Tag Archives: North Korea

North Korea turning to human trafficking for foreign currency

WASHINGTON – To generate new income sources, the North Korean government has engaged in state-sponsored trafficking of its citizens, sending them to work as forced laborers in other countries and confiscating all or most of their wages, an issue of increased focus in the international community.

“I see it as just starting to get attention. It’s an emergent issue on the international agenda,” said Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Both the Korea Economic Institute and the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held meetings in Washington D.C. in April and May to address the trafficking.

North Korea, frequently ranked as the world’s worst human rights abuser, has lured between 50,000 and 60,000 citizens to work in industries around the globe with the promise they would keep their wages, according to a paper from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights presented on Tuesday. Instead, the wages are sent to the North Korean government, generating as much as $2.3 billion per year.

Industries employing the laborers range from logging and mining to restaurants, and workers who complain or escape risk reprisal against themselves and their families who remain in North Korea, said Robert King, special envoy for North Korea Human Rights Issues at the State Department, at the House hearing.

Workers have been sent through bilateral contracts to around 40 countries, primarily Russia, China, Mongolia and nations in Africa, central Europe and the Middle East, according to a State Department Trafficking in Persons Report from March.

Snyder said the increased trafficking is one of North Korea’s ways of earning foreign exchange. Previously, the government sustained itself through other illicit means, such as drug trafficking, counterfeiting and weapon sales, but those income sources have been declining.

“They’re running a trade deficit with the rest of the world and it’s mostly shown in trade with China,” Snyder said.

“Whatever North Korea can do to make a profit it does, and much of it turns out to be illegal.”

One defector, Lim Il, told the Lantos commission that he had been a state employee in North Korea but went to Kuwait to work at a construction company, where he was required to put in 14-hour days under strict surveillance, with two days off per month.

“I think we were slave laborers,” Il said.

After escaping to the South Korean embassy, he learned that his salary had all gone to the Office of the Worker’s Party that manages foreign currency. “The money obtained through the export of laborers overseas [is] used as a personal fund for Kim Jong-un,” the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights paper said.

The U.S. and international community are facing difficulty curtailing the trafficking, said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch at the House hearing. The biggest reasons are that most of the work occurs in Russia and China, it provides North Koreans minimal exposure to the outside world which may help undermine the government, and officials have not decided whether to approach it from a sanctions or human rights perspective.

“To address this is going to require attention and focus from the international community,” Snyder said. “And the best way of doing that would probably be to make this an issue of concern for the counterparts.”

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Comprehensive strategy toward North Korea needed, experts say


WASHINGTON – As tension heightened on the Korean peninsula after North Korea’s recent artillery attack of the South’s Yeonpyeong Island, experts discussed the U.S. strategy toward the reclusive and hostile country.

Classically, a strategy is made up of four elements – ends, means, ways and risks.

Bruce Klingner, a senior fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, explained the four elements of the U.S. strategy toward North Korea in a phone interview.

Klingner said the ends, or the ultimate goal, of the strategy is to denuclearize North Korea.

The means, or the tools, to achieve the objective are economic pressure, military deterrence and regional diplomacy.

The next element of the strategies is ways, in other words, how to use the tools to achieve the ends. Both the U.S. and the United Nations have put economic sanctions on North Korea, Klingner said.

In addition, the effort included U.S. and South Korean joint military exercises near Yeonpyeong Island in late November, and a diplomatic push with the “stakeholders” in the Asia-Pacific region including Japan, Russia and China.

And Klingner recommended another move to hurt North Korea’s economy and also limit its ability to proliferate its nuclear technology.  “We should be targeting the other end of the proliferation pipeline as well,” he said.

“Rather than being used in isolation, these tools are most effective when integrated into a comprehensive strategy utilizing all the instruments of national power,” Klingner added, in a research memo.

Lastly, the risk of the U.S. strategy is failure, and the potential to make North Korea even more hostile.  In fact, it is likely that North Korea will expand its nuclear capability and nuclear arsenal, Klingner said.

Ultimately, North Korea wants a bilateral peace treaty with the U.S. and reunification of Korea under its control, said Simone Chun, assistant professor of government at Suffolk University in Boston.

“So far, the winner is North Korea here, because [it] got the attention,” Chun said, in a phone interview.

And Chun doubts that North Korea will collapse on its own, as some U.S. officials were quoted as speculating about in the November WikiLeaks release.  Chun called that ”fiction.”

“If North Korea ever collapses, it’s because China decided not to support it,” Chun said.

Quit Playing Games with My Regime, Says North Korea

WASHINGTON–North Korea, one of former President George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil countries, is angrier than ever. Its southern neighbor, South Korea, ­ is a conservative and staunch ally of the United States. ­ China, its biggest supporter, is also telling it to tone down its belligerent ways; and the domestic economy, or what’s left of it, continues to worsen.

The latest incident that pushed ­Dear Leader Kim Jong-il’s button is a joint military exercise between the U.S. and South Korea near the tense maritime border.

Prior to the drill, Py­ongyang vowed to meet the exercise with “strong physical retaliation.” On August 15, a day before the latest round of exercises began, a North Korean military official upped the threat further, saying the military will counter the joint exercises with the “severest punishment” ­.

Many observers of North Korea’s decades of saber-rattling were not impressed.

“The joke is that North Korea threatened R.O.K. [the South] and U.S. as usual: ‘We will not hesitate to use whatever powers we have’,” said Kongdan Oh, a senior fellow with Brookings ­ Institution, who covers Northeast Asian politics. “Let’s not overblow their usual verbal threats.”

The reclusive regime has not acted on its latest threat as of mid-August.

The military exercise comes after the Cheonan, a South Korean naval vessel on a routine exercise­ in the Yellow Sea, was sunk, killing­46 sailors. Seoul blamed it on a ­North Korean submarine’s torpedo; and displayed remains of what appears to be a North Korean weapon dredged up from the shattered vessel.

North Korea has denied the accusation, and ­China and Russia have supported it. The two members of the U.N. Security Council helped tamp down the international outrage. On July 9, the U.N. agency released a presidential statement condemning the attack on the Cheonan but didn’t identify the attacker.

South Korea’s defense ministry said it will release the full results of its investigation into who sank ­the Cheonan—an act of war in international circles– in an effort to address concerns that it is afraid to publicly point the finger at the most likely culprit—North Korea. ­

According to the South Korean military, the new document is likely to ­have the same conclusion as the preliminary report released on May 20, but will contain more insights from 74 military and civilian investigators from around the globe.

Like Oh, many believe the latest verbal threat from Pyongyang is an empty promise; one that the communist regime cannot executive amidst growing pressure from China to stop jeopardizing its own future.

“The key to the North Korean problem is Beijing,” said Guy Sorman, the global advisor for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. In an opinion column of The Korea Times, Sorman recommends South Korea’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea focus on China, because “everything will be decided in Beijing.”

According to Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, Beijing claims that Washington has benefited from the escalating geopolitical tension on the Korean peninsula.

“The Chinese say that as a result of the [Cheonan] incident, the U.S.-South Korea alliance is stronger, the transfer of operational control was delayed and Japan made a decision to keep the U.S. bases,” said Glaser.

According to Pentagon, the U.S. and South Korea are planning to stage war games in the Yellow Sea, off the west coast of the Korean peninsula. Beijing also has repeatedly voiced strong opposition to any drills in that area.

Despite threats of unprecedented retaliation from North Korea and strong opposition from China, or perhaps because of them, the dynamics of U.S. alliances in Northeast Asia remains strong.

During an interview with a Hong Kong television network early July, Chinese Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan was quoted saying “If a U.S. aircraft carrier enters the Yellow Sea, it will become a moving target” for the Chinese military.

In fact, Washington’s military coordination between its two strongest allies in the region, i.e. South Korea and Japan, have strengthened, some experts say

John Feffer, Co-Director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, said the important step now is not to worry about North Korea’s physical avenge but to find a way for the Hermit Kingdom to extricate itself from the situation. “Obviously, this was not something North Korea wanted to own up to, if in fact it did do it.”

At the same time, experts agree that once Pyongyang makes an exit from this particular incident, members to the six party talks should engage in a dialogue to reduce tensions on the divided peninsula.

U.S. military rules the planning roost

WASHINGTON–As Americans, we see ourselves as the best in a number of ways. We have the best governmental framework. We have the best athletes. We have the best way of life.

Whether those are true or not is up for debate abroad, but not within our borders. What is likely an accepted truth across the world is the United States military’s ability to plan for unforeseen disasters is second to none.

“This is an enormous strength of the United States military,” said Dr. David Tretler, a professor at the National War College in Washington. “We probably do this more, and therefore better, than anybody else.

“When events do occur, we have a greater capacity to carry out the planning that’s necessary to try to get everything lined up in the right way and moving at the proper time.”

Indeed, the U.S. military spends a vast amount of time making contingency plans. Each of the individual combatant commands has its own planning division concerned strictly with thinking about the contingencies that need to be in place. For example, one of the contingencies thought about at Pacific Command is what the course of action needs to be if North Korea decides to invade South Korea.

Tretler said planning contingencies for a certain region or deployment used to take about two years, but former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cut the planning cycle to a year or shorter. Once a plan is in place, however, it is constantly revised.

“What it comes down to is assessments by senior leaders that the process in place is working or we see a better way,” Tretler said. “If that becomes fact, we generate a new doctrine.”

It’s an element of the military that receives little attention because for it to be successful, it needs to happen behind closed doors. Military planning gets noticed when something goes wrong, but with the enormity of the task, the planners simply cannot get everything right.

“The military spends so much more time on planning and trying to think ahead, but that takes large staffs and large headquarters,” said Dr. Conrad Crane, director of the Army War College in Carlisle Pa. “The rest of the government doesn’t have the resources to do it.”

Crane also mentioned that the rest of the government tries to play catch-up with the military in this respect, again speaking to the adroitness with which the military plans for anything that can go wrong.

“In terms of trying to develop processes, foundation, skills and cadre of experts we are considerably further ahead than most folks,” Tretler said. “Especially when you talk about big things because, frankly, we’re the only people who have big things.”

It all gets back to being the best, and that’s something our military takes very seriously.