Monday, March 7, 2016

A Strategic Strangulation Campaign for North Korea: Is the International Community Ready for What May Come Next?


A Strategic Strangulation Campaign for North Korea: Is the International Community Ready for What May Come Next?

David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He served in the US Army for 30 years retiring as a Special Forces Colonel.

North Korea Map

The United Nations Security Council passed what has been called the toughest sanctions regime (UNSCR 2270) against North Korea in response to its nuclear weapons program and the threat it poses to the Republic of Korea, Japan, the United States, and the international community.  Has the UN and the international community, to include China and Russia, reached the breaking point over the behavior of Kim Jong-un and his threat to regional stability as well as the crimes against humanity being perpetrated against the 25 million Korean people in the north living under the yoke of brutal oppression that surpasses anything experienced in the 20th and 21st centuries from Hitler to Mao to Pol Pot?  If so, is the international community ready for what comes next?
Kim Jong-un appears to be taking this seriously and has already responded; within hours after the UN Security Council approved the resolution the military launched projectiles into the East Sea.  Kim Jong-un has stated that he is now making his nuclear weapons ready for use.  As we have long known, he has no intention of giving up his nuclear weapons program as he believes it is key to his survival and to his ability to deter external threats.  His directive to make his nuclear weapons ready is an apparent doubling down.
The sanctions regime has the potential to affect significantly the regime elite and the North Korean Peoples Army.  From aviation fuel to Rolex watches to financial actions to having all shipping into and out of North Korea inspected for compliance, these sanctions may cause three major effects if they are actually enforced by the international community.  First, the best case and desired objective is that the Kim Family Regime will change its behavior and become a responsible member of the international community.  This is highly unlikely given the nature of the regime and past history.  Second, and most likely and as we have already seen, it could cause a provocation response from North Korea. Third, and most dangerous and complex, if these sanctions are sustained over time is that internal instability could grow in Pyongyang as the military and the elite suffer and the regime is unable to provide the necessary resources for the military to sustain operations and the elite to maintain its standard of living.
These sanctions provide the foundation for what can be called a campaign of strategic strangulation that is focused on the regime elite and the military.  China has worked to ensure that the sanctions do not affect the Korean people living in the north but remain targeted on what is known as the mafia-like crime family cult called the Kim Family Regime and its military.  The question remains whether the international community will aggressively enforce the sanctions.  Unfortunately, it is possible that some nations may not fully enforce the sanctions for fear of potential instability in North Korea and the ensuring fallout.  For this campaign to successfully affect regime behavior all illicit activities by the regime must be stopped.  From counterfeiting US hundred dollar bills, medicine, and cigarettes to drug trafficking to money laundering, nations around the world must enforce their laws and prevent North Korean diplomats from using their status to generate and transport hard currency to the regime.  Intelligence and law enforcement action should focus on the illegal activities of North Korean diplomats, as this will reinforce the UN sanctions regime.  Interestingly, the Philippines is the first nation to enforce UNSCR 2270 holding a North Korean ship in port, allowing UN inspectors to do their job, and announced that it will impound the ship and deport the crew.
It is likely that the regime will respond with the basic tactic of its decades old strategy, which is to conduct provocations to gain political and economic concessions.  In addition to the launch of projectiles into the East Sea, we are likely to see continued nuclear testing and missile launches, potential naval action in the West Sea, and attacks along the Demilitarized Zone, among others, perhaps not immediately but over time as the sanctions continue.  Although we have experienced all of these before, the regime can be expected to continually change tactics seeking vulnerabilities in the ROK/US military alliance while attempting to gain the initiative through provocation.  However, the ROK military response to the August 2015 provocations illustrates the way to respond: decisive military response at the time and place of the provocation.  The ROK response caused the regime to call for talks and the ROK was able to extract the concession of family reunions two months later.
The most dangerous outcome of the strategic strangulation campaign could be instability and regime collapse.  As we developed the initial plans in the 1990’s to prepare for this contingency we defined collapse as the loss of the ability of the Korean Workers Party to govern the entire territory of the north from Pyongyang, combined with the loss of coherency of the military and its support for the regime.  If the elite and military cannot be well cared for by the regime, it is possible that there will be resistance from within the elite.  Although we have identified myriad scenarios for implosion (defined as the effects contained within the north) and explosion (where the effects spill over to neighboring nations), due to the sophisticated and ruthless suppression mechanism it will be difficult for multiple members of the elite to conspire to resist Kim Jong-un. 
(Continued at the link below)

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