WITHIN DAYS of the return of Dennis Rodman, the ad-hoc US Secretary for DPRK-American Goodwill, we now have for our consumption James R. Clapper’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” presented March 12 to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In his crisp overview, titled “Iran and North Korea Developing WMD-Applicable Capabilities, ” the Director of National Intelligence makes ample use of the phrase “we do not know” — and though you may be tempted to deride, this is the Hermit Kingdom we’re speaking of, after all.
We should however derive some courage from the fact that the inverse happens also to be true. The DPRK Central Committee does not know, and can not know, when it comes to any and all of their paramount questions. What will the West do next? Will they one day call our monstrous and fantastic bluff? How much better off we might be in the West if we proceeded, if not exactly from certainties, at the least from probabilities. For examples ….
The Pyongyang regime has reposed its fortunes right down to the chon on a series of preposterous lies: that the starvation of the country is the work of America, that the decades-long diversion of national resources to war preparation has been forced upon the people’s successive masters, and that the final war is at-hand and will yield a swift victory and a glorious reunification of the Fatherland (an eventuality which will be welcomed by the long-suffering South Koreans.)
The utility of these lies presupposes the continuation of an established pattern. The DPRK economy takes an especially bad turn — as of late it has — and out come the belligerent rhetoric and the hostile actions. Threats are traded, and into this environment of escalating tensions are offered dialogue, in exchange (of course) for various forms of recompense, typically including food.
But to return to the official state rhetoric — otherwise known as preposterous lies — it is highly probable that the inner circle of elite families which swell the DPRK regime well know the impossibility of their stated goals. Conquest of the United States and its “puppet regime” will not be the work of an afternoon, and the race ideology of Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism will not achieve its fulfilment in a reunified and hermetically sealed Korean peninsula.
Strangely enough, Clapper’s overview on WMD Proliferation is preceded by a section on Transnational Organized Crime — exactly the rubric under which one might expect to find the heriditary despotism of our present consideration. Also beyond probable is that the Central Committee of the Korean Workers Party is today less a government than it is a crime organization with a bogus government front and an itinerant photo-op figurehead. This is a distinction of note. A government may and perhaps must be overcome by means of war, but a crime operation may be better dealt with by striking at the root of its business empire.
The appalling degradations of North Korea’s “wavering” classes, the mass starvation and imprisonment, the concentration camps, the propaganda, the diversions of imminent war, and the military-first policy are all in the service of the so-called “core” class and especially in the rich indulgences of the Kims and their nearest allies. Into the slush fund of what is termed Office 39 have gone the vast proceeds of uranium trafficking, money laundering, counterfeiting of goods, and the narcotics trade. From this larger fund came the private accounts of Office 38 from which Kim Jong Il replenished his daily supply of cognac, lobster, and caviar, and by means of which he purchased loyalty.
Past sanctions have applied a claw to this fund, and more recent sanctions promise to advance the important work. There is much we do not know about North Korea, but the universal will to tighten the sanctions (universal because it now includes even China) focuses our attention on what we do know: that the Korean Workers Party is first and foremost a vicious gang of criminal thugs.