Posted tagged ‘Kim regime’

North Korea tries to prevent more defections

November 25, 2017

North Korea tries to prevent more defections, CNN via YouTube, November 25, 2017

North Korean Soldier Escapes to South Korea With Several Gunshot Wounds

November 22, 2017

North Korean Soldier Escapes to South Korea With Several Gunshot Wounds, Washington Free Beacon , November 22, 2017

(What does this say about the loyalty of the Nork soldiers to the Kim regime? How about their military competence — only 4 shots out of 40 hit the fleeing and wounded soldier — and their vehicle maintenance — apparently the defector had to abandon the Nork jeep because a wheel fell off? Would Kim put his least competent soldiers and worst maintained equipment on display at the DMZ “peace village” for all to see? What does it say about the physical health of the Nork soldiers? What percentage of the Nork soldiers suffer from large numbers of big parasites?– DM)

The American-led United Nations Command on Wednesday released dramatic video showing a North Korean soldier escaping across the border into South Korea under gunfire.

CNN’s Anna Coren reported on the video, which reveals four North Korean soldiers on Nov. 13 opening fire on a comrade who tried to flee to the South.

The video starts with a lone soldier driving a dark olive-green jeep “down a straight, tree-lined road, past drab, barren fields and, headlights shining, across the replacement for the Bridge of No Return, which was used for prisoner exchanges during the Korean War,” the Associated Press reported.

Fellow North Korean soldiers realize that one of their comrades is trying to defect to South Korea and start chasing the jeep through the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMV, until the defector crashes and exits the vehicle under fire. He then sprints across the border before hitting the ground in critical condition but alive.

The four soldiers unloaded an estimated 40 rounds from multiple types of firearms.

The defector—a 24-year-old soldier surnamed Oh, according to CNN—was taken to a South Korean hospital in critical condition from the gunshot wounds and lost nearly half of his blood. Oh’s surgeon, Lee Cook-jong, said that he found four major wounds on the soldier, who received four pints of blood.

The soldier underwent multiple surgeries to repair damage, and in doing so, surgeons found dozens of parasites including a 10.6-inch roundworm, possibly indicating improper nutrition in North Korea’s military.

“His condition has become much better since yesterday. We’ve turned on the TV for him since yesterday,” Lee told reporters.

During the escape, North Korea violated the Korean War armistice by firing across the DMZ, according to the U.N. Command, which oversees the 1953 ceasefire agreement.

U.S. Col. Chad Carroll, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea, also told reporters that North Korea violated the armistice when a North Korean soldier crossed the military demarcation line.

Watch more of the video below:

Trial begins in assassination of DPRK leader’s half-brother

October 3, 2017

Trial begins in assassination of DPRK leader’s half-brother, en.people, October 2, 2017

(Were the North Korean suspects who were allowed to go home executed or given rewards? Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was seen as his rival for the position of Dear Leader. — DM) 


The women claim they were duped into believing they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera reality TV show. The women will face the death penalty if convicted.

Aisyah and Huong were arrested just days after the murder. They are the only suspects in custody in a killing that ROK’s intelligence agency alleged was part of a five-year plot by DPRK leader Kim Jong Un to kill his estranged half-brother.

Malaysian police has gone on record saying several DPRK nationals suspected of involvement in the crime left the country on the day of the attack while others were allowed to leave later in a diplomatic deal with Pyongyang.

DPRK has vehemently denied the allegations.

The trial is expected to shed light on the many unanswered questions surrounding the murder. For instance, how two ordinary women struggling to make a living as migrant workers in Malaysia allegedly became involved in this high-profile assassination; or how a lethal nerve agent was used in the attack in a crowded airport that killed its target without harming anyone else. 


Two women suspects pleaded not guilty of murdering Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, on Monday as trial began in the sensational case that shocked the world with its Cold War-style modus operandi and triggered a diplomatic crisis between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and Malaysia.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 29, entered their pleas through interpreters at Shah Alam High Court, outside the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, nearly eight months after the brazen airport assassination.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah is escorted by police as she arrives at the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this still image taken from a TV footage, October 2, 2017. /Reuters Photo

Prosecutor to use CCTV footage as evidence

The defendants are accused of smearing Kim Jong Nam’s face with the banned VX nerve agent on February 13 as he waited to board a plane to Macau at a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur, killing him within 20 minutes.

Prosecutor Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad read a statement giving details of the murder: “We will provide evidence that the dead victim was at (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) departure lounge when Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong approached the dead victim and swiped a poisoned liquid on the face and eyes of the victim. The evidence clearly showed that their action to swipe the poison known as VX caused the death of the victim.”

The chemical agent VX is so lethal that it is listed as a weapon of mass destruction.

The attack was caught on airport CCTV. The footage is likely to be used as evidence by the prosecutor.

The women claim they were duped into believing they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera reality TV show. The women will face the death penalty if convicted.

Judge denies request for other suspects’ identity

Aisyah and Huong were arrested just days after the murder. They are the only suspects in custody in a killing that ROK’s intelligence agency alleged was part of a five-year plot by DPRK leader Kim Jong Un to kill his estranged half-brother.

Malaysian police has gone on record saying several DPRK nationals suspected of involvement in the crime left the country on the day of the attack while others were allowed to leave later in a diplomatic deal with Pyongyang.

The defendants’ lawyers on Monday requested the court to provide them the identities of four people described in the charge sheet as having a common intention to kill Kim Jong Nam. Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng told the court: “A fair trial must include the right to know. The charge must be clear, not ambiguous.”

However, the judge denied the defense’s request after mulling over it for a while.

Defense lawyers say the real culprits have left Malaysia and that the women’s innocence will be proven in court. “We are fairly confident that at the end of trial, they will probably be acquitted,” Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, a lawyer for Huong, was quoted as saying by AFP.

Prosecutors insisted the women will get a fair trial as they began laying out their case, which is expected to take over two months as they examine 30 to 40 witnesses. The defense is then likely to be called.

Earlier, Aisyah and Huong arrived at the heavily guarded Shah Alam High Court, handcuffed and wearing bulletproof vests. About 200 police officers were deployed to guard the court premises.

The defendants arrived in a convoy of police cars with their sirens blaring. The diminutive pair bowed their heads as they were led into court past waiting journalists.

Suspects were ‘tricked’ and ‘used’ 

Meanwhile, Aisyah’s father said his daughter “would not have done such a thing, if she was not used by someone,” according to a CNN report.

“We didn’t see this coming at all. I don’t think she would have been in all this at all, if it wasn’t because of other people using her, getting her wrapped up in all this,” Asria Nur Hasan said.

Huong’s step-mother had also expressed similar apprehensions earlier, speaking to BBC’s Vietnamese service.

“Huong is not educated. We feel she was tricked into being in the situation she’s in,” Vy Thi Nguyen, 54, was quoted by BBC Vietnamese as saying. “We hope the court will be fair to her,” she added.

As the trial continued, Indonesia’s Ambassador to Malaysia, Rusdi Kirana, told reporters that his country is standing by its citizen Aisyah. “We can’t comment on the suspect, but what we can do is… to support our citizen. Regarding the law in Malaysia, we have to respect and let the court process how it should be,” he said.

Kirana said Indonesian officials will be monitoring the trial, including specialists in the field of poison.

Diplomatic row amid unanswered questions

The murder sparked a heated row between DPRK and Malaysia, which had been one of Pyongyang’s few allies, amid global concerns over the country’s nuclear weapons program, with both countries firing each other’s ambassadors.

Tensions later eased after Malaysia agreed to return Kim’s body, in March, and the DPRK let go some Malaysians stranded in the country.

However, an Asian Cup football qualifier between Malaysia and DPRK was postponed amid the crisis, and delayed this week for the third time after Kuala Lumpur imposed a ban on travel to DPRK citing heightened global concerns over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Also, ROK has accused the DPRK of plotting the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, who was known to be a critic of his government and was living in exile overseas.

DPRK has vehemently denied the allegations.

The trial is expected to shed light on the many unanswered questions surrounding the murder. For instance, how two ordinary women struggling to make a living as migrant workers in Malaysia allegedly became involved in this high-profile assassination; or how a lethal nerve agent was used in the attack in a crowded airport that killed its target without harming anyone else.

China openly discussing collapse of North Korea

October 2, 2017

China openly discussing collapse of North Korea, American ThinkerThomas Lifson, October 2, 2017

China has sent an unmistakable signal that Kim Jong-un had better not rely on the historic alliance between China and North Korea to resist President Trump’s demands. In fact, as he dallies with his troop of teen sex slaves, he had better keep in mind that Beijing is wondering what it might be like with the Kim dynasty out of the way.

The Chinese way of delivering such a harsh message is to use a third party. Preferably one without a policy role, but who clearly speaks for the ruling elite. Someone, for instance, like the Dean of International Studies at Beijing University (the Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford of China). Patrick Baert of AFP writes:

Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, raised eyebrows earlier in September when he published an article entitled: “Time to prepare for the worst in North Korea”.

The paper was published in English in East Asia Forum, a website of the Australian National University, but it is unlikely that he could have released it without the approval of Chinese authorities.

Jia urged Beijing to start discussing contingency plans with the United States and South Korea — talks that the two nations have sought in the past but China has resisted for fear of upsetting Pyongyang.

 “When war becomes a real possibility, China must be prepared. And, with this in mind, China must be more willing to consider talks with concerned countries on contingency plans,” Jia wrote.

This comparatively mild language is telling KJU that in a war, China might not be on the North Korean side.

Observers say the public debate might be a tactic to try and coerce Pyongyang into cooling its weapons programme, with its nuclear and missile tests visibly angering Beijing, which has backed tough new United Nations sanctions on the country.

But it may also indicate growing calls to overhaul its relationship with the North, a longterm ally that it defended during the 1950-53 Korean War and has a mutual defence pact with.

Yalu River bridges from China into North Korea at Dandong, Liaoning, Provicne/

As most readers know, the Korean War never ended. So, an “overhaul” of the relationship could only mean weakening or abandoning the alliance, and allowing the war to be fought to completion — without Beijing backing Pyongyang in the fighting.   Even raising this possibility, indirectly and via a scholarly journal published in English, is calculated to let Kim know he could be on his own.

This could indicate a shift in the tectonic plates of China’s geostrategy:

But there are also signs of a genuine shift in perceptions over how China should handle North Korea.

David Kelly, director of research at Beijing-based consultancy China Policy, said the thinking among Chinese academics was: “We could do better without them, a unified Korea would be incredibly good for China, the northeast would boom”.

China has long supported North Korea because it serves as a buffer from US troops stationed in South Korea, but Barthelemy Courmont, a China specialist at the Institute of Strategic and International Relations in Paris, said Pyongyang’s downfall could be good for Beijing, especially economically.

“China now believes that a collapse of North Korea would not necessarily be to its disadvantage,” Courmont said.

“If North Korea were to fall in a peaceful way, China would be best positioned for its reconstruction. China is the only country capable of overseeing the reconstruction of North Korea,” he said.

This has to be related to the current “conflict” between SecState Tillerson and President Trump that has progs reveling in what they see as amateur hour. The New York Times:

President Trump undercut his own secretary of state on Sunday, calling his effort to open lines of communication with North Korea a waste of time, and seeming to rule out a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear-edged confrontation with Pyongyang.

A day after Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said he was reaching out to Pyongyang in hopes of starting a new dialogue, Mr. Trump belittled the idea and left the impression that he was focused mainly on military options. Mr. Trump was privately described by advisers as furious at Mr. Tillerson for contradicting the president’s public position that now is not the time for talks.

This sounds more like Good cop/bad cop than outright conflict. As with President Reagan, Trump is regarded as a bit of a madman, who might just start a nuclear war. Even Kim Jong un understands that North Korea cannot win such a conflict. But now, the old passivity and delay that characterized American policy towards North Korea for the past three decades is over.

If (and it is a big if), China switches over to a policy of Korean reunification and dumps the embarrassment in Pyongyang, it would be an achievement of President Trump that echoes Nixon opening relations with China and Regan winning the Cold War.


Right Angle – A Little Advice For Kim Jong Un – 09/21/17

September 22, 2017

Right Angle – A Little Advice For Kim Jong Un – 09/21/17, Bill Whittle Channel via YouTube

(Please see also, Korea: Escalation Is A Two-Way Street, suggesting that North Korea is a bigger problem for China than for any other country. — DM)


As the blurb beneath the video states,

As North Korea grows more and more unhinged, the nuclear threat becomes more and more real. Recently, North Korea threatened to launch a nuke at the island of Guam. In light of this escalation of threats, the Right Angle team has a little advice for Kim Jong Un: Do not mess with the United States of America.

Korea: Escalation Is A Two-Way Street

September 19, 2017

Korea: Escalation Is A Two-Way Street, Strategy Page, September 15, 2017

(This is a lengthy article but provides very useful insights. — DM)

The latest North Korean nuclear and missile tests have caused Chinese public opinion towards North Korea to become even more hostile. According to opinion polls North Korea has, over the last few years, turned into a larger military threat to China than the U.S. or anyone else. To deal with this China has increased the number of troops and border police stationed near the North Korean border and conducted more military exercises in the area. This also addresses another Chinese fear (that gets less publicity in China) that a government collapse in North Korea would send millions of desperate, and opportunistic, North Koreans into China. There is no way China or the Chinese living along the North Korean border would tolerate that. Meanwhile China is becoming more hostile to North Koreans no matter what their legal or economic status is. Part of that is because North Korea has become a very unpleasant place for Chinese to visit or do business in.


Every nation has its priorities and for North Korea it is all about image. Most people see that in terms of North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. But there are other equally important (to the North Korean leaders) issues that get little publicity, and that is intentional. In mid-2017 North Korea ordered its secret police to expand its operations in northeast China (the area just across the northern border) so as to suppress news about the growing number of senior and mid-level officials who are, often with their families, illegally leaving North Korea. The single incident that prompted this new secret police effort was the suicide of one of these families (all five of them). The five took poison after being arrested by Chinese police and facing repatriation to North Korea, where the entire family would probably die anyway but more slowly and painfully. The secret police were ordered to increase efforts to prevent such defections in the first place. That will be difficult because the mood among many North Korean officials can best be described as suppressed (so the secret police don’t take note) panic and increased efforts to escape from the country and get to South Korea.

Senior North Korean officials who have gotten out in the last few years all agree that Kim Jong Un is considered a failure by more and more North Koreans and that his days are numbered, even if China does not step in and take over beforehand. Yet these senior officials report that Kim Jong Un could keep his police state going into the late 2020s. But time is not on his side and the signs backing that up are increasingly obvious. Kim Jong Un has triggered a trend that will destroy him and nothing he does seems to fix the problem. He believes having workable nukes and a reliable delivery system (ballistic missiles) will enable him to extort the neighbors for enough goodies to bail him out. That is a high-risk strategy. Kim Jong Un is betting everything on this and none of the potential victims seems ready to give in and are instead planning to meet nuclear threats with force not surrender. Escalation and intimidation work both ways.

Coming Up Short

North Korea has reduced its physical standards for military service. Previously conscripts had to be 150 cm (59 inches) tall and weigh at least 48 kg (106 pounds). But that standard has been reduced over the last decade to 137 cm (54 inches) and 43 kg (95 pounds). Now the government is urging teenage boys to volunteer for service when they are 15 years old. Actually, local officials have been given quotas and are coercing families of 15 year old boys to go along with this. With all the food shortages and unemployment the government sees that as an incentive. But most teenagers prefer to try their luck with the market economy and eventually make enough money to get out of North Korea.

The government needs more soldiers because of a lower birthrate and the inability to reverse the problem. South Korea also has this problem but for different reasons. By 2010 South Korea had the lowest birth rate (1.15 children per woman, on average) in the world and held that dubious achievement for two years in a row. This is because of growing affluence over the last half century. South Korea is now one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. At the current birth rate, the South Korean population is expected to stop growing in the 2020s, after reaching about 52 million (about twice the population of the north). If the birth rate stays under 2.1, the population will then begin to shrink. In North Korea, the birth rate is 1.9, and is also declining, because of increasing poverty and famine. For example, life expectancy in the north has declined from 72.7 years in the early 1990s, to 69.3 now. That’s ten years less than in South Korea. Northerners are not only living shorter lives, they are also shorter. A study of teenagers in the north and south revealed that the northerners are 8 percent shorter, and weigh nearly 20 percent less. It’s not as bad with older adults, because they were not born during the famine (which began after Cold War Russian subsidies ended in the early 1990s).

By 2012 there was a very visible shortage of recruits for the North Korean armed forces. A lower birth rate in the 1990s, because of the famine (that killed five percent of the population back then) has reduced the number of 18 year old recruits for the army and security forces. So fewer exemptions are being allowed, and more 17 years olds are being taken. That escalated to pressuring 16 year olds to volunteer. Now the government is after 15 year olds. North Korean men serve at least six years (and up to ten) in the military, keeping them out of trouble for that time in their lives (18-24), when they are most likely to act out revolutionary fantasies. The military is really a large prison system. While the troops are trained to use weapons, they get little ammunition for training, and the weapons are locked up most of the time. Young North Koreans increasingly know how poor they are, and in greater and greater detail. The soldiers born during the great famine of the 1990s are well-aware that they are physically much smaller than their South Korean counterparts. They also know that the average South Korean lives ten years longer and lives a much more pleasant life. All the more reason to limit the time North Korean troops can handle their weapons, especially when they have ammunition (which is actually very infrequently.)

By 2017 North Korean army officers were ordered to encourage their troops to steal food during the harvest and that failure to do so could result in punishment and would definitely result in hunger. Naturally this has caused more popular anger towards the military. This is nothing new. In 2016 hungry troops grew bolder because the government made it clear they would not punish soldiers unless people are killed or badly injured during these incidents. Police are often called to catch soldiers who have robbed someone. At first this was usually troops breaking into a house seeking food and valuables. The soldiers that are caught are often arrested but must be taken back to their base where the military takes over. The soldiers are “punished” with some verbal abuse for getting caught and that is all. The government was desperate because earlier efforts to address the problem had failed. In 2015 there was a new program to expand food production by the military. Troops were allowed to raise pigs as well as the usual vegetable and grain crops. Meat has been in particularly short supply for the troops in the past few years and hungry troops often steal small livestock (chickens, ducks and pigs), kill them on the spot and carry them off to be cooked and eaten before returning to base. As more reports came in it became apparent that most military units didn’t have enough to eat, either because the food was not to be had or, as is more often the case, corruption (someone in a position of power stole it.) This led to more soldiers stealing food from civilians or selling military clothing and equipment on the black market so they could buy food. Soldiers have opportunities to steal food and sell stolen goods when they are off their base doing construction or farm work. This is how troops spend a lot of their time and they receive no extra pay or food even when the outside work requires heavy (and calorie consuming) labor. All this is illegal, but commanders were not eager to punish hungry soldiers. For commanders their troops have become profitable slaves who can be rented out with the commanders getting part of the payment. Now the government insists that disobedient slaves be executed.

Visible Signs Of Decline

Declining discipline in the police is more evident in many obvious ways. For example a growing number of North Korean women are operating openly as prostitutes (usually near border areas where there are more foreigners). These women get $20 or more per customer but get to keep less than 20 percent of that because the rest goes to bribes (for police) and “fees” to various middlemen (or women) who supervise it all. Thus it is not surprising that these young (from late teens to 30s) women will also offer to sell drugs (usually meth) to customers as well. Many of these prostitutes are married and some have children but no money to keep the kids fed and healthy.

With the growth of free markets and police getting jealous, greedy and corrupted by demanding and getting bribes, there has also developed criminal gangs. These groups often have connections (usually financial) with the security forces and of course the gangsters are all veterans. The gangs act as middlemen between donju (free market entrepreneurs) and the government but as a matter of law, the gangs do not exist. As a matter of fact the gangs are very real and one of the fastest growing sectors of the market economy.

China Chooses Sides

The latest North Korean nuclear and missile tests have caused Chinese public opinion towards North Korea to become even more hostile. According to opinion polls North Korea has, over the last few years, turned into a larger military threat to China than the U.S. or anyone else. To deal with this China has increased the number of troops and border police stationed near the North Korean border and conducted more military exercises in the area. This also addresses another Chinese fear (that gets less publicity in China) that a government collapse in North Korea would send millions of desperate, and opportunistic, North Koreans into China. There is no way China or the Chinese living along the North Korean border would tolerate that. Meanwhile China is becoming more hostile to North Koreans no matter what their legal or economic status is. Part of that is because North Korea has become a very unpleasant place for Chinese to visit or do business in.

News of the bad treatment Chinese are suffering in North Korea gets around, even when the Chinese government tries to keep the worst examples out of the news. Chinese individuals and firms doing business in North Korea complain that the North Koreans have become even more unreliable when it comes to handling foreign investments from China. In the past China could impose some degree of discipline on North Korea for abuse of Chinese investors and investments. The North Koreans are increasingly ignoring this sort of pressure and as a result Chinese investors are backing away from current and planned investments. China could order state owned firms to do business in North Korea but does not because these firms are poorly run compared to the privately owned firms and would suffer even larger losses when dealing the increasingly treacherous and unreliable neighbor.

North Korea used to be a dependable place, at least for Chinese with the right connections in the Chinese government. While corruption in China has declined in the past few years it appears to have gotten worse in North Korea, to the point where long-term deals are avoided and transactions are made carefully, usually with payment before delivery. The smugglers and various other criminal gangs in China that do business with their North Korean counterparts have been forced to operate this way as well and for the same reasons. South Korea and Japan have already learned how unreliable North Korea can be when it comes to business deals and Russia has already adopted the wary approach to economic deals with North Korea.

China has visibly increased enforcement of economic sanctions on North Korea but this has not made North Korea any more willing to negotiate. The growing number of police and secret police night patrols in areas where North Korean smugglers long operated is hard to miss, as is the fact that when North Korean smugglers are encountered they get arrested and taken away. Even higher bribes (over $3,000 to make an arrest not happen) no longer work because the Chinese cops will still demand that amount of cash before they will turn the smugglers over to North Korean officials. China never came down so hard on North Korean smuggling before.

China is also cracking down on North Korean drug production and smuggling. This is a matter of self-defense for China and is effective because North Korea make the highest profits from methamphetamine (“meth”). But this drug requires a key ingredient (phenylacetic acid, in the form of white crystals) to be smuggled in from China. Now the Chinese are cracking down on that as well as the meth coming into China. North Korea is seeking another, probably more expensive, supplier in Russia.

While Russia is still doing business with North Korea China and Russia are also cooperating with many of the new rules banning North Korean workers they long employed legally. This exported labor was outlawed by the latest round of sanctions. North Korea responded by quietly ordering overseas workers to stay where they are and work illegally (in deals arranged by their government minders). Yet in many instances the export ban on slave labor is being enforced by Russia and especially China and that is hurting North Korea economically.

The North Koreans see this as yet another challenge that can be worked around. While it is true that there are still a lot of corrupt Chinese and Russians willing to do business with North Korea if the bribe is large enough, that is not working as well as it used to in China. This is because North Korea is very unpopular with Chinese in general and a growing number of senior Chinese officials in particular. Russians are less upset with North Korea and, while having fewer economic resources than China, are more receptive to shady deals. The problem is that North Korea has become very dependent on the much larger and still expanding Chinese economy. Russia simply cannot supply a lot of what North Korea needs. It is possible to still buy the forbidden goods in China and have them shipped to a fictitious customer in Russia who will quietly send it to North Korea. That does not always work and when it does it costs a lot more than getting the goods directly from China. North Korea has less cash for the extra expenses. The Chinese know this and are quite willing to slowly squeeze until North Korean leaders are all dead or more receptive to Chinese needs (no nukes next door and fewer desperate illegal migrants). Yet there is the growing risk that North Korea will get (or thinks it has) reliable nukes and keep threatening China. That is not the desired outcome but the Chinese have quietly reminded leaders of both Koreas (and their foreign allies) that in the past China has occupied much of Korea when the Koreans become troublesome.

Meanwhile China is not happy with South Korea either, fearing the growing military power of South Korea and the recent installation of a THAAD anti-missile battery despite vigorous Chinese diplomatic and economic efforts to prevent that. The diplomatic and economic pressure continues but the South Koreans are in no mood to back off as long as the North Korean threat remains. South Korea believes China could do more to eliminate the North Korean threat. While many, if not most, Chinese and Russians agree with that the Russian and Chinese governments still see economic opportunities in North Korea and are unwilling to do anything drastic.

September 14, 2017: In coincidental, nearly simultaneous, events North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan while South Korea fired two Hyunmoo 2 ballistic missiles. One of these failed while the other accurately hit the target area (at sea) 250 kilometers away. The North Korean missile travelled about 2,200 kilometers and landed in the Pacific. Japan said it tracked the missile and did not try to intercept because it was obvious the missile was following a trajectory that would take it far from Japan. The identity of the North Korean missile was not known.

South Korea has developed a longer (500 kilometer) version; Hyunmoo 2C. South Korea developed a 180 kilometer range ballistic missile (Hyunmoo 1) and a 300 kilometer one (Hyunmoo 2) in the 1980s. Both are about 13 meters (40 feet) long and weigh 4-5 tons. Both of these were based on the design of the U.S. Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missile, which South Korea used for many years.

September 13, 2017: Google and YouTube have banned videos from North Korean media, apparently because it is a source of income for North Korea and now in violation of sanctions. This reduces open source access to North Korean TV although intelligence agencies will still be able to get these.

China has restricted access to Mount Paektu, apparently for safety reasons related to the recent North Korean nuclear test, which was conducted 110 kilometers away. Mount Paektu is a dormant volcano on the Chinese border. In fact, half the volcano is in China, where it is a popular tourist destination for South Koreans. That’s because Koreans and Manchus (as in Manchuria, the native people of northeast China) both consider Mt Paektu as a sacred place where their tribes originated thousands of years ago. In 2013 North Korea put some silos for their long range (2,000-3,000 kilometers) ballistic missiles up there because that part of North Korea is a triangle, surrounded on two sides by China. This makes it difficult for the Americans to launch air attacks without entering Chinese territory and makes it easier for North Korean anti-aircraft forces to defend against cruise missile. On the down side, Paektu is a dormant volcano that is active (lava flows and the like) about once a century. The last time it erupted (throwing large quantities of rocks and dust into the atmosphere) was in 1703 and an eruption in the late 10th century blew the top off the mountain and created the current 4.5 kilometers wide crater lake. Volcanologists consider Paektu capable of another major eruption but North Korea considers that less likely than an American air attack. So the silos stay, despite the risk of destruction by lava flows and earthquakes. Before all these silos were built North Korea planned to keep its long range ballistic missiles mobile and launch them from any number of launch sites (a flat field where the missile could be fueled and the guidance system programmed before launch.) Bad weather could complicate the use of mobile launchers (washing out bridges or blocking roads with snow). The quality of North Korean roads has also declined sharply (from lack of maintenance) since the late 1990s. Then there is the increased American surveillance (from satellites, U-2s and high-altitude UAVs) that makes mobile missiles more vulnerable to air or missile attack. Silos can also be attacked from the air, but in a war the more numerous and shorter range ballistic missiles to the south would also be subject to air attack as these missiles would be aimed at the South Korean capital. North Korea apparently believes that silos protected by a sacred volcano are a worthwhile investment to ensure that some of long-range missiles will get launched during a crises. China is more concerned about nuclear radiation coming from North Korea.

September 12, 2017: Chinese radiation monitors on the North Korean border recorded levels were up seven percent since the September 3rd test and have appeared to have peaked. This data was released because the population along the border know that they face some health risks if radiation levels increase too much for too long.

September 11, 2017: The UN approved new economic sanctions against North Korea and China said it would enforce them all and repeated that it had been enforcing sanctions since March. The new sanctions limit the export of refined petroleum product to two million barrels a year and ban North Korea from importing liquefied natural gas. This followed China condemning North Korea nuclear tests openly in the UN for the first time.

Meanwhile the United States continues to call on China and Russia to do more to halt the North Korean evasion of sanctions via corrupt officials and businesses in China and Russia. China in particular does not want too much international attention focused on that corruption, which has long been quite active along the North Korean border and still is. The United States is not being diplomatic in pointing this out but it is correct in showing how Chinese enforcement of sanctions does not really work unless China effectively curbs the Chinese corruption that enables North Korea to continue doing whatever it wants. For the North Korea the increased sanctions pressure merely increases costs (larger bribes are required in China and Russia).

September 10, 2017: Chinese banks have been warning its customers to stay away from bitcoin because of the threat from North Korean hackers, who are believed to be responsible for several recent multi-million dollar thefts from bitcoin exchanges. North Korea is believed to be targeting bitcoin and other Internet based cryptocurrencies even though North Korea has used bitcoin exchanges as a substitute for sanctions that ban it from accessing the international banking system. The Chinese government fears that North Korean hackers are now going after Chinese firms, something they are not supposed to do because China is still the main source of foreign trade. This sort of irrational behavior leads China to fear that North Korea would even be foolish to become a real military threat to China.

September 9, 2017: China orders all Chinese banks (including foreign banks licensed to operate in China) to not only stop opening accounts for North Koreans but also to close any such accounts immediately. This is a very harmful economic sanction and the North Koreans respond by ignoring the new rules any way they can.

September 8, 2017: North Korea has quietly freed a Russian yacht it had seized in mid-June. A North Korean warship seized the Russian yacht when both were 80 kilometers off the coast. The yacht and the vessel towing it to Vladivostok were definitely in international waters and the Russian ambassador demanded the release of the yacht and three man crew. North Korea was not responsive until now. This was similar to a May 2016 incident where North Korean warship seized a Russian sailing yacht some 160 kilometers from the east coast of North Korea (very much in international waters). The yacht and crew of five were taken to a North Korean port. The yacht was released two days later and continued on its way to its original destination (Vladivostok) for a sailboat race. In both cases North Korea would not say why they took the yacht and then released it.

September 7, 2017: South Korea has completed deploying an entire THAAD battery to a site some 300 kilometers south of the North Korean border. The United States will share radar data generated by the high-powered radar installed as part of a THAAD anti-missile battery that began arriving in early 2017. The THAAD battery is operated by American personnel and costs $3.5 million a year to operate. The battery consists of six truck-mounted missile launchers (eight missiles per launcher), a fire control and communications unit and an AN/TPY-2 radar. Villagers living near the site of the THAAD base oppose the presence of the anti-missile battery because it will be a target for North Korean (or even Chinese) attack. Locals also fear (without any evidence) that the powerful THAAD radar will cause health problems.

September 6, 2017: A recent online opinion survey in China showed that 66 percent believed North Korea was a larger military threat to China than the United States. Only 10 percent felt the Americans were a larger threat and 15 percent believed the U.S. was no threat at all. This is consistent with earlier surveys only the degree of hostility towards North Korea keeps increasing. Chinese see North Korea has a poorly managed nation that is ungrateful towards China and unpredictable.

September 4, 2017: North Korean living near the site of the recent underground nuclear weapons test are demanding compensation for the damage done to their home by the earthquake (estimated to be 5.6 on the Richter scale) the test produced. Across the Yalu River some Chinese buildings also suffered damage from the quake and several aftershocks.

South Korea announced that its policy towards North Korea will now on “punishment” rather than negotiation.

September 3, 2017: North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test. This one appeared to be the largest one yet indicating a yield of 100-200 tons and described as a hydrogen bomb. The first nuclear test was in 2006 (less than one kiloton) but the first one that was truly successful occurred in 2013 (6 kilotons) and despite the fact that the test was not a complete success, the nuclear bomb program continued with two tests in 2016. In late 2015 Kim Jong Un claimed that North Korea had developed a hydrogen (fusion) bomb. Foreign experts openly expressed skepticism given that North Korea didn’t really have a reliable fission type nuclear bomb yet. You need an efficient fission bomb to trigger the fusion reaction that makes the “H-Bomb” so much more destructive than a fission bomb of the same weight and size. Nuclear test number four in January 2016 was described by North Korea as a fusion (H-bomb) test when it clearly was not, or not a successful one. That would be in contrast to the 2013 test which appeared to be seven kilotons and a complete detonation. The second test was a two kiloton weapon in 2009. Western intelligence believed that the original North Korean nuclear weapon design was flawed, as the first two tests were only a fraction of what they should have been. The first one was less than a kiloton and called in the trade, a “fizzle.” The second test was less of a fizzle and apparently a modified version of the original design. Thus North Korea needed more tests to perfect their bomb design and was still years away from a useful nuclear weapon even though the second bomb appeared to be more effective. The third test in 2013 was considered overdue and that may have been because more time was spent designing and building a smaller device that could fit into a missile warhead. The second 2016 test is still something of a mystery. U.S. intelligence agencies have collected air samples (as have most other neighboring countries) from the test which can tell much about the design of the bomb. The January 2016 nuke appeared to be the same as the 2013 one. The second 2016 test in September appeared to be a better design and was about ten kilotons. North Korea insisted this was a fusion bomb. Air samples are still being collected on the test today but it will take weeks to analyze the samples and come to some useful conclusion. The sheer size of the most recent test indicated either a fusion bomb or an enhanced fission bomb. But for a yield of over 100 tons a fusion bomb is more likely. Such designs have been around and in use since the late 1940s. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 a lot of Russian nuclear weapons designers and technicians were out of a job and the pensions of the retired ones were suddenly worth a lot less. The security for nuclear weapons designs, especially much older ones, became a lot more lax. There were plenty of opportunities to obtain previously unavailable tech.

August 29, 2017: North Korea fired a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile over Japan. This was the 18th North Korean ballistic missile test of 2017 and this one appeared to break into pieces before it fell into the ocean after travelling 2,700 kilometers from North Korea. This was the second successful test of the Hwasong-12.

August 28, 2017: South Korea announced its largest increase (6.9 percent for 2018) in its defense budget since 2009. This is a direct result of the increasing threat from North Korea. Next year South Korea will spend $38 billion, which is more than a third larger than the annual GDP of North Korea (which spends about a third of GDP on defense compared to less than three percent in South Korea). South Korea is in the top ten of national economies, something which annoys North Korea but is admired by the other neighbors (including China). Meanwhile Japan is also increasing its defense spending by 2.5 percent in 2018 (to $48 billion). Japan, like China and the U.S., are among the top five economies on the planet. Japan, because of the post-World War II constitution the United States insisted on (and Japan did not much object to) has been largely demilitarized considering the size of its economy. That is changing and the U.S. has dropped nearly all restrictions on what weapons it will export to South Korea and Japan and is ignoring treaties it has with both nations that restrict what types of advanced weapons (like ballistic missiles and nukes) they can develop. The Americans would still prefer that South Korea and Japan not build nukes (which both these nations could easily and quickly do). China and Russia would also prefer that Japan and South Korea remain non-nuclear weapon nations. But if North Korean military ambitions and threats (especially against South Korea and Japan) are not curbed popular opinion in South Korea and Japan is becoming more comfortable with the having their own nukes.

August 25, 2017: China banned North Korea from establishing any new businesses in China or expanding existing ones. Russia has done the same, but the Chinese are a much larger market and apparently intent on following through. Meanwhile the August 15 order for Chinese firms to halt imports of minerals and seafood cost some Chinese firms with physical operations (trucks, mines) and warehouses in North Korea to suffer losses because they were given only 24 hours to get this stuff back to China and that was not enough time. This was especially true when many North Korean officials demanded special payments before these goods could be moved.

August 24, 2017: A Russian Tu-95 bomber flew south from a base north of Korea until it got close enough to South Korea to cause South Korean F-16s to come up and investigate. Russia said it was a scheduled training flight.

Getting Tough on North Korea: Iran and Other Mirages

September 1, 2017

Getting Tough on North Korea: Iran and Other Mirages, 38 North, September 1, 2017

The thrust of the article is that sanctions will not deter the Kim regime from pursuing its thus far successful efforts to become a nuclear power. They have not worked well in other nations, despite some similarities with North Korea, and will not work there either.

I look forward to reading the subsequent column discussing “how tough sanctions might be merged with a broader political-military effort to stabilize the situation.” Do we need merely “to stabilize the situation,” or do we need to do something more drastic to change it so that North Korea will (a) cease to be a nuclear threat now and (b) be disabled from becoming one again?  — DM)

A subsequent column will discuss how tough sanctions might be merged with a broader political-military effort to stabilize the situation.


As North Korea moves closer to its goal of being able to target key parts of the United States with nuclear weapons, it has produced a near universal consensus in Washington that it is “time to get tough” with Pyongyang. By and large this consensus still centers on the same policy tools it has for the past dozen years: economic sanctions capable of coercing Pyongyang into capitulating to US and UN demands that it end its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Sanctions are clearly preferable to war, but they do not offer a viable strategy for untying the Gordian Knot that is North Korea.

Those advocating the “get tough with sanctions” approach to the North Korean nuclear and missile problem in turn base their approach on two dubious assumptions.[1] First, they believe that there is a great deal of additional economic pressure that can be put on North Korea. Some who share this assumption believe the US has a number of unilateral tools that could achieve US objectives. Others—like President Trump—believe that China holds the key by threatening economic pressure on Pyongyang and that China can be persuaded or coerced into using its leverage on Kim Jong Un. Second, advocates of this approach believe that this additional pressure will likely produce a positive result: North Korean capitulation to US demands or—failing that—a change of regime in the DPRK.

Those who believe sanctions are the answer to the North Korean problem point in particular to the sanctions regime developed against Iran’s nuclear program. They assert that sanctions on Iran were more severe than they are today on North Korea. They add that when the international community got serious about sanctions on Iranian oil and Iranian oil revenue, the regime became serious at the P5+1 negotiations. Thus, if only the US and China would get as serious about sanctions on North Korea, Pyongyang would be faced with the choice of collapse or agreement to end its nuclear and missile adventure.

Can Additional Economic Pressure Succeed?

Some parts of the economic pressure argument are borne out by the facts. From about 2005 until late 2011, the Iran and North Korean sanctions regimes were quite similar. Both were primarily targeted on the two countries’ nuclear and missile programs and their purposes were to deny those programs material, technology or financial support. But, from about 2010 onward—prompted in no small part by actions of the US Congress—Iranian sanctions increasingly targeted broader economic activities. This included the sale of gasoline, investment in Iranian oil infrastructure, shipping and airlines.

Most important, with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act in the United States and the promulgation of an EU action almost at the same time, Iranian oil exports and the repatriation to Iran of proceeds from such exports were targeted. The US legislation, in particular, included secondary sanctions of global reach requiring all foreign consumers of Iranian oil to significantly reduce their purchases of Iranian oil or face draconian US financial sanctions. This was backed by a robust sanctions outreach effort by the Departments of Treasury, State and Energy and—unnoticed by many—significant contributions by a network of non-government entities that tracked the behavior of Iranian shipping, oil exporting and sanctions evasion entities. It is, therefore, accurate to state that Iranian sanctions were tougher in nature and in implementation than the sanctions record against North Korea. [2]

There are several problems, however, with using Iran as the model for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear and missile issue:

  • First, Iran had a great deal more to damage than North Korea has. The Kim dynasty’s bizarre economic policies have inflicted far more damage on the North Korean economy than anything the outside world will ever do.
  • Second, Iran had much more robust foreign trade throughout the period of sanctions application than North Korea has ever had. Iran was far more dependent on foreign trade and access to foreign currency than North Korea, thus its economy could be more easily hurt.
  • Third, Iran’s most important external economic link—the EU—was enthusiastic about the oil and related sanctions. The same can’t be said about the DPRK’s economic lifeline—China.
  • Fourth, the Iranian government’s extensive dependence on revenue from foreign oil sales for its government budget—including its comprehensive program of consumer subsidies and social expenditures—made the government politically vulnerable.
  • Fifth, despite its many anti-democratic and repressive aspects, the Iranian government is far more sensitive to public opinion than the Kim Regime. Iran changed its negotiating stance not because its Supreme Leader felt too much pain to go on, but rather because voters in the 2013 Iranian presidential election made it clear they wanted a negotiated end to the nuclear issue and an escape from sanctions.
  • Sixth, sanctions against Iran were implemented in conjunction with a robust active multilateral negotiating effort and—as we learned only later—a back channel for US bilateral engagement. This is not the case currently for North Korea.
  • Finally, Iran did not have nuclear weapons. It was not being asked to trade away a fundamental component of its security strategy. According to the unclassified version of the US intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate, Iran had already made the decision not to continue its nuclear weapons production and design program.[3]

Thus, in terms of vulnerability to sanctions, political structure, diplomatic context and strategic orientation, Iran posed a very different sanctions problem than the challenge the international community faces with North Korea. In the case of North Korea, these countries are seeking to coerce a personalist dictator with a narrow governing elite and little remaining political competition, with enormous coercive power at home, and extensive control of his country’s resource allocation to give up a fundamental component of what he believes to be crucial to his national (and personal) survival. To put it clearly, the last dollar available in North Korea will go to Kim; the next-to-the last will go to his bodyguards; and the third-to-the last to the nuclear and missile program—no matter who starves or what else collapses.

Will Kim Capitulate?

The other key assumption of a “get tough” approach is that crippling sanctions might persuade the Kim regime to capitulate rather than collapse. But there is another possibility: the North Korean regime would conclude that capitulation to the sanctions would have no better result for it than it did for Libyan strong man Gaddafi. They might consider it better to gamble on an “Assad gambit”: a final horrible fight hoping the US and South Korea would recoil at the carnage or that Beijing or Moscow might step in to preserve them. In this respect, there is a cautionary tale to consider from another US confrontation with an East Asian dictatorship.

In July 1941, in response to the Japanese invasion of Indochina, President Roosevelt took a series of steps that look very much like the sanctions advocated by those who want to get tough on the DPRK. He froze Japanese assets and required that Japan obtain specific export licenses to obtain any US goods—including oil upon which the Japanese economy and military was dependent. Subsequently, the US government denied Japan the right to use the US dollar to purchase goods, thus making it impossible to obtain oil even if licenses were granted. Those who made the decision to take this step were confident Japan would not go to war over the sanctions, since both US and Japanese leaders knew it would be a suicidal act for Japan to do so. The Japanese military chose to gamble on an attack on the US fleet and a simultaneous invasion of South East Asian oil fields. Four years of total war in the Pacific ensued. The Japanese decision was indeed suicidal, but it cost a great deal in American blood and treasure to confirm it.

Lessons Learned from Iraqi Sanctions

Iraq presents a much closer analogue to the North Korea situation when considering a “get tough” sanctions campaign. Very shortly after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the UN Security Council passed UNSCR 661.[4] This resolution in simple and in unequivocal terms placed a full-scale arms, trade and financial embargo on Iraq and Iraqi-occupied Kuwait.[5]Within three weeks, the UNSC backed up the embargo with an authorization for member states to enforce the trade embargo with a maritime interdiction force—essentially a legal blockade.[6] Thus, from the very outset the Iraqi sanctions regime was nearly total in scope and backed by the threat of military enforcement. It would soon also add an additional coercive element: a time limit connected with a threat to move on to the use of force to implement the Council’s demands on the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait in UNSCR 678.

The combination of extensive economy-killing sanctions with the threat of force would carry over into the post-conflict era in connection primarily with unresolved questions about Saddam Hussein’s WMD and missile programs. The cease-fire resolution[7] explicitly links the cessation of hostilities following Hussein’s crushing military defeat with resolution of these questions. Moreover, the United States and its coalition partners reserved and exercised the right to use force in order to implement that resolution. This is what the extreme case of “getting tough” with sanctions really looks like. Yet, despite the vast impact of sanctions and the overwhelming military and political coalition lined up against him, Hussein refused to withdraw from Kuwait (believing that it was and had always been Iraqi territory) and even after defeat refused to take the steps necessary to get sanctions lifted.

The problems policymakers faced in Iraq and the nature and motivations of the opponent are very similar to those presented by the Kim regime. The Iraq sanctions regime was tougher than anything Iran, North Korea or almost any other country has faced. This underscores how difficult it is even with the most coercive sanctions available to force a regime based on one-man control and vicious coercive capabilities to yield, especially when the dictator can simply reallocate pain away from his henchmen to the general population. There are, no doubt, a number of reasons unique to Saddam Hussein that contributed to the failure of Iraqi sanctions to achieve their objectives, but there are also factors that will play in a “get tough” effort against Pyongyang. These include the following:

  • Highly coercive regimes are not cowed by public pain;
  • Regimes with extensive central control of the economy can shift resources internally to protect regime elites and the military, thus, at least for some time, holding them harmless from sanctions at the expense of the general population;
  • High impact sanctions also raise the risk premium sanctions busters can earn; border nations are particularly subject to large temptations either at the official or black market level. (The Turkish border during the Iraq sanctions regime showed a disheartening example of this. One can only imagine what the Chinese border would look like in the case of expanded North Korean sanctions.)
  • In the face of determined resistance by a coercive regime, even the most thorough sanctions will take years to take sufficient effect.


Tough sanctions on North Korea are going to be a component of any effort to deal with the North Korean nuclear and missile issue. They at least delay and perhaps can prevent the slide towards miscalculation and war that we see today. But we need to be very careful about adopting models from the (historically rare) instances when sanctions succeeded. We also need to be wary of the assumptions behind the current suggestions for getting tough on Pyongyang through sanctions. The record shows even the most draconian sanctions may not move a repressive one-man regime in the right direction and that, in some circumstances, they can ignite the very conflict they were designed to prevent. A subsequent column will discuss how tough sanctions might be merged with a broader political-military effort to stabilize the situation.

  1. [1]

    There are a number of excellent pieces to cite in the “get tough” school. These include Joshua Stanton, Sung-Yoon Lee and Bruce Klingner, “Getting Tough on North Korea,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2017, pp. 63-75; David Thompson, “Risky Business,” C4ADS, July 2017; and Anthony Ruggiero, “Restricting North Korea’s Access to Finance,” Testimony before the House Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary and Trade Policy, July 19, 2017.

  2. [2]

    For a recent analysis of the Iran sanctions regime and how it might be applied to North Korea see, Edward Fishman, Peter Harrell and Elizabeth Rosenberg, “A Blueprint for New Sanctions on North Korea,” Center for New American Security, July 2017.

  3. [3]

    Director of National Intelligence, “Iran Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” National Intelligence Council, November 2007.

  4. [4]

    United Nations Security Council Resolution 661, August 6, 1990.

  5. [5]

    There were exceptions for humanitarian goods, but these were subject to oversight by the UN Sanctions Committee. This was a cumbersome process and it would be some time before Saddam Hussein was able to corrupt it.

  6. [6]

    United Nations Security Council Resolution 665, August 25, 1990.

  7. [7]

    United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, April 3, 1991, Section C.