DPRK aid and policy changes

Andrei Lankov writes in the Korea Times that South Korea’s threats to reduce tourism levels to Kaesong, as well as support for the Kaesong Industrial Zone, are misguided.  His reasoning is as follows:

North Korea is a very peculiar society, where the elite are almost entirely free from the pressures experienced by those below them. When sanctions are applied to such a regime, they seldom have a direct bearing on the elite and their lifestyle.

Sanctions usually work in an indirect way, by punishing the population which then might either rebel against the government or vote it out of power. Neither rebellion nor elections are possible in North Korea (well, elections are happening there, as everybody knows, with the approval rate of the government candidates standing at a world record high of 100 percent). As a result of sanctions the populace will die without protesting, while the elite will survive and stay in control, even if for a while they will have ride their beloved Mercedes limousines less frequently.

The only way to bring changes to North Korea is to create forces which will be able to challenge the government. This might lead to a revolution, but one cannot completely rule out that the regime will start giving in if sufficiently pressed from within.

In addition to Lankov’s point above, sanctions can perversely benefit those in power who control and profit from black market activity (at higher prices).   Additionally, politically sophisticated leaders exploit the consequences of foreign-imposed sanctions to restrict domestic freedoms and political opposition. 

Bossuyt (Adverse Consequences of Economic Sanctions) shows even the most optimistic accounts of sanctions point to only a third having partial success.  Others find a mere 2% success rate among authoritarian regimes.  So sanctions have a poor track record of inducing positive policy changes, particularly in North Korea. 

So why are the Kaesong and Kumgang projects worthwhile?  Though not all that economical, Lankov argues that these aid projects create alternate channels for information to permeate the hearts and minds of the isolated North Korean people, and that shattering the North’s monopoly on information is key to promoting change within the DPRK:

…in order to facilitate North Korea’s transformation, more truth about the outside world needs to be imported. The survival of the North Korean regime now critically depends on a few important myths, and each myth is patently false and hence very vulnerable.

When the North Korean propaganda-mongers are talking to the North Korean public, they have to hide how poor their country actually is, and they also have to lie about the great respect Kim and his regime enjoys worldwide, especially in South Korea. An increase in contact with the outside world is the best way to undermine these falsities.

The inconvenient truth regarding South Korea’s huge economic advantage will start to surface soon. It will probably take more time before it will dawn on the North Koreans that their Seoul guests are not exactly full of love and respect for the Pyongyang dynasty, either.

There is plenty of journalistic evidence that many North Koreans already know the South is “rich”—although they might not have any idea what that actually means. Still, of all the Hyundai projects in the DPRK, I believe the Kaesong Industrial Zone is probably the most helpful for the South in the long term.  None of Hyundai’s other projects do all that much to improve the human capital of the DPRK people, and when things eventually change, it is important for the RoK to have a population of constituents in the DPRK who have some job and management skills and familiarity with the South’s culture to ease the transition.

Comments welcome.

Read the full article here:
Sanctions Harden Lives of Ordinary North Koreans
Korea Times
Andrei Lankov


One Response to “DPRK aid and policy changes”

  1. CW2 Mark D. Gallagher says:

    Is Kim Chong Il (KCI) Saber Rattling again or could he go all the way this time?

    Every Intelligence Agency in the world agrees that there are more active indications that north Korea will attack South Korea with nuclear weapons than there have ever been to date . Additionally, every State Department agency in the world agrees that this winter will be the worst winter for the north since 1995 . If aid, in the form of fuel and food to the north is not increased soon, an estimated 500,000 to 800,000 people will die of famine in north Korea this winter alone, according to multiple sources , including the United Nations World Food Organization/Program (WFO/WFP). Estimates as high as 3 million people perished from famine and floods from 1995 through 1998 in north Korea, according to the myriad of sources within Wikipedia.

    All of this ties to the answers to a few key questions that may be indicators of why north Korea is again taking to a saber rattling campaign. Why is north Korea on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list any way ? Why not increase aid to north Korea? After all, Soldiers are people too. Aiding north Korea means feeding the military first, therefore allowing KCI to spend funds acquired through illicit activities on programs such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons and missile technologies. Playing this diplomatic, economic, political and military, balancing act for the past 53 years eventually will come to an end. Lets all pray it occurs on peaceful terms and not through the use of violence. Finding a peaceful solution or at least maintaining the status quo is better than any other alternative. In my mind, ROK/US assistance and external aid organizations are indirectly responsible for the development of nuclear weapons and missile technologies in north Korea.

    The most dangerous situation on the Korea peninsula would be if KCI were to have a nervous breakdown or have a loss of control of his own mind. He would remain in control of the regime out of fear but be irrational in his decision making. Knowing up to half a million people will die in my country in the next 6 months would give me a nervous breakdown too.

    Well it did, because I am writing this from Allgood General Hospital in Seoul, South Korea. This predictive assessment and my questionable loyalty to my leadership got me a one way ticket to the ‘loony bin’. Even if I am crazy, everything I have had to say is 100% factual, not my opinion and did not come to me in a delusion, epiphany, or secret communiqué from KCI himself. I based my assessment on everything that my intuition tells me which is 18 years of military service, undergraduate in Global History (concentration in Asian Studies), 13 years of intelligence experience, nearly 5 years focused on north Korea, and subject matter expert in the 2nd U.S. Infantry Division on all that is north Korean. I helped revise the Peninsula Intelligence Estimate (PIE), co-authoring PIE Supplement 4 (Complex Contingencies before and after KPA Defeat). For me over the past 5 years, the sun rises in the East Sea and sets in the West Sea. The rest of the world goes on without me. Sometimes the sun rises outside the 2ID bunker and sets in the same place. Working in a bunker with no sunlight sometimes for 38 hours a day, puts a strain on my better judgment. Maybe that is what happened to me.

    Based on all of these factors and many others I have assessed that KCI will order the use of north Korea’s nuclear arsenal as a desperate act from an unstable world leader with capable nuclear weapons on or about 16 October 2008. Where is unknown, but common sense is would indicate that in order to protect his own interests KCI would order the detonation of a nuclear weapon as far south as possible but still meet the intended objective of killing thousands. It is how I came to this conclusion that got me a one way ticket to the ‘booby hatch’.

    Thinking even further down the road, depending upon the results of such an attack, this may open the door for ground forces to seize or isolate Seoul at some later point in time. Reunification of the Korean peninsula under a communist regime led by Kim Jung iI may be possible but would likely cause WWIII and certainly would not be tolerated by neighbor Japan. Even China would likely condemn such an attack, although surprisingly did not condemn north Korea’s nuclear test 2 years ago .

    Let’s watch from a distance to see what does occur between now and then to foil such an attack. That is about all I will be able to do. What does it take to ensure KCI and the nK people survive through the winter? One thing is for sure, in order to stabilize the north through the winter; the world will have to pay 4x as much as they did last winter due to rising food and fuel costs. WFP is already bracing for a rough winter in north Korea .

    Through all of what has happened to me in the past week and a half I have sought advice from close friends. One of them is a published author and north Korea expert, Joe Bermudez . I asked Joe what he though about all of this. Below is his response.

    “I believe that before KCI goes all the way we would see a very significant if not unprecedented rise in “noise” and threats (possibly very pointed ones) and a great deal of activity within the KPA. At the open source level there is nothing but the usual (if there is such a thing) blustering. I believe also that, currently, KCI is what is known in political science as a “rational actor.” Which means that he will do anything that is necessary to maintain his power and position. Which, in turn, suggests that at this point he would not go all the way, because it would start a war that he would lose – thus loosing his power and position (not to mention his life). This all, of course, could change in the future.” – Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.

    I certainly don’t disagree with Joe, but what Joe doesn’t know is what we are collecting through intelligence means at a national level and through our allies at the global level. If the first sentences of this assessment and Joe’s assessment are true, what are the politicians doing to sway the tide away from KCI having a nervous breakdown and ending up in my situation. Below are a few factors we should look for in the intelligence community and in open source press reports.

    KCI Personality Indicators:
    – Falling out with family
    – Increased activity
    – Irrational demands
    – Erratic / Delusional behavior
    – Disorganized speech
    – Depression
    – Reduction in attention span / memory
    – Difficulty effectively solving problems
    – Reduce perception of self esteem

    nK Regime Indicators:
    – Derailment of diplomatic / political agreements
    – Yongbyon nuclear activity starts again
    – Activity at external nuclear or missile related sites picks up
    – Activity in the KPA becomes erratic, outside of historical norms
    – Location of regime officials
    – WFO / WFP support activities

    ROK/U.S. Military and Government Indicators:
    – NEO rehearsal (Ulchi Focus Lense (UFG))
    – Removal of nK from State sponsor of Terrorism list
    – Increase food and/or fuel shipments
    – Disposition of military and families in the ROK
    – Leadership and intelligence continuity gap (leave, PCS, etc)
    – Location of key leaders

    The U.S. Intelligence Community has failed to detect such attacks in the past. 911, the Cole Bombing, Khobar Towers, the list goes on . Detecting such an attack would take finding the same needle in a hay stack that existed in each case list above but was overlooked. I lost a certain degree of faith in my leadership and the intelligence community in general for a myriad of reasons, which brought me to this assessment and got me sent to an institution to assess my mental well being. My priority now is to get healthy again but adding to my list of indicators is about all my brain wants to think about.

    If I were the President of the United States for a day I would first remove north Korea from the State sponsor of Terrorism list. Calling the nK regime a terrorist organization isn’t funny any more. Then I would launch the largest humanitarian assistance mission in global history during the first couple of weeks in October 2008. Simultaneously, I would destroy or send special operations forces into nK to seize control of every possible nuclear facility in north Korea. I would ask China to offer asylum to the regime and elite socialites and allow for peaceful stabilization of the Korean peninsula under the United Nations; eventually South Korean leadership would take over and execute their Chungmu Plan. The United States would only be a contributor and supporter.

    Maybe it is still a bit too early for this kind of operation. The two hub plan and transition of U.S. military forces on the Korean peninsula is hardly close to being complete. With recent events in Georgia, and ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think KCI is simply jealous right now. This may also be a ploy to influence U.S. Presidential Elections on 4 November. KCI saw in the media just how quick we were to rush in and provide humanitarian support to Georgia .

    In recent news it appears that north Korea and the Laotian government are firming up bilateral ties . The two countries together are still the poorest in Asia. It will be interesting to see what bilateral activities are cooked up between these two communist countries. In the past, the two countries have closely aligned on numerous issues to include tourism and other illicit activities .

    A somewhat humorous but sad story recently came out in the news describing how a north Korean spy was captured in South Korea. Before she was caught, the female north Korean agent was using sex tactics in order to coerce high level intelligence officers to provide her useful information . There is an undisclosed amount of sleeper agents, active agents and nK sympathizers who continue to operate in the ROK, attempting to drive a wedge between the ROK/ US alliance, gather useful information, and provide it back to the Kim regime.

    In other news, BG Ramirez handed over the reigns of the Assistant Division Commander (Maneuver) ADCM to move on to be the J5 U.S. Army Europe at Stuttgart, Germany . General Ramirez is an artillery Officer and a skilled collaborator in joint live, virtual and constructive simulated training environment of the 2nd Infantry Division. His expertise was paramount in ensuring readiness of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula.

    Interestingly enough I am not the only one in the world concerned about what the future holds in regard to north Korea. Condoleezza Rice for the first time ever met with her north Korea counterpart in Singapore a few weeks ago. The report does not go into much detail but I am sure that the looming food crisis and nuclear disarmament were topics on either side. Removal from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list was probably discussed as well. Removal may give nK the opportunity to increase trade and help take care of those who are at risk this winter.

    It will be interesting to see what the ROK / US offer the north to avoid inevitable confrontation prior to this winter. The UN WFP seems to think it will cost someone $503 million to get the necessary support to the masses of north Korea. Today they announced the largest increase in aid to north Korea since the mid 1990’s . Is it possible that my correspondence has triggered an increase in international dialogue?