This is the third post on North Korea; for the first see "Responsibility for North Korea's Nuclear Test" and the second see "More on North Korea Policy".
Pseudo-conservative debating tactics usually involve significant amounts of misinformation and distortion of the facts. This not only comes from the Bush 43 administration but also from right-wing "think" tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation. Selig Harrison, as a distinguished North Korea watcher and advocate of bilateral negotiations with the North Koreans, recently made appearances on the Lehrer Newshour (October 17) and on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show (October 18). (See Harrison’s book, Korean Endgame, 2003.) On both of these programs he was opposed by representatives of the Heritage Foundation. For examples of misinformation and distortion let’s look at the Newshour debate with Balbina Hwang.
First Harrison, who just returned from a visit to North Korea during which he spoke with several of its leaders, made a point he believed critical to the current stalemate between the North and the U.S.: “Well, I think we have financial sanctions that have been in place for the last year. Just at the time when we concluded the agreement with North Korea to denuclearize on September 19th of last year, we were starting up a program of financial sanctions then which have hurt. They've not only hurt the leadership, but they've hurt the economic development of North Korea. They're trying to develop economic reforms. If they want to import equipment for a factory to make consumer goods, these banking sanctions have made that impossible. So we say we want to open up North Korea to the outside world, but we've been clamping down on them for the past year. And that is what led to the first nuclear test. And if we get a second nuclear test, it's going to be because we put more pressure on. When you put the pressure on North Korea, they feel they have to prove their manhood by resisting it and doing something to show you that they're not going to be pushed around.”
Harrison contends that in September 2005, just days after concluding a widely publicized agreement with the North, the U.S. placed new financial sanctions on them. Hwang responds by essentially denying the charge that “financial sanctions” have been placed on the North: “First of all, the so-called financial sanctions that Selig Harrison is talking about, that's technically not even the right term. They are not sanctions. They were specific actions taken by our Treasury Department, the U.S. government, specifically targeting very specific actions against specific financial institutions that were involved in illegal activities, illegal financial transactions. That is what the Treasury Department has gone after…. [T]he actions taken by the Treasury Department since last year have cut down specific financial illegalities.”
Like a dutiful pseudo-conservative Hwang of the Heritage Foundation parrots the administration cover story that all that was involved here were attempts to stop alleged North Korean illicit activities. Harrison continued to insist this was not accurate: “At the very time when we were concluding the agreement with them last September, we were starting banking sanctions -- not the ones you're talking about. You're talking about a couple of cases where we're cracking down on counterfeiting. But what you don't -- what Treasury Department doesn't like to talk about is that they've now begun to, and they've got it into the U.N. resolution now, is telling the banks of everywhere in the world: Do not deal with North Korea.” To underline this disagreement as to fact there follows this exchange:
BALBINA HWANG: But to illegality [sic] activities.
SELIG HARRISON: No, no, no.
BALBINA HWANG: It's illegal activities.
SELIG HARRISON: Unfortunately, read the Wall Street journal on August 23rd, and you'll see Undersecretary Stuart Levey saying we're telling banks, "No North Korea accounts. Don't touch these people."
Let’s examine some other evidence bearing on this question of fact. The March 10, 2006 New York Times included this article: “U.S. Squeezes North Korea's Money Flow”. The article stated: “Six months after the Bush administration blacklisted a bank in Macao accused of laundering money for the North Korean government, senior administration officials say the action has proved to be far more effective than anyone had dreamed. Banks around the world are limiting their dealings with North Korea, and the nation's leadership is complaining with a vigor unusual even for that government. ''It really struck a nerve,'' a senior administration official said with a smile. It also has given new energy to those in the administration who have argued for years that the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks were a waste of time and that direct action was the only tactic that might force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. Since the Treasury Department ordered American banks to cut off relations with the Macao bank, Banco Delta Asia, on Sept. 15, the administration has repeatedly insisted that the law enforcement action was unrelated to the nuclear negotiations. Only now are officials saying that further law enforcement actions are planned, and their use has coalesced into a strategy (emphasis added).”
The article continued: “Senior officials said the White House has given the Treasury and Justice departments full authority to take additional legal and financial actions against North Korea. This policy is not uniformly popular in the State Department, where officials are managing the six-nations talks that include the United States, Russia, South Korea, China and Japan. One senior official complained that the policy would turn the talks into nothing more than 'a surrender mechanism' (emphasis added).
Although there is some ambiguity this article seems to say that although the administration at first said they were only blocking illegal activities by March 2006 they were “saying that further law enforcement actions are planned, and their use has coalesced into a strategy.” And that “Banks around the world are limiting their dealings with North Korea.” The article also made it clear that these financial sanctions are meant to put pressure on the North Koreans during nuclear negotiations, i.e., not simply actions taken against illegal activities unrelated to the negotiations.
On September 8, 2006 Under Secretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey gave a talk to the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. Levey was the person Selig Harrison cited above because Levey is responsible for the North Korean financial sanctions. During this talk Levey stated: “As a result of these actions and public revelations about North Korea's criminal conduct, responsible foreign jurisdictions and institutions have taken steps to ensure that North Korean entities engaged in illicit conduct are not receiving financial services. Press reports indicate that some two dozen financial institutions across the globe have voluntarily cut back or terminated their business with North Korea, including institutions in China, Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Singapore…. Indeed, the line between North Korea's licit and illicit money is nearly invisible, and the U.S. Government is urging financial institutions around the world to think carefully about the risks of doing any North Korea-related business. If recent press reports are any guide, many seem to be doing just that (emphasis added).”
Again, while the initial story is about actions taken to specifically thwart illegal activities, it here clearly and unambiguously broadens into precisely what Harrison contended was happening and what North Korean representatives complained of to Harrison on his visit in September 2006: “and the U.S. Government is urging financial institutions around the world to think carefully about the risks of doing any North Korea-related business. If recent press reports are any guide, many seem to be doing just that.” Others have made the obvious point that if you are trying to stop money going to North Korea for illicit purposes “the line between North Korea's licit and illicit money is nearly invisible”; thus you end up trying to stop all money to North Korea and in doing that you are penalizing the economic growth of the entire society.
So pseudo-conservatives like Balbina Hwang are not contributing to an honest debate about our North Korea policy, they are the purveyors of propaganda and misinformation because they are so committed to punitive policies that they will say whatever they feel is necessary to support punitive policies. Therefore one seldom hears a serious discussion about the efficacy of punitive policies. Do they work? And, if so, under what conditions do they work? Selig Harrison made the case that: “When you put the pressure on North Korea, they feel they have to prove their manhood by resisting it and doing something to show you that they're not going to be pushed around.” Pseudo-conservatives appear so utterly and ideologically committed to punitive policies they cannot consider arguments like Harrison’s.