North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, accompanied by his wife, Ri Sol-Ju, hosted a lavish gala at the People's Theatre in Pyongyang on September 10 to celebrate the "perfect success in the H-bomb test." Photo courtesy of KCNA/UPI | License Photo
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Despite U.S. envoy to the U.N. Nikki Haley's confidence in the efficacy of U.N. sanctions on North Korean behavior, sources close to the core of the Kim Jong Un regime claim that the supreme leader has succeeded in setting up a "capillary" system that remains unaffected by sanctions.
Such a system feeds into the largely cash-based informal economy and affiliated unregistered sectors, from which assistance gets channeled to the North Korean nuclear and missile program.
U.N. sanctions affect only the formal sector, which in the case of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, has only a limited role in the overall economy. Those privy to the thinking of the Pyongyang regime say that fresh sources of cash for the nuclear and missile program have been developed since 2013, mainly from the Middle East, that have resulted in an acceleration of efforts at achieving the objective of having the capacity to reach the U.S. mainland through missile-borne thermonuclear weapons.
The capital of Nepal is among the locations where a North Korean embassy is located, and it is, together with Phuket and Abu Dhabi, the preferred location for secret meetings between representatives of the DPRK and GHQ Rawalpindi, with whom Pyongyang has long had numerous "under- and over-the-radar" contacts.
Those familiar with Kim's leadership style, say he is far from an amateur but is instead a "thoughtful and brilliant individual, very similar in attitude and objectives to his grandfather," Kim Il Sung. They say that the young leader spends hours each day studying reports from across the world, especially from the United States, China, Japan and South Korea, so as to ensure that the regime's "master plan for Korean unification gets fulfilled before his 50th year."
Kim Jong Un was born in 1984 and assumed charge of the DPRK in 2011. The previous South Korean administration led by Park Geun-hye had framed its policies on the assumption that Kim Jong Un was unpopular and could be toppled, either through assassination or a coup organized by the military and security forces of the North.
Those familiar with his working style say such calculations are unrealistic, and that Kim Jong Un enjoys wide support within the DPRK, "much more than his father Kim Jong Il," who was regarded as being "too much trusting" of the promises of South Korean politicians, "especially of President Roh Tae-woo." They say that the slew of reform measures introduced by the new leader have ensured strong support, especially among the youth. At the same time, his staring down of the United States "has ensured the sincere support of the military, especially its middle and lower ranks."
A source with knowledge of the inner workings of the Kim regime claims that Kim Jong Il, even while his father Kim Il Sung was still alive, "leaned in favor of working out an agreement with South Korean
President Roh that would potentially involve the eventual shutting down of the nuclear weapons program." However, they claim that "pressure from the Bill Clinton administration," which was opposed to the Sunshine Policy as carried out by the peacenik president, ensured the disgrace of Roh and "the withdrawal by his successor Kim Young Sam of most of the concessions offered by Roh," thereby killing the chances for a nuclear deal between the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the DPRK.
By the time Kim Jong Il took over full power in 1994, Kim Young Sam was president of South Korea and "the [Clinton-inspired] withdrawal from the terms of peace offered by Roh Tae-woo was in full
swing," thereby causing Kim Jong Il to change his stance from supporting a deal to waiting for better terms than were offered by Kim Young Sam, "who was entirely in the hands of the U.S. administration, so far as policies toward the DPRK were concerned."
Perhaps as a consequence of the earlier history of harsh conditions sought by the United States "under the inspiration of Japan," Kim Jong Un has, from the start of his assumption of office in 2011, the same mistrust of the United States that his grandfather Kim Il Sung had, believing somewhat improbably that Washington wants to ensure that "Tokyo becomes the overlord of the noble and mighty Korean race, because they know that the Japanese will always do the bidding of the U.S., while we Koreans have a will of our own."
Mideast cash flows
According to those familiar with the supreme leader's style of functioning and his approach toward issues, by 2013 the grandson of the DPRK founder was in full charge of the state. Over the preceding
two years, Kim Jong Un removed (sometimes by execution) those he suspected of looking askance at his declared efforts at charting a course different from that of his father.
Since that time, "our brilliant and courageous supreme leader," they said, "has worked at multiplying alternative sources of financing and supply for the missile and nuclear programs." Part of the funding for both has come from dedicated information technology warriors able to penetrate financial systems across the globe to pecuniary advantage. Such money-raising methods focus on "zones less sensitive to U.S. radar, such as Africa and parts of Asia, rather than most of Europe, "although Ukraine is an exception."
However, an alternative track has developed. Increasingly, funding for the program has come from high net worth individuals in the Middle East, many of whom have been connected to DPRK cash supply chains through individuals in Pakistan who have long had an association with the DPRK. "Patriotic [Middle Eastern] individuals wish to revenge themselves on the U.S. for its domination of
Arab countries, and regard the development of our [the DPRK's] nuclear defensive program as being a means of ensuring such revenge."
Apparently,the calculation of those active in providing clandestine funding for Pyongyang's strategic strike force is that a fully developed nuclear offensive capability (by the DPRK against the United States) will at the least divert the attention of Washington from the Middle East to East Asia, thereby "giving an opportunity for local patriotic forces [within the Gulf Cooperation Council] to take control of regimes from those controlled by the U.S. warmongers."
It may be mentioned that Army GHQ Rawalpindi, with its reach into a network of hawala operators, is
certainly a potentially effective conduit for the channeling of substantial amounts of cash to North Korea, presumably after Pakistan army officers and associates keep a part of the proceeds for
themselves and for funding GHQ operations in Afghanistan and India.
Especially after 2013, the Pakistan army has reduced its clandestine operations with its U.S. counterparts, even while it has significantly ramped up such linkages with the Peoples Liberation Army, "which has a different perception regarding the DPRK than that held by the U.S. security establishment."
Indeed, it is clear that Russia and China do not realistically need to fear an attack even by a fully nuclearized North Korea, lines of communication between both and Pyongyang having remained substantial since the 1950s. Both Russia and China are vital to the survival of the ecosystem maintaining the Pyongyang regime and it would be unimaginable for either to be a military target of the DPRK. In contrast, Japan and the United States would be the most likely targets for offensive actions by the DPRK. However, the contacts spoken to repeat that Kim Jong Un would order an attack "only if it is clear that Japan and the U.S. are about to attack" North Korea.
They say that Kim is no warmonger, but a leader "devoted to the peaceful reunification of the Korean people and the global rise of the Korean people." The expectation is that the window for such
reunification would open, "once the U.S. and Japan desist from interfering in a matter involving only the Korean race," presumably because of worry that in retaliation for such intervention, North
Korean nukes would land on U.S. cities. Clearly,the bargaining position of Pyongyang with Seoul would get boosted, were the former to gain WMD capability of the highest order. Although verification of such claims is difficult, those contacted say that already "missiles that can reach California and Alaska" have been perfected, together with "tested" warheads, and that "this knowledge was made available last month to Tokyo and Washington through intentional dissemination of technical details."
Although there are credible reports of outside assistance to the North Korean missile and nuclear program, this is denied by those spoken to. They say that it is an insult to Korean brains to say that the DPRK needs help from "other races" in order to move ahead with the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and thermonuclear warheads, "which technology is after all six decades old."
The sources familiar with the workings of the Kim regime core claim that although the Russian and Chinese governments are "regrettably imposing U.N. sanctions", "ordinary Russians and Chinese who are opposed to U.S. hegemony ignore such rules and ensure help to us." Such informal
channels have created multiple small supply lines, the way that Ho Chi Minh created a capillary system for ferrying materiel and fighters to South Vietnam in the 1970s, despite the merciless bombing of highways, rivers and much else by the United States, acting under the direction of Nobel
Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger.
The persons contacted reveal that the Middle East is a location that has influential individuals who are "very sympathetic to the mission of the supreme leader to show the U.S. hegemons they can no longer rule the world." They admit that "some of our friends in Pakistan have been helpful in connecting such [Mideast HNI] elements to the informal cash network that feeds the nuclear and missile program. They, however, deny any link between such individuals and the Pakistan military, saying that the military in that country "will not stray from what Washington and Beijing want them to do, which is to assist in cruel and unjust sanctions." Despite such denials, however, there seems to have developed another A.Q. Khan-style network operating within Pakistan, this time supplying the
North Koreans not so much technology and components, as access to Middle Eastern cash, although it is likely that there exists clandestine to and fro flows of such items as well between the DPRK
No trust in U.S. promises
One fact seems clear from the discussion held with elements considered privy to the thinking of the DPRK leadership. This is that (1) any trust in U.S. assurances of safe conduct following the election of President Donald Trump has dwindled to zero, and that (2) Pyongyang will therefore press ahead with the nuclear and missile program without pause, irrespective of international diplomacy. (3) That Middle Eastern individuals opposed to the United States and its allies have started to be involved in
ensuring that sufficient cash gets funneled toward DPRK entities, including those not registered or regarded as such, so as to ensure a supply of brainpower and materiel that would improve DPRK delivery systems and thermonuclear warheads within Trump's term in office. (4) That the George W. Bush administration missed an opportunity to take out through force the DPRK's strategic capability (as it did in the case of Iran), the way Israel has occasionally acted in the case of its neighbors and may do so again.
The successor Barack Obama administration remained focused less on significant practical concessions than the provision of verbal guarantees of safe conduct that were shown to have been worthless in Iraq, Libya and Syria. In other words, "they offered just promises but expected in return not just words but irreversible action from us."
The North Koreans believe that NATO pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his
followers to (in effect) commit mass suicide rose substantially after his stock of chemical weapons was destroyed "with a part [according to these sources] kept apart to use occasionally so as to blame Assad for their use by [NATO] proxies."
(5) Kim Jong Un believes that only a capacity for mutually assured destruction between the United States and the DPRK will protect the country from a U.S.-Japan attack. As for South Korea joining the United States and Japan in a future conflict, the calculation within the leadership core in Pyongyang is that "the Korean people would revolt against the South Korean government, were Seoul to join Japan and the U.S. in attacking the heart of the Korean nation."
This may be an incorrect assessment, given the willingness of the South Korean military to take on the North. (6) Kim Jong Un is fixated on the same objective sought by his grandfather, which was to unify the peninsula under his leadership, and believes that nuclear capability would help
ensure this without a war with the South.
Nearly immune from U.S. attack
As time (and the nuclear program) moves ahead, the window for success at an affordable price in U.S., Japanese and South Korean lives in a military operation designed to destroy the North Korean nuclear and missile program seems to be closing. Kim Jong Un believes the Trump administration's fiery rhetoric to be a bluff, and thus far, events are bearing out such a view. Focusing exclusively on U.N. sanctions on the formal economy of the DPRK, the United States seems unaware of the way in which a vast and secretive sanctions-proof capillary network has been set up by the Pyongyang leadership to ensure that the nuclear and missile program meets the objective of reducing large
parts of cities on both U.S. coasts to radioactive rubble.
In other words, Kim Jong Un is dismayingly close to reaching a stage that would ensure immunity from attack from the United States and Japan. This would leave Pyongyang free to administer jabs and pinpricks at both, the way a nuclearized Pakistan has been doing with India since the 1980s,
beginning with the fomenting of the Khalistan insurgency and the revival of the Kashmir troubles.
Russia and China would watch from the sidelines as Japan and the United States experience the effects of asymmetrical warfare from a regime that makes itself immune through possession of deadly retaliatory force. Trump has a very short time to act, while his country will have generations to rue the fact, should he lose his nerve and allow the DPRK to evolve into a perpetual threat to the population and interests of Japan and the United States.
Madhav Das Nalapat is a professor and the director of the Department of Geopolitics & International Relations at Manipal University, UNESCO peace chair and the editorial director of The Sunday Guardian-India and NewsX channel.