Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sticking it to North Korea's banks

Joshua Stanton, the passionate defender of North Korea's downtrodden (and the host of one of my favorite blogs, One Free Korea), makes no bones about his utter lack of faith that so-called "Sunshine Policy" — most any other kind of engagement — will work to change North Korea's power structure and end the suffering of the people caught in the prison that the DPRK now is.

But neither is Mr Stanton without a solution of his own. He is a firm believer that a well-orchestrated regimen of restrictions — starting in particular at the banking level — can work to break the back of the Pyongyang regime, even if China doesn't go along. (Mr Stanton, please feel free to correct that description and, if you remember where it was, provide the link where you laid out this plan in response to a question of mine.) [UPDATE: Joshua Stanton provided the link to his "Plan B."]

And although he probably did not vote for Barack Hussein Obama, he seems pleasantly surprised that President Obama is trying (for now) to do what he sees as the right thing. Well, I guess I'd have to say I see it as the right thing... at least the right thing to earnestly try.

And today's AP story (via WaPo) is in that vein:
The Obama administration's push to settle a tense nuclear standoff with North Korea is being spearheaded not by soldiers on a battlefield or big-name diplomats but by government officials knocking on the doors of banks throughout Asia.

The Democratic White House's effort borrows a page from former President George W. Bush's Republican playbook: Pyongyang unwilling to bend? Negotiating partners wary of tougher sanctions? Then bypass messy international diplomacy and hit the North where it hurts: its foreign bank accounts.

American officials are traveling around Asia, targeting private banks that might have North Korean ties. They hope to block money that could be used for missiles and nuclear bombs and, ultimately, to drive North Korea back to stalled disarmament talks.

The strategy is simple, according to interviews with past and current U.S. officials responsible for implementing it. And, they say, it works, which has not been the case with tortuous nuclear negotiations with the North.

The officials tell bankers that North Korea uses its accounts to hide counterfeiting of U.S. currency, to launder money, to smuggle cigarettes and drugs. The banks could face potentially dire consequences if they are seen as helping illicit activities.

U.S. officials say bankers find their visits difficult to ignore.
I have long believed that a measured form of engagement (Sunshine Policy Lite?) could provide positive benefits for the long run, but only if applied in a clear carrot-and-stick approach, which was generally not the case under Roh Moohyun's leadership. Even if Mr Stanton disagrees with me there, I at least see the plan he supports as a necessary form of stick.

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