Recent developments regarding North Korea appear to confirm some of the key themes of my previous post. In that post I suggested the recent working level talks on denuclearisation in Sweden collapsed because the United States did not provide a sanctions relief package. However, it has been widely reported Washington did offer sanctions relief in exchange for a substantial step toward denuclearisation, an assumption shared by most commentators. As suggested in that post, a hypothesis one might draw, rather, was the US offered, at best, tourist development at Sweden in exchange for a substantial step toward denuclearisation. That’s not a serious offer.
Heading into the working level talks an article appeared at Vox which suggested US negotiators would offer North Korea sanctions relief targeting specific sectors of the civilian economy, textiles and coal, for 36 months in exchange for dismantlement of Yongbyon if not all of North Korea’s fissile material production facilities.
The Vox report led many to blame North Korea for the collapse of the talks but notice this position relies on an uncritical acceptance of the report’s accuracy. Subsequent to the diplomatic breakdown President Trump made remarks about a “rebuild” in North Korea, with a specific focus on the Kalma Tourist Resort project near Wonsan. Not long thereafter Kim Jong Un visited the Mt Kumgang Tourist Resort, the well known joint venture between Seoul and Pyongyang, and the Yangdok County Hot Spring Resort. In both visits Kim Jong Un placed especial emphasis on the need for self reliance in tourist industry development, in the case of Mt Kumgang so much so that its revitalisation would no longer be conducted in association with the South Kim declared. Satellite imagery analysis published at 38 North by Peter Makowsky suggests the Kalma Tourist Resort is well advanced.
Now a lengthy Reuters report was published this week following the North’s testing of its “super-large calibre” MLRS (the test is left for a subsequent write up). It covered a lot of ground. Here are some remarks attributed to a diplomat in the know regarding the working level talks in Sweden
Although some media reports said the United States planned to propose temporarily lifting sanctions on coal and textile exports, the diplomat said the talks in Stockholm did not get into details.
“The U.S. can’t take the risk of easing sanctions first, having already given a lot of gifts to Kim without substantial progress on denuclearization, including summits,” the diplomat said. “Sanctions are basically all they have to press North Korea.”
You can see from this what the pre Stockholm Vox report by Alex Ward said would happen at Stockholm didn’t happen, but still it remains the default position of commentators whose task is not to inform rather to spin developments in the interests of power. The original article appears to have been a false leak designed to shape perceptions of the diplomacy, and those responsible for this correctly relied upon the mainstream media’s usual source of analytical commentary to play ball.
Further along we get this
The United States and South Korea suggested tourism, rather than resuming the Kaesong operation, as a potential concession to the North after the failed second summit between Trump and Kim in Hanoi in February, the Seoul-based diplomat said.
It appears in return for a concrete step toward disarmament, likely the dismantlement of the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon (in whole or in substantial part) perhaps also additional to the Kangson uranium enrichment plant, the United States and South Korea offered tourism joint ventures in exchange.
That’s, of course, a joke. North Korea’s position since the Pyongyang Declaration, co signed by Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in during their Pyongyang Summit, has been clear. Yongbyon for a substantial reciprocal concession, focused on sanctions relief. The relevant passage of the Yongbyon Declaration reads
The North expressed its willingness to continue to take additional measures, such as the permanent dismantlement of the nuclear facilities in Yeongbyeon, as the United States takes corresponding measures in accordance with the spirit of the June 12 US-DPRK Joint Statement.
For Yongbyon North Korea is asking for a reciprocal step by the United States to end what it calls its “hostile policy.” Pyongyang regards Yongbyon as a concrete substantial step toward “denuclearisation” and for this, it is clear, it expects a concrete substantial step by Washington toward ending the hostile policy. It sees that in terms of sanctions relief not peanuts such as tourist industry codevelopment, to paraphrase General Zia-ul-Haq. South Korea’s acceptance of the US formulation means it has distanced itself from this aspect of the Pyongyang Declaration.
You can see how Kim Jong Un’s recent on the spot guidance at Mt Kumgang and Yandok fits into the picture. They demonstrate that he doesn’t need the assistance of Seoul and Washington here, the satellite imagery of Kalma seems to support this, which means tourism development is not a “corresponding measure” as per the Pyongyang Declaration. Why give up big chunks of the regime’s “crown jewels,” to again borrow from Pakistan, in return for a pittance? It’s pretty obvious that demanding the crown jewels for a penny is not a proper negotiating stance.
One can see how this undermines the entire tenor of the Reuters article., which is based on the view Pyongyang has firmed its stance hence the Stockholm breakdown. It hasn’t. The stance remans as per the Yongbyon Declaration.
In further developments a study commissioned by the INGO “Korea Peace Now”
Found that 3,968 North Koreans died due to sanctions-related delays and funding deficits in 2018, including 3,193 children under the age of 5 and 72 pregnant women.
United Nations programs that address malnutrition, hygiene and sanitation issues, reproductive health and vitamin A deficiencies were hit especially hard, according to the report.
These are described, even by Korea Peace Now, as “unintended” impacts of the sanctions regime. That is false. These impacts are intended, and that makes the United Nations sanctions crimes against humanity. The humanitarian situation in North Korea is well known (for instance it’s known that almost 50% of the population is undernourished). What’s the predictable consequence of a sanctions regime under such circumstances? The death of thousands of children, including through diarrhea, is a predictable consequence of economic sanctions that’s what. To proceed with sanctions targeting the civilian economy, knowing of these predictable consequences, would render their predictable impact intentional.
Consider the depravity of the situation. At Hanoi North Korea offered Yongbyon dismantlement, as per the Pyongyang Declaration, in exchange for relief from sanctions specifically targeting the civilian economy. This would have alleviated the suffering of Koreans and offered Washington and Seoul a measure of strategic stability. To this Washington said no. The United States, instead, demanded the final, fully verified, dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear programme (essentially CVID) upfront a.k.a. “the Libya model.” So, the sanctions remain, and so Korean children continue to die. The object of all this is to give the world a signal lesson; the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must. North Korea must be seen as conceding to the US, not the other way around, nor indeed can the concessions be seen as mutual and reciprocal as North Korea is not equal in power. As “Madame Secretary” stated with regard to the Iraq sanctions the death of children is a “price,” for us not them mind you, “but we think the price is worth it.”
Consider the bind this puts South Korea in. Seoul has been manoeuvred into jointly demanding Yongbyon in return for tourism industry development, but that leaves the sanctions regime essentially in place. Attending to the interest American foreign policy elites have in demonstrating the perceived credibility of US power ranks as a higher policy priority for Seoul than arresting the humanitarian impact of the sanctions regime on fellow Koreans. It’s not just Trump and the Trump administration that share this interest. As shown in Congress last week liberal Democrats too demand Pyongyang give off the appearance it has kneeled before US power. They demanded the diplomatic process end given North Korea has shown no willingness to compromise with the US. It’s quite clear, however, that it has shown ample willingness to compromise if by compromise we mean a process of mutual and reciprocal concessions. What North Korea has demonstrated, by contrast, is an unwillingness to surrender on bended knee before Zod.