Steven Denney is the Editor-in-Chief of the Yonsei Journal of International Studies (PEAR) — a journal which is accepting submissions from graduate students and junior faculty until March 15, Seoul time. In this installment of the Weekly Digest, Denney tackles the week’s major events vis-a-vis North Korea: nukes, drugs, food aid, and Joshua Stanton.
by Steven Denney
Leave the Nukes, Take the Connoli
What country employs its diplomats as “drug mules” and “uses counterfeit cigarettes and medicine, drugs, insurance fraud, fake money,” and the “trafficking [of] people and endangered species” to fill state coffers? Welcome to North Korea, AKA: the “Soprano state.” This article in the NYT by Sheena Chestnut Greitens is entitled “A North Korean Corleone,” and it is sure to attract attention this weekend.
As Jende Huang reported in a previous Sino-NK publication, North Korea’s illicit drug trade (especially in China) is not a new problem. Brian Gleason, a graduate student at Yonsei University who focuses on North Korean human rights and peninsular issues, is currently working on a detailed overview of the available literature on North Korea’s domestic drug problem and other illicit activities, in addition to his ongoing interviews with North Korean defectors about living conditions inside the Soprano state. Gleason has passed along a brief synopsis of his findings (publication forthcoming):
“North Korea’s Avoidable Economy:”
Although the discourse on North Korea’s destabilizing threats often emphasizes the risks of nuclear proliferation, enhanced missile technology and arms trafficking, a growing body of research has continued to highlight the dangers posed by other aspects of North Korea’s illicit economy, including: drug and human trafficking, insurance fraud, and the counterfeiting of currency, cigarettes and medication. Since monitoring and enforcement mechanisms aimed to inhibit these endeavors are costly and require extensive regional and international coordination, policymakers must increase their efforts to address these issues at the negotiating table instead of ignoring them or pushing them to the periphery. By working to solve these avoidable perils, every interested party may be able to build the essential foundation of trust that will be necessary for future progress.
Food Aid “Paradigm Shift?”
In the three years that US-DPRK relations were “cold,” the Hermit Kingdom let out a scream in the form of exploding a nuclear device and engaging in armed provocations against its southern brother. Reports claim a modest thawing of the frozen-over relations, indicating that the US will provide a significant amount of food aid to North Korea. As the US declares its intent on seriously negotiating with Pyongyang, Ri Yong-ho (로영호; 李英浩), told Korean reporters at JFK International Airport in New York, on his way to the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, that “The six-party talks will fare well.” China, according to Yonhap, agrees. “External assistance” and as a means to solidify Kim Jong-un’s power base is two reasons for the Daily NK also nods in agreement. Also worth a read on “aid for Six Party Talks” logic is Chad O’Carroll’s article over at The Peninsula (part of the KEI network). O’Carroll points out a often overlooked fact that North Korea, aside from China and the US, already receives substantial food aid from other countries (including EU members, India and Russia).
Unreported by some is that the US has broken with its traditional decoupling of food-aid and disarmament. The linking of humanitarian assistance to talks (specifically Six Party) is a new precedent set by the Obama administration. Michael Magan, over at Shadow Government at FP, argues that this is a bad idea.
Andrew S. Natsios (Georgetown University), author of the book The Great North Korea Famine (US Institute of Peace, 2001), in this Korea Chair Platform article at CSIS, agrees with Magan. He argues that “by connecting nuclear talks with US government humanitarian assistance, [the US] have given the North Koreas a major incentive to continue, or even accelerate, their nuclear program in the future… .” Natsios calls this form of food-aid-as-carrots (see: carrots and stick diplomacy metaphor) is a type of “perverse diplomacy.”
Although this is properly noted as a “paradigm shift” as an approach to dealing with North Korea and getting the reclusive state back to the negotiating table, the notion that linking food aid to talks has been noted for some time as one of few mechanisms available to the US to get North Korea to respond. As noted in this Congressional Research Service Report (CRS) written by Mark E. Manyin, decision to link food aid to talks is a consequence of a lack of influence over North Korea.
North Koreans Don’t Trust the US and Stanton Doesn’t Trust the AP
Meanwhile, North Koreans are, according to the AP, “skeptical of US nuclear deal.” This, in addition to their scorn for “Lee Myong Bank Group’s Hideous Provocation” and the military’s live-fire military drills.
While the AP finds North Korean skeptical of the US, Joshua Stanton is skeptical that the AP finds North Koreans skeptical. It’s hard to fault Stanton for his rant against AP. After all, the “correspondent [for the AP story] quotes a grand total of five North Koreans, including one solider, one lieutenant colonel, a Foreign Ministry official, and two women whose occupations were not listed.” Stanton pithily calls the AP’s coverage of North Korea “strikingly similar to The Onion’s.” Stanton, even if you can’t stomach his admiration for Bolton, is usually a enlightening (if pugilistic) and engaging read.
Economic Integration and Development
As far as inter-Korea relations and trade go, this article from Sarah K. Yun, at KEI, shows how Cross-Strait relations (between Taiwan and China) could serve as a model for opening up North Korea’s economy and improving relations.
This working paper by Scott Snyder and Seukhoon Paul Choi, entitled “From Aid to Development Partnership,” explores the respective goals and capabilities of US and South Korea and is good supplementary reading to any discussion about economic integration and development. Although no analysis of North Korea (or China) is made, the points made throughout could certainly be applied to ways in which to develop North Korea and prepare the peninsula for eventual (re)unification.
When it comes to North Korean data collection, Marcus Noland simply “makes it up” (and he’s only half-joking). This article by Noland, in Foreign Policy, shows that Korea is a black hole come data availability, which presents analyst and economist who opine about the (obviously) poor state of North Korea’s economy with some serious methodological issues. How do we know the DPRK’s economy is “obviously” poor? According to Noland, the Hyundai Research Institute uses a combination of UN infant morality data and crop data estimates to estimate per capita income (!). On the @Sino_NK Twitter feed, Adam Cathcart has a few micro data points about the North Korean restaurant in Dandong that Foreign Policy used to illustrate Noland’s argument.
When it comes to North Korean trade numbers, China’s methodology (specifically that of the Ministry of Commerce) ought to be significantly more reliable. Assuming so, it is important to note the nearly 20% increase in Sino-NK trade.
“해군기지 공사 중단하라!” Get Your Demo’ On
Development of a naval (base) sort is starting on Jeju. This incident and the type of converge it gets in Korean papers is a good illustration of the difference between “conservative-establishment papers,” like the Joongang and the Chosun, and more progressive papers, like the Kyunghyang Shinmun (경향신문) . Although front page stories run in both the Joongang and the Chosun indicate there is support and opposition for the construction the front page story (at the time of this writing) at the Kyunghyang about the Jeju naval base at the English edition reads “Tragedy in Gureombi; Tragedy on Jeju-do.” At the Korean edition, it reads “새벽 정적 깬 사이렌 … 구럼비 발파 시간대별 상황,” which translated means, roughly: “The morning silence awoke to the siren and periodic blasting.” That certainly doesn’t convey a positive message.
This will be an interesting development to watch, from a geopolitical perspective. Marines in Darwin first. The US Navy in Jeju next?
Get your demo on! (pun intended)
As reported earlier in the week by Sino-NK Editor in Chief, Adam Cathcart, rumors abound that North Korea may have tested a nuclear weapons for the Iranians. Or, stated alternatively, “Iran may have tested a nuclear bomb in North Korea.” Tomato, tomato, right? Dr. Cathcart is likely to have more analysis on the Tehran-Pyongyang connection in the days to come, while he fumes behind a keyboard and wonders if Google Translate is going to start World War III.