Three US administrations have failed to deter North Korea’s nuclear ambitions

Three US administrations spanning 24 years — Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama — have failed to deter North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

All of North Korea’s programs are leading to one thing: the ability to hit Los Angeles or another large U.S. city with a nuclear first strike. North Korea has enough highly enriched uranium or plutonium for about 10 warheads. Its miniaturization and weaponization technology is well-advanced. Its missile tests have moved from short range to intermediate range, and are now on the brink of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Once a warhead is mounted on an ICBM, Los Angeles is in imminent danger.

North Korea is about three–four years away from this goal.

The Trump administration is hoping that war in not necessary and that it can steer the North Koreans toward acceptable behavior through the use of financial sanctions. The U.S. pursued this policy with some success during both the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations, but both presidents backed off from sanctions in exchange for vague promises from North Korea that were never honored in full. The Obama administration did almost nothing to deter North Korea and essentially ignored the issue for eight years in order to appease China. Now the Trump administration is playing the sanctions card again.

North Korean banks have been banned from the global payments system called SWIFT. This is a powerful move, but North Korea can work around it. It can use Russian and Chinese banks to make international payments on its behalf without disclosing the name of the real beneficiary to SWIFT.

The solution to this is for the U.S. to impose sanctions on Chinese and Russian banks doing business in the U.S. that facilitate North Korean payments. That’s an effective form of sanction, but it risks escalating tensions with Russia and China. Trump may move in that direction anyway.

[Jim Rickards]

North Korean defector floats leaflets with Kim Jong Nam news

A North Korean defector is packing balloons with information about Kim Jong Nam’s death and floating them north from South Korea.

Park Sang-hak, who says he defected in 1993 after picking up a leaflet sent from South Korea, told CNN he wants to show ordinary North Koreans the true nature of the country’s leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Nam was the eldest half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Malaysian authorities allege North Korean agents killed Kim Jong Nam by wiping the highly toxic VX nerve agent on his face at an airport in Kuala Lumpur on February 13.

“Even South Koreans were shocked to hear the news of Kim Jong Nam’s assassination,” Park said. “Can you imagine how North Koreans will react?”

News of the killing has likely gone unreported in North Korea, where the press is tightly controlled by the government.

Park hopes the leaflets, SD cards and USB drives will offer people inside North Korea a glimpse of the outside world, including Kim Jong Nam’s death.

Pyongyang considers it a hostile act and tells its citizens the leaflets are South Korean propaganda, defectors say.

[CNN]

North Korea contributes to Doomsday Clock being reset to 2½ minutes to midnight

The Doomsday Clock was created in a publication called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947 and was intended as a stark graphical representation of how close the planet Earth is to nuclear annihilation. The minute hand shows the relative time remaining for life on Earth. This is measured in “minutes to midnight.” The minute hand is moved once per year.

At the start of the Cold War (1947), the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight. In 1991, just after the end of the Cold War, the clock showed 17 minutes to midnight.

This year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists issued a shocking announcement that The Doomsday Clock was moved forward to 2½ minutes to midnight, the closest to disaster the clock has been since 1953. (At that time, it was set at two minutes to midnight due to a U.S. decision to pursue the hydrogen bomb.)

[As part of the reason] for moving the Doomsday Clock forward to “two and a half minutes to midnight,” The Bulletin cited the North Korean situation.

North Korea has made great strides in short-range and intermediate-range missiles, and is working toward an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), that could reach Los Angeles and much of the rest of the United States from their territory. North Korea also has a store of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU) that can be converted into nuclear weapons. It has made progress in the miniaturization and ruggedization of those weapons so they can be converted to warheads and placed on the missiles. The only remaining element of the nightmare scenario is intent.

UN Human Rights Council opens door to prosecuting North Korea

The United Nations Human Rights Council has brought North Korea another step closer to accountability for human rights crimes, Human Rights Watch said Friday. A resolution, passed without a vote on March 24, 2017, strengthens the UN’s work to assess and develop strategies to prosecute grave violations in North Korea.

The resolution provides for strengthening the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Seoul by including international criminal justice experts. The experts will be able to develop plans for the eventual prosecution of North Korean leaders and officials responsible for human rights crimes.

“The Human Rights Council spoke with one voice today by condemning North Korea’s horrific rights abuses and supporting efforts to bring leading officials in Pyongyang to account,” said John Fisher, Geneva director. “The overwhelming support for this resolution shows the resounding commitment of the international community to ensure that Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s rights-abusing authorities don’t escape justice.”

Tomás Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), underlined in his latest report to the council in February that the “investigation and prosecution of serious crimes are indispensable, as are measures to ensure the right of victims and societies to know the truth about violations, the right of victims to reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence of violations.”

“The Human Rights Council demonstrated with its new resolution what can be achieved when member countries stand behind their promises to hold to account recalcitrant, rights-violating governments,” Fisher said. “This not only brings North Koreans one step closer to justice for human rights crimes they have suffered, but should also make North Korean government officials think twice before inflicting more abuse.”

[Human Rights Watch]

UN to step up against North Korean human rights abuses

The U.N. agreed to ramp up its investigations on crimes against humanity committed by North Korea for use in future prosecutions on Friday, on the final day of a four week session.

The U.N. office in Seoul currently employs six people to interview defectors about human rights abuses, as some 1,400 North Korean defectors arrive each year into South Korea, mainly via China, Reuters reported.

In 2014, Michael Kirby, Chairman of the U.N. Commission on North Korea said : “What we have seen and heard so far—the accuracy, the details and the shocking personal testimony—will beyond a doubt require follow-up measures by the world community, as well as consequences for those responsible on the part of the DPRK”.

In 2014, the International Society for Human Rights, (ISHR), stated that North Korea’s crimes are “without parallel” in the contemporary world, documenting examples of widespread torture recorded in North Korea, with orders for brutality often coming from the most senior members of society.

However, North Korea “ categorically and totally rejects” the resolution adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council, responding in a statement on KCNA—North Korea’s national news agency.

John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch said : “The overwhelming support for this resolution shows the resounding commitment of the international community to ensure that Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s rights-abusing authorities don’t escape justice.”

[Newsweek]

Understanding and engaging with North Koreans

Understanding what it means to be North Korean is crucial to answering the broader questions of state behavior. We have all heard the testimonies of North Korean defectors about the idea of juche and the personality cult of the Kim “dynasty,” but North Korea is not just its leaders, but also its people. Without an understanding of the people, dialogue with the state alone is set to make little progress.

While the North Korean state apparatus is all too aware of, and actively planning their next move against, Western pronouncements … we must not forget the people of the DPRK. They, like Kim Jong Un, are also far from naïve. Instead, they can be highly calculating, aware that they are not living in the “socialist paradise on Earth,” and, especially among the younger generation of middle-class Pyongyangers, possess a burning desire to develop their own careers, enterprises, and curiosity with the world outside the DPRK.

The 1990s saw the slow erosion of state ideological control. What was once an essential “social norm” of ideological obedience to the state became viewed as merely a “social necessity” by which to conform in public, and was clear evidence of the power of nunchi in individuals’ desires to be the masters of their own lives. VCRs and DVDs became the early fulcrums for questioning the extant state ideology. North Koreans could also obtain short-wave radios, and, instead of tuning to the usual state broadcast, could tune to news emanating from China and south of the 38th parallel. It was such banal yet pivotal moments that opened the minds of individuals living under the confines of the Kim regime to the outside world, a world that was not as poverty-stricken, nor abusive, as they were once told.

[Even] North Korean defectors still view the DPRK as their “homeland.” For many, Kim Il-sung remains the “Father of the Nation,” yet defection became the only route for a better future. A survey by Chosun Ilbo in 2014 discovered that amongst the North Korean defector community, 80 percent viewed Kim Il-sung favorably, in contrast to 19.5 percent for Kim Jong-Il, and a mere 9 percent for Kim Jong-un. This stark contrast between the “Father of the Nation” and the younger Kim in power today … shows that the DPRK is not a static country, the Kims are not three incarnations of one – be it one ideology, one mindset, or one ruling mechanism.

[Excerpts of a Diplomat article by Edward Howell, Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford]

Nearly half of North Koreans are going hungry due to food shortages

Nearly half of North Koreans are going hungry due to food shortages, a damning UN report has warned. More than 70 per cent of citizens in the secretive nation rely on food aid while most lack even basic healthcare provision or sanitation, the report found.

The shocking report emerged as Kim Jong-Un outlined plans to ‘accelerate’ his nuclear and ballistic missile program amid heightened tensions with the South and the US.

The report suggests diarrhea and pneumonia are the top two causes of death among children under five. More than 10 million in are undernourished in the country of 25million people while the humanitarian situation has been worsened by ‘recurrent natural hazards’ including drought and floods, the report says.

Pyongyang is said to have restricted its rations of cereal and potatoes from 380g per person per day to 300g at one point in 2016. Government targets are said to be closer to 573g, according to the report.

Sweeping sanctions imposed in a bid to curtail the country’s nuclear ambitions are said to have affected attempts to improve the humanitarian picture.

A North Korean envoy recently told Reuters his country had nothing to fear from any U.S. move to broaden sanctions aimed at cutting it off from the global financial system and will pursue ‘acceleration’ of its nuclear and missile programs.

[Daily Mail]

Navy Seals and other Special-Ops part of American-Korean military drills

The U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group, better known as the SEAL Team 6, will arrive in South Korea for joint military drills and take part in an exercise simulating a precision North Korean incurion and “the removal of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un”, according to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.

The U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six will join the annual Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises between the two allies for the first time, along with the Army’s Rangers, Delta Force and Green Berets.

The counterterrorism unit is best known for its removal of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, known as Operation Neptune Spear. It will be the team’s first time participating in the annual Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises, which will run through late April.

The Japan Times reported that the SEAL Team 6 unit boarded the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, last Friday and are currently training in South Korean waters.

As Korea JoongAng Daily adds, also set to touch down in South Korea is Delta Force, a special mission unit of the U.S. Army whose main tasks include hostage rescue and counterterrorism, said the Defense Ministry. Together with SEAL Team 6, they will practice removing Kim Jong-un and destruction of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

“It will send a very strong message to North Korea, which is constantly carrying out military provocations,” a ministry official said.

F-35 stealth fighters will also fly from U.S. Navy bases in Japan this month and carry out strike simulations on key North Korean facilities.

The beefing up of U.S. special operation forces in the drills comes after North Korean leader Kim said in a New Year’s speech that the country was in the “final stage” of test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile, the first of its kind, and pushed through two separate missile tests earlier this year, the latest on March 6. North Korea claimed through its state-run media that the most recent drill was aimed at striking “the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan.”

Washington and Seoul stress that the annual military drills are purely defensive, although Pyongyang sees them as a rehearsal for an invasion.

Time for Trump to talk with North Korea?

North Korea’s recent missile tests will put new pressure on the Trump administration to choose a strategy for dealing with this pesky proliferator.

The standard playbook is well known to those who have worked on the problem of North Korea: pressure China to pressure North Korea, toughen sanctions, reassure allies and push them to build missile defenses.  Mr. Trump can follow this well-worn path, but he will likely get the same result: failure.

Instead, Mr. Trump, simply by virtue of being the new president, has another option. He can talk to the North Koreans and negotiate. North Korean officials have said that they are willing to turn the page and start fresh with President Trump. If he is open, they would be open. Or so they say.

Kim Jong Un previously floated the idea that he would freeze some of its weapons tests, if the U.S. called off its joint military exercises with South Korea. More recently, Pyongyang suggested that it would normalize relations, if the U.S. withdrew its troops from the South. Both offers are complete and utter non-starters.

But here’s the thing: they are offers. Negotiations start with offers, and rarely does the first offer represent the final deal.

[From Fox News Opinion by Dr. Jim Walsh, Senior Research Associate at MIT’s Security Studies Program]

UN urged to bring North Korea before International Criminal Court

A veteran investigator urged the United Nations to appoint an international legal expert to prepare judicial proceedings against North Korea’s leadership for documented crimes against humanity.

Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney-general who served on the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea, said the U.N. Human Rights Council must pursue North Korean accountability during its current session. His call came amid an international furore over the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A U.N. commission of inquiry, in a 2014 report issued after it conducted interviews and public hearings with defectors, recommended North Korea be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).The landmark 2014 report, rejected by Pyongyang, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might be personally responsible for crimes against humanity.

“If North Korea is able to do this to the older brother of Kim, to the uncle of Kim (Jang Song Thaek executed in 2013), and all the elite purging left and right, can you imagine what life might be like if you are a prisoner in a North Korean prison camp, with over 100,000 of them?” Lee Jung-Hoon, South Korean ambassador for North Korean human rights, said.

Evidence recorded over the past decade or more by U.N. investigators should be given to a new U.N. mechanism for prosecution, Darusman said, adding: “Let us prevail in the end-game.”

[Reuters]