government wants South Korean investment, know-how and trade. South Korea has levers it could use with China if South Korea really cared about the North Korean refugees.

So let's summarize. China sees North Korean refugees as a nuisance and as competitors for jobs in an economically depressed region. Plus, China doesn't want a large outflux of refugees from North Korea to bring down the North Korean regime because China wants North Korea as a buffer against bad democratic and American influences. Also, China doesn't want its own people to see a nearby regime be overthrown since such an event might give Chinese people ideas.

South Korea wants to keep their poor ethnic distant relatives north of the border. South Korea also wants to do business with China without having the refugees complicating business relations.

Let's be clear about this. The policies of the South Korean and Chinese governments toward the North Korean people are morally reprehensible. The South Koreans (with exception of some Christian South Korean private groups and perhaps some other private groups) only care about themselves in South Korea. The Chinese leaders mainly care about their maintaining their control of their own regime. These folks are not exactly overwhelmed with compassion for their fellow man.

In light of all of this it is not surprising that these countries are similarly not being incredibly helpful in response to US attempts to prevent North Korea from becoming a Nuclear KMart to the world. After all, if they are not going to care about about 20 million people close by who live on the brink of starvation (or who pass over the brink daily) why are they going to care about the fate of people living in distant cities who might get nuked by terrorists who may some day acquire nuclear weapons from the North Korean regime?

By Randall Parker    2003 March 23 04:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 March 20 Thursday
China Or Japan Biggest North Korea Trading Partner?

Who has more economic leverage over North Korea, China or Japan? Audrey McAvoy of the Associated Press says Japan is the biggest customer for North Korean goods.

Just a day away by ship, Japan is by far North Korea's biggest customer, gobbling up to a quarter of its exports. North Korea shipped $225.62 million worth of goods to Japan in 2001, according to figures compiled by the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency in South Korea. Its next biggest markets were South Korea, which imported $176.17 million, and China, $166.73 million.

Robert Scalapino, co-chair of the Center for Korean Studies at UC Berkeley, puts China as North Korea's top trading partner.

But in recognizing South Korea, China took greater care than, say, Russia, in seeking to ameliorate North Korea's anxieties. China is North Korea's most important trading partner, with turnover exceeding US$700 million last year, up 30 percent from 2001. Indeed, China is believed to supply about 70 percent of the North's oil, and has doubled its sales of grain and vegetables. While China no longer promises the North military support (except in the event of external attack), "consultations" are pledged.

China seems a more likely candidate as North Korea's biggest trading partner. However, a fair amount of China trade may be trans-shipments of goods that eventually end by going to Japan.

Even without any formal sanctions against North Korea the aid flow to North Korea has already declined dramatically since the nuclear crisis began.

The Bush Administration insists it is not cutting off food for fear of sparking a humanitarian crisis, but donations have been reduced until there is better monitoring to ensure it is getting to the neediest people. Japan, which shipped 600,000 tons of rice through the WFP in 2000, suspended shipments in 2001 and refuses to restart them. The European Union, too, has reduced donations since the nuclear crisis began.

That Time article claims that South Korea is cutting back its food aid to a quarter of last year's levels from 400,000 tons to 100,000 tons..

Indicators of the severity of the hunger in North Korea show up in curious ways.

When workers recently pruned trees at the U.N. compound in Pyongyang, they took the opportunity to strip off the bark, Bridle said. Tree bark is a common alternative source of food.

The trend of a general decline in aid to North Korea appears to be reversing.

"There seem to be efforts by the international community to buy time in North Korea, to try and appease Kim Jong-il," said one Beijing-based diplomat, referring to the leader of the reclusive Communist state.

If this article is correct and South Korea starts selling 432,000 tons of rice to North Korea on credit and at the quoted volume then it will have effectively reversed its food aid cut-off and actually increased its yearly food shipments to North Korea. The credit will likely never be repaid and so the South Korean rice sale to North Korea is effectively an aid donation for all intents and purposes.

One problem with aid cut-off and trade sanctions is that the North Koreans could starve in massive numbers without necessarily understanding that their regime is to blame.

Through an information monopoly, defectors have described apopulace that believes North Korea, a nation where the specter of starvation hovers constantly, is one of the world's richest countries. And they are told that American food aid to relieve hunger is actually a form of tribute to Kim Jong Il.

An internal overthrow of the North Korean regime would become a far more plausible scenario if only more North Koreans knew how much worse off they are than people in South Korea and other countries in the region.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 20 04:36 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
Richard Armitage On North Korean Nuclear Weapons Program

Richard Armitage, US Deputy Secretary of State, testified on February 4, 2003 to a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee panel on North Korea. Armitage outlines the series of developments as the US cam e to appreciate the extent of North Korea's uranium enrichment program.

During the -- from the time 1994 until the present administration, the previous administration had further noticed some anomalies in procurement patterns in North Korea, so much so that in 1999, our concerns were raised with the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna.

This administration, in June of '02, had a National Intelligence Estimate which had as its primary person (sic) to make an assessment of how many weapons North Korea could possibly possess.

And they came out with an estimate of one to two weapons, possibly, based on the amount, as they understood it, of unaccounted-for fuel in 1992 which the IAEA had identified. In a very small portion of that NIE in June of '02, there was a few comments about a growing belief that North Korea had engaged in at least an R&D project for highly enriched uranium.

In July of '02, the administration received very good intelligence which made us dramatically change our assessment from the DPRK being involved in just an R&D program, and we found, for instance, an order of magnitude difference in the estimate that we'd received of how many centrifuges they might be obtaining vice what we received in new intelligence, which showed that they were receiving and acquiring many, many more than was originally thought. And it led us to a rather intensive study, which resulted in September of '02 in a memo to consumers from the Intelligence Committee which said that in our view, the North Koreans had embarked on a production program, no longer an R&D program.

This rather dramatically changed the presentation that my colleague, Assistant Secretary Kelly, was going to make in Pyongyang, from a rather bold approach that tried to address all the security concerns on the Korean peninsula in exchange for a rather robust, new relationship with North Korea, to an absolute necessity for us to confront the North Koreans with this information that we had about their program for highly enriched uranium, which, of course, Jim Kelly did.

And, much to our surprise, on the second day of his talks, the first vice foreign minister came back and not only acknowledged that there was this program, but he said that "we have even more developed weapons," which threw us into a bit of a tizzy. We didn't understand what those weapons might be. We have subsequently learned, from foreign envoys who have gone to Pyongyang and talked to the North Koreans about that, that what they're referring to is the sole and the special affection of the Korean people for the army-first policy, united behind the direction of Kim Jong Il. So it just means the will of the people is united to reject any sort of aggression.

The North Koreans were working on building a full scale uranium enrichment program at least as early as February 2000.

SEN. CHAFEE: I'm curious about what has changed and what happened since the optimistic 1994 Agreed Framework. It seemed as though we were cooperating. There was a thaw in our relationship. Even in 1999, I believe, President Clinton agreed to lift some sanctions.

You've said they were cheating. As we look back, what went wrong? What could have we done better? As now we see a very difficult situation with nuclear weapons there and the grave threat of proliferation, as we look back, what could have we done different?

It seemed as though everything was so optimistic for a while, and even as recently as 1999, as I said, the listing of sanctions.

MR. ARMITAGE: Gosh, that's a great question. I'm not sure I have a confident answer. I'm going to try. First of all, there are some good things that happened. I think it's quite clear that from 1994 to now, Yongbyon itself did not produce more plutonium, which could be turned into nuclear weapons. And so, there are dozens of nuclear weapons that North Korea doesn't have because of the framework agreement, and we have to acknowledge that, I believe. I think equally, as we look back, intelligence hindsight, just like our hindsight, is clearer. We find that the North Koreans were, at least from February of 2000, intent on going to a full-up production program of HEU, and that intelligence keeps looking back, they get more and more granularity.

I'm not sure what we could have done. Look what happened to the South Koreans, who had, I think, the most well-disposed leader of South Korea possible in Kim Dae Jung, who leaned way forward to try to accommodate Pyongyang and was basically rebuffed; he did get one summit meeting. So, I think that my view is, and I defer to my colleagues on the following panel, and Ash Carter, particularly, who had something really to do with the framework agreement. I think that Kim Jong Il was intent on having it both ways; he wanted the economic benefits from the '94 agreement, but he also was intent in his own pace in developing these weapons. That's the inescapable conclusion I come to.

Keep in mind that the North Korean Yongbyon nuclear facilty has plutonium. Therefore North Korea's moves to activate Yongbyon amount to a completely separate effort to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea embarked on the uranium enrichment program while Bill Clinton was President of the United States, Kim Dae-jung was President of South Korea, and North Korea was receiving considerable aid from the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other countries.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 20 11:04 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 15 Saturday
North Korean Uranium Enrichment Program Fairly Advanced

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly has told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that North Korea's uranium enrichment program is only months behind their plutonium program.

But Kelly said: "The element of speed doesn't only apply to the plutonium" program, which officials judge could produce bomb-grade plutonium six months after the North restarts a reprocessing facility it is now preparing to revive.

"The enriched uranium issue, which some have assumed is somewhere off in the fog of the distant future, is not," Kelly said. "It is only probably a matter of months, not years, behind the plutonium" program, he added.

Keep in mind that it is easier to construct a nuclear bomb from uranium than it is from plutonium. Not coincidentally, Iran's nuclear weapons program is relying on the construction of thousands of uranium enrichment devices.

This mention by Henry Sokolski indicates that it is likely that North Korea and Iran are cooperating in their uranium enrichment programs.

Fear. Pyongyang may make more nuclear weapons. It may export its nuclear capabilities (North Koreans recently were sighted at Iran's uranium-enrichment plants). It may fire nuclear-capable rockets over its neighbors, or devise new ways to provoke the U.S.

The North Korean uranium enrichment program is not a response to the harder line that the Bush Administration has taken toward North Korea. US intelligence found indications of an active North Korean uranium enrichment program during the Clinton Administration.

In 1999, U.S. intelligence agencies detected efforts by a North Korean trading company to purchase enrichment technology from a Japanese manufacturer.

There have been indications for 5 years of a on-going covert North Korean nuclear weapons program.

North Korea has been working covertly to develop an enrichment capability for nuclear weapons for at least five years and has used technology obtained from Pakistan and other nations, according to U.S. officials.

By August 2002 the evidence became overwhelming.

The United States received evidence of uranium enrichment efforts in North Korea as early as two years ago, but only recently decided to confront Pyongyang there about it, sources in the US and Asia say.

At first the evidence was faint and circumstantial. But it accumulated to the point that by August this year US officials felt the case was compelling and was grounds for cutting off talks aimed at improving relations with the isolated state.

On October 4, 2002 James Kelly confronted the North Koreans in a meeting in Pyongyang with the US evidence for the uranium enrichment program and the North Koreans admitted to it.

There are about a half dozen suspected uranium enrichment sites. But keep in mind that media reports cite intelligence sources which claim there are doubts about whether all the uranium enrichment sites are known to US intelligence. This is important because it is not possible to destroy a facility with an air strike if we do not know where that facility is located.

The Monterrey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation Studies has more maps and information sources about North Korean nuclear weapons development programs.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 15 10:02 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2003 March 04 Tuesday
China Still Unwilling To Pressure North Korea

In an article entitled "China's self-defeating North Korea gamble" Marc Erikson argues China has most to lose by failing to rein in North Korea.

China to date has not publicly reacted to the announcement of the joint US-Japan TMD exercises nor - to my knowledge - has it complained about Japan's plans to develop its own reconnaissance-satellite system. But that's just a matter of time or timing. Any TMD system capable of covering the Koreas from Japan is equally capable of covering Taiwan - to China's certain chagrin. By not acting on the North Korea threat now, China is inviting a militarily more assertive and capable Japan neither it nor the rest of Asia will be happy with.

Unfortunately, theater missile defense is not yet possible. Even if it was it would do nothing to prevent North Korea from selling weapons grade uranium or plutonium or even nuclear weapons after it has made enough to satisfy its own desires for nuclear weapons.

Writing in the Asian Times Korean writer Jaewoo Choo explores the history of the China-North Korea relationship.

In addition, China's growing contacts and exchanges with South Korea undermined North Korea's confidence in its relationship with China. Its participation in the Asian Games and the Summer Olympics in 1986 and 1988, respectively, both held in Seoul, was seen as an act of a betrayal to North Korea. Furthermore, as an attempt to disrupt the two events, North Korea committed sabotage only to lose face as China joined the international community to mourn the tragedies.

Choo says Chinese foreign policy academics have paid little attention to North Korea.

It was not until the '90s, especially after China formally recognized South Korea in 1992, when China's academic interest in the Korean Peninsula and Korean affairs began to blossom. However, most of the academic research and scholarly works concerning the Korean Peninsula tended to focus on South Korea rather than its northern counterpart.

China's foreign policy establishment needs to spend more time thinking about how a nuclear North Korea would cause South Korea and Japan to respond. But it is possible that they have already decided that they can live with Japan and South Korea as nuclear powers.

Choo says that China will not cut off economic aid to North Korea and block trade with it because China sees the continued stability of the North Korean regime to be a net benefit to China.

Immediate economic sanction by China against North Korea would have the leverage effect on North Korea's behavior that the international diplomatic community would like to see. However, it might also generate undesirable side-effects: exodus of North Korean refugees into China, Japan, and South Korea because of economic hardship, and the collapse of the Kim Jong-il regime. Against this potential chaos, many observers of China affairs, including the Chinese themselves, have run their computers and concluded that it would be of much greater advantage and benefit for China to keep holding the supporting line for North Korea. In addition, survival of North Korea would maintain a buffer function to China's national-security interests in Northeast Asia.

To date the Chinese government has not provided any indication that it is willing to apply substantial pressure to prevent North Korea from going nuclear. As the likelihood of a nuclear North Korea sinks in other countries directly involved are signalling their unease with the situation. Even South Korean president Kim Dae Jung has hinted South Korea could go nuclear if North Korea does so.

On the other hand, who can really blame Japanese hawks for discussing nuclear options when even South Korea's outgoing president Kim Dae Jung, usually soft-spoken and dovish when dealing with his cousins in the north, got carried away in the heat of the moment. "If North Korea gets nuclear weapons, the stance of Japan and our country toward nuclear weapons could change," he said on February 18, advising Pyongyang not to "even dream of getting nuclear weapons."

Will North Korea economically decline to the point where the government collapses? There are certainly many signs of decay. North Korea is no longer able to deliver clean water to its people.

The energy shortage is also fueling malnutrition and hunger, Hayes said. With no electricity to pump water, a tremendous amount of labor is expended in food production and at harvest time. Agricultural waste is being burned for heat rather than being composted; topsoil is being eroded and crop production has declined. Sewage systems in cities have collapsed because they lack power, and without chlorine to clean drinking water, waste is mixing with the water supply, causing widespread dysentery.

Many commentators call for direct negotiation between the United States and North Korea. Such negotiations are not going to accomplish anything. Kim Jong-il was pursuing uranium enrichment efforts in the 1990s at the height of engagement while lots of US aid was flowing to North Korea.

The US has a few approaches it could pursue that might stop North Korea short of a war. One is to convince China that the consequences of its continued support of the North Korean regime are going to be more undesireable than the alternative of applying pressure on North Korea. Another alternative is to make a larger effort to reach the populace of North Korea with information that undermines their support for their government. Also, the US could try to organize a complete cut-off of trade and financial support of North Korea from countries other than China. For instance, Japan could cut off trade and also make a bigger effort to block ethnic Koreans in Japan from sending money to North Korea.

The best outcome for the US would be the collapse of the North Korean regime. Toward that end the United States should try harder to break the information monopoly the North Korean regime holds over its people. It is not clear that a large effort to provide North Koreans with alternative information about the world would lead to the regime's downfall. But it seems worth a try. The biggest problem with that approach is that it might take years to have sufficient effect. By the time North Korea finally collapses it may already have sold nuclear weapons.

Update: Trent Telenko sees the decay of the electric grid as a sign that North Korea's collapse is near. I sincerely hope he is right.

Joe Katzman points to the DefenseTech blog link to a New York Times story on radio smuggling into North Korea.

SEOUL, South Korea — As the Pentagon studies moving tons of military hardware within striking range of North Korea, some say the weapon most feared by the Stalinist government there may be a disposable radio the size of a cigarette pack.

"Little throwaway radios, you listen, you throw away — the smaller the better, the more disposable, the better," said Pastor Douglas E. Shin, a Korean-American human rights activist who advocates smuggling thousands of tiny radios capable of receiving foreign broadcasts into the North.

The article quotes a number of people who correctly emphasise the huge potential impact that outside sources of information could have on the thinking of people in North Korea. The North Koreans do not know how much worse off they are than South Korea and much of the rest of the world. However, the article is short on facts in terms of whether any South Korean or American groups are really smuggling radios into North Korea and if so in what quantity. Yes, its a great idea. But is anyone doing it? If so, how much?

Efforts to break the information monopoly that the North Korean regime has over its people are potentially the most powerful tool that can be used against the North Korean regime. It seems unlikely that China will join the US in trying to pressure the North Koreans to stop WMD development. In fact, the Chinese government may think that North Korea's efforts are working in favor of China's plan to get US forces out of South Korea. In the comments section of this post "Just Some Guy" pointed to an excellent article entitled "Why China ignores Korea's nuclear crisis" by Haesook Chae.

However, if the situation were framed solely as a dispute between the United States and North Korea, the focus would be shifted to what North Korea is demanding in exchange for nuclear disarmament. North Korea, with its far-reaching missile capability, would then be perceived as a direct threat to U.S. security. Combined with South Korea's strong resistance to taking military action against the North, the United States could well be cornered into conceding to North Korean demands, namely, a nonaggression treaty and a military withdrawal from South Korea. China then would have achieved its short-term goal of removing U.S. troops from the peninsula.

If Chae is correct then the best option the US has for stopping the North Korean nuclear development program is to reach the North Korean people with massive amounts of information about the outside world. The North Korean people can suffer terribly. But they will not know that it is in their interest to turn against their government as long as they do not know about the consequences of alternative ways to structure a society.

Update II: Writing in the Christian Science Monitor the always insightful Robert Marquand reports on thinking in Japanese and US foreign policy circles on what to do about North Korea.

While China, Russia, and Asian neighbors say the US should hold bilateral talks with the North, it is uncertain whether there is much common ground even if the parties were to meet. "We would tell him, 'Stop making nuclear weapons.' We would say, 'if you want aid, money, food, energy, relations with Japan, then comply with your agreements,' " one State Department Korea specialist says. "But Kim already knows that. Frankly, we are starting to think Kim doesn't really want talks."

Update III: See two other recent posts on North Korea The Problem of North Korea and Why North Korea Pursues WMD Development. Also see additional posts on North Korea in the Preemption, Deterrence and Containment archive and in the Axis Of Evil archive.

Update IV: After meeting with Chinese leaders Colin Powell reports that China is doing something privately to deal with North Korea.

After meeting with Chinese Vice President and Communist Party chief Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, Powell told a news conference that China was undertaking initiatives with North Korea that he was unable to discuss publicly.

China wants the United States to sell out Taiwan in exchange for help on North Korea. The US is not going to do that. China basically wants to capture Taiwan while at the same time keeping the North Korean regime intact. The US wants to help Taiwan remain independent and would like to see the North Korean regime fall.

When China says it has security concerns with Taiwan it basically means that Taiwan has enough military power to prevent China from capturing it. Taiwan is not a military threat to China. China would like to force the US out of South Korea, to capture Taiwan, and to use North Korea as a proxy to cause trouble for the US elsewhere. This is not a friendly relationship. The US and China have serious differences.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 04 12:36 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 February 23 Sunday
The Problem of North Korea

The major players with strong interests in whether the North Korean regime develops nuclear weapons and missile systems to deliver nukes are China, South Korea, Japan, and the United States. Lets review how these players are reacting to North Korea's plans to develop nuclear weapons. The US position is that North Korea has so violated the 1994 Agreed Framework that the agreement is dead. The US view is that North Korea could become a Nuclear KMart selling nuclear weapons to anyone with the cash. The US would like help from other nations to make North Korea stop developing nuclear weapons.

While China has not yet taken a firm public stance against North Korean efforts to do WMD development some of China's national security intellectuals see reasons why North Korea should be prevented from developing nuclear weapons. The biggest motive that China has to restrain North Korea from doing nuclear weapons development is that China fears any changes in East Asia security conditions that would prompt Japan to militarize and to more closely align with the United States.

HONG KONG - While much remains unsaid, the strategic defense community in China is closely watching the morphing of the US-Japan relationship in light of how Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which renounces war, is interpreted. This process has been going on for at least a year.

In August 2001, former prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa affirmed in San Francisco that Japan should lift its self-imposed ban on exercising its right to collective self-defense in the interests of a more effective Japan-US alliance. He spoke of the need for Japan to adapt to changing global realities.

A Japan that feels insecure is a Japan that is going to become more militaristic. Also, a Japan that feels insecure is going to move closer to the United States on security matters. China would like to avoid both of these outcomes.

In response to a nuclear ballistic missile threat from North Korea Japan could rapidly build nuclear weapons and increase its cooperation with the United States to build a missile-defense system.

There is also a fast-growing body of opinion in Japan saying that that's precisely what the country should do. Latest on that is a December "Nuclear Declaration for Japan" by influential Kyoto University international-relations Professor Terumasa Nakanishi (co-author with Fred Charles Ikle, undersecretary of defense for policy in the Ronald Reagan administration, of a widely noted Foreign Affairs article "Japan's grand strategy") and literary critic Kazuya Fukuda calling on the Japanese not to cave in to the North Korean nuclear threat: "The best way for Japan to avoid being the target of North Korean nuclear missiles is for the prime minister to declare without delay that Japan will arm itself with nuclear weapons." They also want Japan to get on with construction of a missile-defense system, post haste.

The threat of this possibility conceivably might prod the strategic thinkers in Beijing to threaten North Korea with aid cut-off if North Korea doesn't stop all nuclear weapons development, turn over all nuclear weapons materials, nuclear weapons manufacturing equipment, and nuclear bombs as well as open all of its weapons development facilities to inspection by Japanese, American, and Chinese inspectors. However, the problem with the inspections approach is that it is easy for a government to hide things. Japan is going to feel threatened because it knows North Korea has ballistic missiles and has to fear that North Korea may manage to build nukes even while subjected to an inspections regime. Japan's security would be enhanced much more if the North Korean regime was overthrown and replaced by rule of North Korea by the South Korean government.

Hopeful signs in China are the security and strategy intellectuals in Beijing who are arguing that North Korea shouldn't be allowed to have nuclear weapons.

"There is increasing recognition here that if North Korea is finally armed with nuclear weapons, it will be a big threat to China," said Zhu Feng, director of the international security program at Beijing University's School of International Studies. "I have a strong sense at this crucial moment, my government will change its mind to resort to another approach rather than just, say, use the veto right to block any U.N.-imposed sanctions against North Korea."

Keep in mind that the academic policy specialists are not speaking for the Chinese government. The Chinese government has yet to provide any public indication of resolve on this issue.

Asian Times writer Francesco Sisci thinks its conceivable that China could back a US preemptive strike against North Korea.

But time is running out. North Korea could well have just a month to stop its nuclear program before US ally Japan feels itself backed into a corner.

Within a month, with the first nuclear weapon about to be completed, China could consider the possibility of backing a US preemptive strike against North Korea atomic facilities, the one thing that could reassure Japan.

This seems unlikely. Even if the Chinese were willing the problem with such a move is that North Korea could retaliate by raining artillery shells (possibly carrying biological or chemical weapons) on Seoul's northern suburbs. The North has thousands of artillery pieces dug into caves (i.e. very hard for US air power to knock out) that are in range of highly populated areas of South Korea and North Korean artillery could very quickly (within hours) could cause tens or even hundreds of thousands of South Korean casualties. South Korea's current government can therefore be expected to oppose such a plan.

Some in the Bush Administration, the US military, and the US Congress argue for US military withdrawal away from the DMZ that separates North and South Korea followed eventually by a withdrawal from South Korea entirely.

"It's a no-lose proposition," noted one conservative congressional staffer. "If we get our troops out of range of the North's guns, our freedom of action for acting against the North is greater. And if Roh gets worried about being left to the tender mercies of [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il, that gives us more influence."

Such a withdrawal would fulfill a long-term ambition of North Korea to get the United States out of South Korea. The North Korean regime thinks it could then finally invade and unite the Korean Peninsula under Northern rule thus assuring the survival of the Northern regime. While the regime probably would lose in a conventional war against the South it might be able to win if it has nuclear weapons or if it can first convince the South to reduce the size of its military. The North Korean regime believes the existence of two separate governments on the Peninsula is not sustainable. Its view is basically that it has to win the unification struggle or the regime will cease to exist.

Just because North Korea would welcome US withdrawal that is not necessarily a reason to rule it out. If the US withdrew and the North then attacked this would provide the opportunity for the US to finally unleash its full military might against the North. One risk of that approach is that the North might by then have ICBMs with nuclear warheads capable of striking the US. Hence North Korea might be able to deter the US from coming to the aid of the South. The decision to withdraw has uncertain benefits and uncertain costs.

South Koreans dislike the United States.

A recent opinion poll conducted by Korea Gallup found that 54 percent of South Koreans surveyed disliked the United States, up from 15 percent in 1994. The new president, Roh Moo-hyun, takes office Feb. 25, and some Bush administration officials expect him to ask the United States to reduce its troop presence.

The older South Koreans who directly experienced the Korean War are going die off. The animosity toward the US and the lesser fear of the North are characteristic of the younger generations and therefore both sentiments are likely to grow. A lot of Americans are worried about where anti-Americanism comes from. Are we to blame? Well, in some cases such as in South Korea the government has made a conscious choice to direct blame toward the US.

To emphasize the building of trust, the Kim government in the South has invested heavily in the North. It has also kept negative news and a steady series of embarrassing brushoffs by the North out of the South Korean media - a policy that continues.

"For five years now, the KDJ government has successfully changed public opinion toward North Korea and the US," says Kim Tae-hyo, a professor at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul. "The North is no longer regarded as an enemy. The North's nuclear program, the West Sea incident [where the North killed sailors], missile tests, the kidnapping of hundreds of South Koreans - it doesn't matter to ordinary people anymore. At the same time, you hear the US blamed more often."

This South Korean government strategy to cast North Korea in a more favorable light while also casting the United States in a less favorable light is being done in order to increase domestic support for Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine" policy of warming relations with North Korea. It is important to note that this attempt to cast North Korea in a favorable light was done because Kim Dae Jung views North Korea as so dangerous and unstable that South Korea needs to have more contact with it in order to reduce the paranoia and hostility in the North Korean regime. Martin Sieff reports on his own conversations with South Korean intelligence officials where they reveal Kim Dae-jung's motive for detente with North Korea is to placate the paranoid and dangerous North Korean leadership.

First, senior South Korean intelligence officials and close advisers to President Kim Dae-jung have repeatedly told UPI Analysis that former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and his innermost circle are truly ignorant of the nature of democratic societies in the wider world. Even worse, these top South Korean officials say, North Korea's Kim and his advisers are also still in a very much of a state of paranoid fear about everyone outside their own tightly policed borders.

That is why South Korea's Kim made his "Sunshine" policy of very cautious détente with North Korea the centerpiece of his nation's national security policies.

Consider the logic of the South Korean policy. KDJ thinks North Korea is so incredibly dangerous that it is essential to develop warmer relations with it. Because the North Korean regime is so dangerous the South Korean government works to convince the South Korean people that the North Korean regime is not that dangerous. Essentially, in order to build support for the "Sunshine" policy the South Korean government decided that South Korean people have to be deceived for their own good. This seems like folly to me.

The advocates of the "Sunshine" policy claim that George W. Bush's rhetoric is undermining what would otherwise be a successful policy. The problem with this point of view is that it is now clear that North Korea never stopped working on nuclear weapons development after the 1994 agreement. From an American perspective of wanting to stop WMD proliferation and the sale of WMD technology by North Korea to others the "Sunshine" policy is useless. Also, North Korean possession of a large arsenal of nuclear wewapons would lead to bolder North Korean attempts to blackmail South Korea, Japan and the United States.

In spite of the failure of the "Sunshine" policy to change the nature of the North Korean regime Kim Dae Jung's strategy has been so successful in changing domestic South Korean public opinion that it is causing the South Korean people to underestimate the size of the threat that North Korea poses. North Korea is escalating its threats against the US and it is moving to manufacture many nuclear weapons and yet the United States is being blamed for the behavior of the North Korean regime. The problem this poses for the United States is that the changes in South Korean popular opinion lessen South Korean popular support for policies that would apply pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

The real flaw of the "Sunshine" policy is that it misses the reason for the paranoia of the top North Korean leadership. Yes, they are isolated and ignorant about some aspects of the rest of the world. But their paranoia is motivated by an entirely rational understanding that outside influences, if allowed to reach the North Korean populace, would undermine the support that their populace gives to their continued rule. The North Korean leadership understands that increasing exposure of North Koreans to conditions and ideas from South Korea and elsewhere will eventually lead to the overthrow of the North Korean regime. Quite simply, the North Korean leadership is going to work very hard to prevent the sorts of influences from seeping in that Kim Dae Jung hopes the "Sunshine" policy will bring.

Decreased South Korean support for a tough position against North Korea has a number of consequences for the United States. First off, it increases the need for the United States to try to convnce China to pressure the North Korean regime. It makes US strategists consider total US troop withdrawal from South Korea for a number of reasons. One reason is the argument that the US shouldn't have troops where they are not wanted. Another is that the US is unlikely to use South Korea as a base from which to attack North Korea. Hence US withdrawal from South Korea would put the US in a position to argue that what it says and does via other means can't be used to blame the US if the North Korean regime attacks South Korea.

Sanctions are not a quick solution to the problem of North Korean nuclear weapons development.

A U.S. intelligence source says a Washington-led embargo against Pyongyang would take time to loosen the regime's grip on power, since Kim has already shown that he's "willing to let a lot of people die off." But eventually sanctions might take their toll, as even top government officials and members of the security services began to feel the pinch. "If the regime can no longer maintain the lifestyles of [those] people," says the source, "it could be in serious trouble."

It would be far more effective if China joined in. If China simply doesn't increase its aid to North Korea (which already gets half of China's foreign aid) then an embargo by the rest of the world would do increasing damage to the North Korean economy. But an embargo by the US and its allies could be undermined if China stepped up its aid to compensate.

Thinking in the governments of United States and Japan appears to be moving in a similar direction with regard to North Korea. An embargo strategy might be able to be agreed to by the United States and Japan. South Korea's government is moving in an opposing direction. The position that China will take over the use of aid cut-off against Noth Korea is as yet unknown. Therefore it is not clear whether aid cut-off and sanctions can contribute to the collapse of the North Korean regime. It is very much worth it for US diplomats and foreign policy thinkers to address arguments to the Chinese as to why it is in China's best interests to work for either the collapse of the North Korean regime or to increase effective control of North Korea by China in order to stop and undo its WMD development efforts. As part of the US attempt to get the Chinese actively working to change the North Korean regime the US could make clear to the Chinese that unless they step up to the plate and solve the North Korean WMD problem that the US will have to solve it and will do so in a way that produces an outcome that is less satisfactory for the Chinese government.

Another card the US could play would be US withdrawal from South Korea. Such a withdrawal would satisfy a long term North Korean goal. But if in response the North Korean regime overplayed its hand and attacked South Korea then this would provide the United States with the opportunity to take out the North Korean regime. The full weight of US air power could be brought to bear. However, the North Korean regime might instead respond to a US withdrawal by deciding to pursue an attempt to extort steadily increasing amounts of aid from South Korea while also pressuring South Korea to disarm. While a significant portion of South Koreans would essentially be getting something they brought on themselves this course of events would allow the North Koreans to continue to do WMD development and manufacture and eventually to sell nuclear weapons on the world market. Its not clear that a US withdrawal from South Korea by itself makes sense unless it is combined with some other strategy to bring down the North Korean regime.

The third major strategy that the United States could pursue as a method to bring down the North Korean regime would be to make a major effort to infiltrate information about the rest of the world into North Korea. The North Korean people are probably the most informationally isolated of any people on the planet. As I've argued in the comments section of a previous post I do not see signs that the US is pursuing the information infiltration strategy on a scale that is commensurate with the size of the problem inherent in attempts to break the North Korean regime's monopoly on the information that most North Koreans receive.

We can not know what might be getting said in secret discussions between the principal concerned governments. Therefore it is difficult to judge whether the US is exerting sufficient effort diplomatically. However, it seems easier to judge how hard the US is trying to break the North Korean regime's information monopoly. I'd welcome evidence to the contrary but at this point it doesn't appear that the US is trying hard enough on that front.

The United States faces a serious problem on the Korean Peninsula. Each potential solution has drawbacks that would be either extremely costly in lives and money, risky, or uncertain to be successful or more than one of the above. The information infiltration strategy is basically a propaganda campaign in which the propaganda could all be true. It makes sense to pursue that strategy in parallel with attempts to bring the Chinese leadership around to the view that North Korea's WMD development efforts have to be stopped entirely. If neither strategy can work quickly enough then military strategies may become necessary. But the downsides and costs of military options are so great that those downsides are compelling arguments for first making much greater efforts to stop the North Korean regime in other ways.

Update: If you want to read more about the problem of North Korea read my Axis of Evil category archive. Also, be sure to read my exchange with Tom Holsinger and Trent Telenko in the comments section of the post Why Military Option Against North Korea Unattractive.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 23 02:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2003 February 05 Wednesday
China Cracks Down On North Korean Refugee Networks

A massive flight of refugees into China isn't going to bring down the North Korean regime if the Chinese government maintains its determination to keep North Koreans in North Korea.

The Chinese authorities have destroyed most of the underground networks of activists and sympathizers that kept the refugees alive.

"It's much more difficult for them now, because they don't have anyone to protect them or give them housing or food," said Chun Ki-won, a Christian missionary from South Korea who spent three years helping the refugees in China until he was imprisoned and deported by Chinese authorities last year.

He estimates the Chinese crackdown has disrupted and eliminated about 80 per cent of the underground networks that were supporting the refugees. Most of the missionaries and other underground activists have been forced to leave China, and about 30,000 refugees were arrested and forced back to North Korea last year.

As long as China maintains its support for the North Korean regime it will be very hard to bring that regime down.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 05 01:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 February 04 Tuesday
North Korea Makes Half Billion Per Year On Drugs

North Korea is selling methamphetamine and opium in East Asia.

North Korea's rackets has doubled in the past four years, to as much as $500 million annually. Legitimate exports bring in only some $650 million.

That half billion per year works out to only about $23 per North Korean. Most of the money goes to a small portion of the population. The drug dealing isn't going to help the populace very much.

Several hundred North Korean agents are suspected of operating in Japan and a ship called Man Gyong Bong that sails regularly between Japan and North Korea is suspected of being used to control them. It also is suspected of being involved in drug smuggling and transporting materials for WMD manufacture.

The ship's official function is to transport North Korean residents in Japan to their country for visits to their relatives and for other lawful purposes. However, it has long been suspected that the ship is engaged in transporting massive amounts of money from Japan to North Korea, smuggling drugs into this country and infiltrating North Korean agents into the nation.

It appears highly likely that the Man Gyong Bong has been involved in illegally transporting to North Korea materials that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction and conveying orders to agents who played a role in kidnapping Japanese nationals to the communist nation.

Update: See Trent Telenko's Winds Of Change post on corruption in North Korea. Can the CIA use bribery to get large numbers of books and radios and even TV sets into North Korea? Is it actually doing so? Corrupt North Koreans should be bribed in order to facilitate any developments that will accelerate the decline of the regime.

Also see this report from October 4, 2001 from Human Rights Without Frontiers. The Chinese border is a source of cultural contamination and a window on the larger world.

Most typical border cities are Sinuiju and Hyesan. The former is not as beautiful and tidy as Pyongyang, but its citizens are more lively and richer. They harbor little of the inferiority complex to their capital counterparts. Thanks to their frequent contacts with Chinese across the Yalu River, their ways of thinking are much more liberal. Young couples speeding on motorcycles and ordinary citizens criticizing ranking party officials are often seen there. Many people who have quit their normal jobs are engaged in commerce earnestly, though thugs coming from the inland present disorderly scenes. Females follow the latest fashion so much that they are said to influence even Pyongyang women.

Evading surveillance by the authorities, some border area residents watch Chinese televisions. Watching the 1988 Seoul Olympics through Chinese televisions, they are said to have reshaped their understanding of South Korea. A perception prevails in the border area that "becoming Workers' Party members is of no use. Money is almighty." The economy-first way of life; to the extent of giving rise to an impression that "everyone is bent on commerce;" confronts the solid wall of politics in the North, say North Korea watchers. Such perceptions spread inland aboard trains to influence a shift in the consciousness of North Koreans.

In order to accelerate refugee flight as a way to bring down the regime its not just the Chinese that need to be convinced. South Korea needs to be convinced to take in more refugees.

Another senior official said that once South Korea elected a new president this month, Washington would press harder for Seoul to accept more refugees. Although the Constitution states that all North Koreans can become citizens of the South, Seoul has accepted only about 2,000 North Korean refugees since 1954, experts said.

Almost no North Koreans can escape across the heavily mined and militarized border with South Korea, which has also been ambivalent about the difficulties of assimilating such refugees and concerned that some are North Korean agents.

``The South Koreans have not been famously sympathetic,'' said Nicholas Eberstadt, at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

The problem with North Korea is that its leaders are much more brutal and ruthless than those of East Germany. Also, while East Germany was undermined by the willingness of Hungary and Czechoslovakia to allow passage of refugees into Austria and West Germany North Korea's does not have a passable border with a country that is willing to accept a large flow of refugees.

Update II: While searching for articles on smuggling and corruption in North Korea I can across an indication that portions of the North Korean elite do not know about the extent of the famine that has hit outside of the elite living areas.

Many of those who have fled across the border were part of the elite. One such is a North Korean professor who came to China last September to carry out a survey of North Korean refugees. Until then he had not known about the famine in his own country. He decided not to return home, despite leaving a wife and daughter there, after seeing China and learning about South Korea from videotapes and books. He now feels betrayed and is determined to work for the overthrow of Kim Jong Il.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 04 02:08 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 February 02 Sunday
North Korea In The 1980s

To get a sense of how much North Korea is changing it helps to look back and see what it was like before it lost the support of the USSR. A Russian (then Soviet) exchange student named Andrei Lankov wrote up some of his experiences in North Korea in the mid 1980s. (another and probably original web page for the article can be found here).

However, glossy pictures do not show one important detail: most of this central quarter is surrounded by a high metal fence with gates guarded by stocky girls with AK rifles and in military uniform. These quarters are North Korea's Forbidden City, a place where the governing elite of North Korea lived. The impressive high-rise apartment complexes were built for these privileged few, luxurious Mercedes awaited them in the mornings, their children attended the exemplary 1st Secondary school, as well as the attendant exemplary kindergarten and nursery. In this closed quarter there were special shops and other establishments needed to provide the cadres with a comfortable life. As a foreigner, I was not allowed inside this quarter, and ordinary Koreans were never let in. However, the presence of affluence and power was often felt around the perimeters. It could manifest itself in the shape of a huge Mercedes passing by or by groups of teenagers, the offspring of the cadres, taking a lazy walk along the street. They wore imported clothes or suits a la Kim Chông Il. Their faces virtually radiated contempt for the poor and undernourished lesser orders. Even the compulsory badges of Kim Il Song were used as a "fashion statement": the golden youth wear the badges at the very tip of their lapels.

The communist utopia had a very well developed class system. Its private markets date back to the early 1980s and therefore are not a recent response to the economic crisis:

In the 1960s, when all private trade, as well as tending private plots of land, were forbidden, private markets also disappeared from the cities. Economic reality, however, turned out to be stronger than ideological constructs or administrative bans and semi-legal markets started to emerge again. Not without reluctance, the authorities were forced to relax the initial restrictions, and some time around 1980, the markets (and private kitchen gardens) began to make a gradual comeback.

However, in the mid-1980s markets were still seen as rather inappropriate for the capital of a "socialist paradise". They were as something to be shamed of, so they were pushed to the margins of the city, away from the official and highly symbolical space of central Pyongyang. Most markets were located in places more or less hidden from view, inside residential blocks or on small streets, while the main city market was set up under a huge viaduct at the easternmost part of Pyongyang, as far from the city centre as it was physically feasible. All markets were rather small, surrounded by high walls and always crowded with people. In some places, there would gather groups of suspicious-looking people. Obviously they were selling prohibited items. Often, these groups would consist solely of men: self-made spirits were also popular in Korea. On the whole, many items unavailable in shops could be easily found in these markets, however in comparison to the then Soviet markets with which the author was very familiar, the assortment of goods was not impressive, to put it mildly. It was also remarkable that there was not much food for sale -- just some apples, meat, ducks and chicken, soybeans, home-made sweets, occasionally -- fish and potatoes. There was neither rice or grain sold (at least, openly) in the markets. Prices were exorbitant: a kilo of pork in 1985 cost some 20 won, or about a third of an average monthly salary, and a chicken would cost 30-40 won. Obviously, food at such prices could be bought only by the few and only on special occasions. About two-thirds of the vendors were selling not food but all kinds of consumer goods: clothes, imported -- mostly Chinese -- medicines, tobacco and various consumption goods. More expensive goods, such as tape recorders and cameras, could also be bought here, but were not put on open display -- perhaps, their trade was prohibited.

Small-scale trade was also conducted on the streets. In the early 1980s the old regulations were relaxed, and trade was not so strictly prohibited. In the mid-1980s, few signs heralded a dawn of the North Korean private trade. In the evenings, female vendors often could be encountered at the subway stations, squatting in a traditional Korean pose and selling home-made pins, combs or hairpins. There were few buyers, but, apparently, these women managed to make some profit from their modest businesses.

Upper class North Koreans spend their state transportation dollars on the finest in German and Swedish automotive luxury.

There were few buses in Pyongyang, with full timetables only on weekdays. At weekends there was a bus service in the mornings and the evenings only. The main reason was the constant shortage of petrol. The vast majority of the North Korean bus fleet consisted of old Czech Skodas from the 1950s, although sometimes a Hungarian Ikarus-260 could be seen (and their number grew by the late 1980s).

Besides old Soviet-made trucks, many Japanese vehicles could be seen in Pyongyang, though about half of all truck parks consisted of Soviet-designed vehicles built in North Korea: Sûngni (a carbon copy of the Soviet GAZ-51), Chajuho (Soviet KrAZ-256) and their later modifications. Most Koreans were not aware that these cars were built under licenses from the Soviet Union, since the official ideology of "self-reliance" did not approve of spreading such information. Among other automobiles, there were many Volvos and Mercedes, usually quite expensive, used by high level cadres as their chauffeured transport. Sometimes, Soviet-made cars could also be seen, however North Korean officials obviously preferred to spend the state money on Mercedes and Volvos rather than on the much cheaper but awkward Soviet-made Volgas and Moskvichs.

The class system in communist North Korea extends to train travel.

Railway carriages looked dirty and worn-out, often with broken windows. At night, they were very dimly lit, if at all. Not surprisingly, during our rare trips around the country, officials supervising us stopped any attempt to examine them closer, or even look into the windows. Nevertheless, it was possible to see something. Inside the carriage one could see hard wooden benches crowded with people. Many of them had to sit or lay on the floor, using old cloth or paper to provide a semblance of cleanliness. There were also carriages with soft seats but these were few and reserved for medium and high officials. Another type of carriage had sleeping compartments. However, these vehicles could only be used by foreigners and the high level cadres, while common folk could never purchase the tickets to ride in such opulence. These carriages were much similar to the Soviet ones: in each compartment there were 4 berths and a small table with a lamp. Perhaps, they were even produced in the USSR or under the Soviet license.

Most passengers travelled in the common-class carriages. Given that Korea is a fairly small country this might not seem such a huge problem. However, trains moved at a speed of about 20-30 km an hour and thus even a trip on a short trip would mean a whole night spent on a tough bench or simply on the floor.

Keep in mind that while people in Pyongyang had TV sets the rate of TV set ownership was much lower in the rest of the country (and surely still is). The highest living standards in North Korea are found in Pyongyang. What would be interesting to know is what percentage of the TV sets have the ability to switch to non-government channels. Kim Jong-il watches CNN. But how many other people in North Korea do? Hundreds? Thousands?

By the mid-1980s, most families in Pyongyang had TV sets which were made in Japan, the USSR, China, or North Korea (on Japanese or Rumanian licences). Imported TV sets often had a Korean inscription meaning that they were most probably made on special orders from the DPRK. In shops, a black-and-white TV set cost 700-900 won, yet, apart from money a special order was required to purchase a set. Such an order could be received at one's workplace but only after years of waiting. The most prosperous also had tape-recorders, either bought in hard-currency shops or on the black market, or brought back from abroad. Even at university, where mostly children of the elite of all ranks studied, very few people had tape-recorders, hardly more than one out of ten students. Fridges were practically unknown; one had to be a high cadre to own a fridge. Fridges, of course, could be seen in the windows of the First Department Store, but they could be bought only by coupons which were practically impossible to get even for a low level cadre, let alone commoner. Interestingly enough, in 1980, the delegates of the Sixth KWP Congress were presented with huge modern fridges, as "gifts from the Great Leader", with an inscription in big letters "Paektusan", after a politically symbolic mountain on the Sino-Korean border where, according to official mythology Kim Il Song spent his wartime years (in real life, he was in the USSR back then). Nevertheless, the more observant soon saw in an out-of-the-way place another inscription - "made in Japan", although this in no way lessened the value of the gift.

Since the 1980s the size of the private market has grown. This does not necessarily constitute a threat to the regime however. The regimes in China and Cuba have both allowed larger private sectors and yet have not been overthrown.

The oil crisis led to the number of cars shrinking even more. On the other hand, the tram made its appearance (or, rather, reappearance, since it had existed before the Korean War). People now dress with more variety than before and the time of service jackets and Mao suits has passed, although there are still compulsory badges with portraits of Kim Il Song, recently supplemented by that of Kim Chông Il. The famine which began in the countryside after 1995 had forced the authorities to weaken their control on the people's movement within the country and tolerate more private trade. Markets are much bigger now, and they keep growing, although the prices are still too expensive for many commoners. People are more engaged in money-making, and are subjected to slightly less indoctrination. However, the portraits of Kim Il Song are still present at every square where amplifiers transmit the dulcet tones of endless military marches...

By Randall Parker    2003 February 02 10:34 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 February 01 Saturday
Will North Koreans Flee In Massive Numbers?

In a few years North Korea potentially could become a supplier of nuclear weapons to any government or private group that can pay. At the same time, a direct preemptive military attack against North Korea would cost hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of casualties. Therefore one of the most important foreign policy questions currently faced by the United States and its allies is whether and how the North Korean regime can be brought down by means short of a military attack.

Is it reasonable to expect that the North Korean regime will collapse if North Korea experiences another famine? In the comments to a previous post Tom Holsinger argues that massive flight of the population in response to another famine could help bring down the North Korean regime. Go read his responses and think about the plausibility of his argument.

It isn't clear why a massive flight of even a million or two million people would bring down the regime. After all, massive famine killed a similar number of people and the regime survived. But conditions and attitudes of the populace are changing in North Korea. Portions of the population know more about the outside world than they did 10 years ago. Its hard to judge how many have learned how much about the outside world or how their attitudes have changed toward the regime. We can't conduct public opinion polls or hold focus group discussions to find out. We have to look at many clues and try to come up with an intuitive judgement. What follows is a series of links to articles that throw light on the current conditon of the regime, the mindset of the populace, and the obstacles faced by those who try to flee from North Korea.

Human Rights Watch has released an interesting report in November 2002 entitled The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People's Republic of China. Hunger is just one of the motives for flight. Expulsion from Pyongyang with the accompanying loss of status has also played a motive for some that have fled. Others fled because they knew enough about the conditions of family members who already lived outside of North Korea and wanted to live in similar conditions. Frustration over lack of opportunities, political persecution due to family history, and other factors motivate a variety of refugees and make it hard to generalize about why people try to get out.

Over the years, the predominant motivation for North Koreans deciding to cross the border into China has fluctuated somewhat. A political reason, or often a severe personal crisis that may have had a political dimension, has long been common, given that leaving North Korea is considered tantamount to treason. Desperate hunger and extreme poverty became a prime motivation at the height of the food shortages of the mid- to late 1990's. In more recent years, as the routes and costs of leaving became more widely known, the decision to leave may have become more calculated, though still grounded in a complex mix of personal, economic and political factors. The experiences of North Koreans we interviewed reflect this mix.

One member of a military division decided in 1995 that if he could flee to South Korea, he would have the opportunity to clear his name of plotting to implicate his superiors in a theft.12 Two men we interviewed had fled directly from different administrative detention camps in 1998 where they had been held because they were related to people considered to be serious criminals.13

On the other hand, getting food was the simple motivation of a young man who left in 1997 after he had overheard people discussing the situation in China.14 A young woman decided to go to China with her uncle in 1998 in order to aid her father, who had fallen into serious debt after taking a loan to buy medicine for her dying mother.15

Often, economic motivations were intertwined with a background of political discrimination. Two different women fled to China to survive the famine, both in 1998, after each of their families had been expelled from Pyongyang for political reasons.16 One young man and his family left in 1999 because he could not enter medical school or a teaching college because of family background. This young man's family had relatives abroad, who they expected to help and who did help expedite their transit to South Korea.17 An older man, who left in 1998, sought economic help from his relatives in China. But his troubles began in 1977, when his family was exiled from Pyongyang and sent to live in an administrative camp for five years because of his father's perceived disloyalty.

The Chinese government cooperates with the North Korean government to make it hard for North Koreans to flee into China and beyond.

Once across the river, refugees are extremely vulnerable to forced return to North Korea. The Chinese government, pursuant to an agreement with North Korea on repatriation of migrants, arrests and deports North Koreans, and allows North Korean government agents to pursue migrants on Chinese territory. According to the South Korean Unification Ministry, a secret agreement was signed between China and North Korea in the early 1960s; in 1986, another bilateral agreement was signed calling for the return of North Koreans and laying out a protocol for security in the border area.24 It also strives to control migration by posting fines for Chinese residents who shelter North Koreans, and rewards for reporting such migrants to the authorities. North Koreans have no defense against exploitation by either officials or private citizens in China, and most of those we interviewed related to us a life in hiding, characterized by violation of their rights to physical integrity, freedom of movement, access to medical care, and recourse to the legal system.

The number of refugees living illegally in China is not known with any precision.

There are anywhere from 10,000 to 300,000 North Koreans living in hiding in China, mainly in the province of Jilin, along the border region with North Korea, mixed among Chinese citizens of Korean ethnicity. To reach China, they have defied their government's criminal prohibition on illegal exit and China's rigorous border controls. They are inaccessible except to a handful of intrepid journalists and activists, and barely acknowledged by China, whose policy is immediate expulsion in an effort to maintain good relations with neighboring North Korea and deter further migration. Occasionally, a handful of this largely invisible crowd erupts into world view when a family makes its way into a foreign embassy or office in Beijing, publicly seeking asylum. While China has allowed these diplomatic embarrassments to be resolved by the family's departure to third countries, it has also followed each incident with a renewed border crackdown, repatriating hundreds to deter the thousands waiting to cross.

Those who are in the less favored social classes are most likely to flee. People who have family pasts or personal pasts that mark them to be placed in lower classes in North Korea are most motivated to flee.

According to those interviewed by Human Rights Watch, family background is still a key determinant of life in North Korea.62 Those lucky enough to be considered as "core" supporters of the government, such as party members or families of war martyrs, are given preferences for educational and employment opportunities, allowed to live in better-off areas, and have greater access to food and other material goods. Those considered of ordinary or ambivalent political loyalty lead less entitled, more precarious lives, while those considered to be of a "hostile" or disloyal profile, such as relatives of people who collaborated with the Japanese during the Japanese occupation, landowners, or those who went south during the Korean War, suffer the most, often being assigned to the worst schools, jobs and localities, and sometimes winding up in labor camps.

As discussed in the cases described at pages 9-10, a number of those we interviewed described the events that led to flight from North Korea in terms of their social, and consequent economic, marginalization. In the year 2000, Good Friends conducted surveys with North Korean adults in China on social conditions in North Korea. In the second survey, involving 521 respondents, approximately one quarter said they had experienced discrimination because of their family background. Less educated people claimed to have experienced discrimination in significantly greater proportion than well-educated people.63 When asked to name the prerequisites for tertiary education, a "good" family background was cited by the highest percentage (56.5 percent), slightly more than high test scores or talent (53.8 percent). Young people and people assigned to agricultural work tended to cite family background as a determining factor more often than other groups.64

The importance that the regime places on family background gives North Korea what is essentially a class system. Note that even though the upper classes know the most about what the rest of the world is like those consigned to the lower classes are most likely to flee. Pyongyang is populated by those who are at the top of the North Korean class system. North Koreans can not live in Pyongyang unless they have the right family background and demonstrate intense loyalty to the regime. Therefore it is less likely that the populace in Pyongyang will abandon the regime. The center will hold.

China is a hostile environment for North Korean refugees. The Chinese authorities will send back anyone they capture. China chooses to do this instead of letting the people pass on to South Korea. Due to the illegal nature of the passage thru China the cost of getting thru China to South Korea is quite high and ranges from about $10,000 to $30,000. Unless China changes its treatment of refugees the number of people making it out of North Korea to South Korea via China is going to remain fairly small.

However, the several dozen North Koreans who have gained safe passage after dashing into diplomatic compounds represent only a tiny fraction of those who ultimately leave China. Others purchase false identity papers and passports and fly out, usually with relatives in the South coordinating their quiet transit and alerting the South Korean government. Yet others are guided by brokers out of China via two main routes: either over the Mongolian border, or to Yunnan and there over the border to the Mekong River, usually transiting Cambodia, Vietnam, or Laos and sometimes Burma to eventually reach Thailand and the South Korean embassy in Bangkok.

The cost of transiting through China safely and crossing into another country varies considerably, depending on whether the refugee depends on the largesse of missionary or church groups or whether he or she has relatives who can pay and privately broker the escape. The more recent North Korean asylum seekers we interviewed estimated the total cost of bribes, false papers, and payoffs for shelter and guides to run between U.S.$10,000 to U.S.$30,000, a large enough sum to keep the number of successful departures from China relatively small.

China's treatment of North Korean refugees and its attempts to capture and return North Koreans attempting to escape from North Korea demonstrates how China's attitude toward North Korea is essential in propping up the North Korean regime. China provides economic aid, technology for North Korea's weapons development programs, and prevents North Koreans from escaping in large numbers.

Because the DMZ separating North and South Korea is a heavily fortified line it is rare for refugees to escape by fleeing south. Large concentrations of North Korean soldiers, mines, and other physical obstacles along the DMZ effectively close off a more direct route into South Korea.

In the July 25, 2002 edition of the Christian Science Monitor staff writer Robert Marquand wrote an excellent report on the growth of doubt and resentment in North Korea toward the North Korean regime. But the system of repression and control is still intact and functioning.

"No one will criticize Kim openly," says defector Kim Hyuk, who left North Korea in 1993 and now counsels refugees in Seoul. "But someone might say to another on the street who seems unhappy, 'What kind of country is this?' Five years ago, no one would dare say it." Mr. Hyuk recalls a childhood in a small town in central North Korea spent reading novels his father had to smuggle from Russia.

Still, few escapees believe a major social implosion is on the way. The binding cords of military and secret police, informers, and guards remain thickly interwoven, they say – inside apartment complexes, on the street, in factories. North Koreans still can't travel outside their home district except with passes whose numeric codes change every month

Keep in mind that refugees couldn't reveal their true views to others before they fled and they certainly couldn't ask others what they thought of the regime. Those who hold views critical to the regime have to keep those views to themselves. This makes it very difficult to judge the views of most of the North Korean population. Also, those who decided to become refugees were very likely on average more dissatisfied with the regime and more likely to act on their dissatisfactions than the people who stayed behind.

One reason the development of serious opposition to the North Korean regime still seems unlikely is that political opposition is provided with none of the space it needs to organise and communicate.

When nonviolent uprisings fail, it is often because the governments leave so little political space in which opposition activists can organize without being arrested or worse, says John Crist at the US Institute of Peace in Washington. "Nonviolent resistance campaigns work best in places where there is some access to democratic principles such as freedom of communications" he says.

While the trend in beliefs among North Koreans is moving in a favorable direction the effects of decades of propaganda are still strong.

To fight ideological contamination, North Korea's government for years taught citizens that goods from South Korea were laced with cyanide.

"North Koreans are brainwashed to believe that everything from the South has poison on it," Ms. Lee continued, admitting that this legend might prevent people from picking up radios or handbags left scattered over the countryside. But that taboo is wearing down with the influx of foreign aid and goods from China.

What is needed is to provide the North Koreans with more ways to learn about the outside world. Their isolation makes them much more gullible targets for the regime's propaganda.

From a January 15, 2003 AP report written by a South Korean journalist.

North Korea runs a museum south of Pyongyang where teachers take children to watch gory scenes of Korean villagers burned at stakes and other alleged American atrocities during the Korean War. Children emerge vowing to fight Americans, defectors say.

"Isolated as they are from the outside, they can't make independent judgments about what the state tells them," Cho says.

A December 16, 2002 report by a Japanese journalist provides indications that the indoctrination system in North Korea is still fairly strong.

Political indoctrination classes are required for all North Koreans, as are weekly "self-criticism" classes. All citizens are under the constant observation of "guardian-of-the-revolution" units that seek out "anti-socialist" elements. One must even be careful of what is said around family members. Unbending censorship via the official party line, steady brain-washing and ceaseless control is all the communist regime in Pyongyang has been able or willing to offer its citizens.

Here's a brief description from the KoreaScope site describing the pervasiveness of the ideological indoctrination in North Korea.

Under the catch phrase, "All the People Must be Remade into Juche-Oriented Communist Revolutionaries," North Korea has spurred citizens to undergo ideological indoctrination programs from the cradle to the grave. In the meantime, their lives as members of organizations, as well as their economic and social activities, have been under the strict control of the Party.

North Korean citizens are obliged to become members of relevant organizations from birth. Until age 6, children must attend nursery schools where they learn how to worship Kim Il- sung or Kim Jong-il, children ages 7 to 13 are members of the Juvenile Corps, from 14 to 30 they must be members of the Socialist Youth League, and from 31 to 65 they must join trade unions in relevant workshops, such as the Agricultural Union or the Democratic Women's Union.

From a November 2002 visit by Australian journalist Philip Williams:

Over the years I had read so much about the imminent fall of the DPRK empire, but after this brief visit, I'm not convinced the regime is anywhere near finished.

I say that because the entire population is swamped with Kim Il Sung propaganda from birth and on the surface at least, there doesn't appear to be any resistance.

The people have to feel life is better elsewhere if they are to demand change, and from what I heard, they really do believe that life in the North is as close to heaven on earth as they will get.

And with no foreign media polluting their minds, why would they ever believe otherwise?

Which makes the prospect of reunification with the South a tricky proposition.

From a UK government site this is entitled North Korea Bulletin 1/2002.

4.20. A major part of everyday surveillance is by the use of informants. They, along with all other secret police and espionage activities are organised by the State Security Agency, but specifically under the Counterintelligence Division. Informants are grouped into units of 50, with a security officer as handler. Each informant watches over 20 people. In total, there may be as many as 20,000 security officers and 1 million informants in North Korea. "About half of the entire North Korean population may have experienced working as an informant at one time or another." [7s]

US and allied intelligence services should find more avenues by which to get radios into North Korea. One approach would be to place rechargeable and rewindable radios in floating plastic bags off of North Korea's coasts. Another approach might be to try small balloons that could float the radios into North Korea. If corruption in the regime has advanced far enough it might be possible to bribe army officers and other members of the regime to smuggle radios in for distribution. Though it would be difficult to verify the proper distribution of the smuggled goods.

If you want to read more the North Korea's Tangled Web website specialises in linking to relevant articles about life in North Korea.

Update: Another reason that the Chinese border is where the bulk of refugees exit North Korea is the relative sizes of the border areas. From the CIA World Factbook on the lengths of North Korea's land boundaries:

border countries: China 1,416 km, South Korea 238 km, Russia 19 km

Update: There are important differences between East Germany in the 1980s and North Korea today. The biggest is historical. Before the Soviet Red Army overran the eastern part of Germany and set up an occupation the Germans were industrialized, highly literate, and had a lot of knowledge of other cultures. Located in Europe they were influenced by Christianity and classical Greek and Roman culture. They were worldly. Before the communist regime was established in North Korea the Japanese held Korea as a colonial possession. Their style of colonial rule did not (someone correct me if I'm wrong) encourage the development of literacy or the general intellectual development of the peoples they ruled. British rule in India was positively enlightened by comparison. The North Koreans do not have a memory of a more enlightened age that they could have learned from their parents and grandparents. Many cultural memes that might oppose communist doctrine are missing as compared to East Germany under communist rule. The North Koreans are historically and currently more isolated from the rest of the world than the East Germans ever were.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 01 11:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
Julian Manyon Travels Into North Korea

Journalist Julian Manyon managed get into North Korea by pretending to be a businessman. He didn't seem to manage to talk to many people there. But he did find signs of small amounts of market forces being allowed to operate.

Then in the gloaming it was on to the food market, an open-air huddle the size of a couple of tennis courts, where Mr Pak declared firmly, ‘No pictures. Watch out for pickpockets!’ On rows of rough-hewn tables sat local produce being hawked by sturdy female traders who are now permitted to engage in a primitive form of free enterprise. With eager determination they tried to interest their poorly dressed, shivering customers in shrivelled vegetables, piles of unwashed fish and boxes of dead crabs. Mr Pak claimed that the ‘difficult period’ — he meant the famine which killed thousands in the region two years ago — was now over and supplies were getting better. It was not clear how many people in La Jin could afford to buy market produce or what happens to those forced to rely on the seemingly empty government shops.

One interesting note is that prostitutes are offered to foreign visitors. But the same is true in Cuba and the Cuban regime seems quite stable.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 01 11:40 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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