by Austin Bay
May 14, 2003
Heroin, atom bombs, ballistic missiles and counterfeit cash.
Plot elements in a schlock spy thriller? Actually, they're NorthKorea's premier exports, the tawdry trade items of a poverty-wracked nationwhose ruling clique lives quite well on the profits of drugs, weapons,bribery and plain old criminal fraud.
At its iron and evil core, Kim Jong Il's North Korean regime isa criminal syndicate with a million-man army and now crude nuclear weapons.
It's also a frightened clique, whose latest nuclear tantrum hasnudged its Asian neighbors closer to accepting the U.S. view that the regimecannot be reformed and a "containment and negotiation" strategic approach toPyongyang simply gives the regime more time to deploy weapons of massdestruction. South Korea's "sunshine policy" of "generous engagement" was anutter failure, merely a cash cow for the North Korean regime.
North Korea's heroin escapades demonstrate the regime'scalculated depravity -- and why it ultimately has no place in 21st centuryAsia.
For years, the rumor mill had North Korean diplomats meetingembassy expenses by dealing drugs. The amounts were supposedly small -- akilo or two slipped in via diplomatic pouch, the proceeds going to keep thelights on and fund clandestine operations.
On April 20, an Australian special operations unit seized aheroin-loaded North Korean freighter in the Tasman Sea off the Australiancoast. A Washington Post story noted the freighter, the Pong Su, hadexpanded fuel tanks for long-distance operations and sophisticatedcommunications gear. Get cranking on that novel -- she's a spy ship turnedinto a specialized drug delivery vessel.
The Pong Su bust exposes drug trafficking as North Korean statepolicy. While other Asian nations invest in education and high-techmanufacturing, North Korea's Marxists put scarce resources into smugglingsmack. Heroin sales provide just enough cash to provide regime bigwigs withplush digs and, one supposes, further nuclear research.
Crime pays for Pyongyang. For a decade, the NoKo cartel ran asuccessful bribery scam. Pay us off and we won't make bombs was the dealPyongyang offered the Clinton administration in 1994. Washington suppliedheavy fuel and light water reactors. The United States hoped that meetingNorth Korea's basic energy and food requirements would ultimately reducebelligerency.
North Korea never canned its nuclear program, and last year theBush administration caught the cheats.
Now, Pyongyang's mobsters are into extortion. Unless Washingtonponies up cash, they threaten to sell nuclear weapons to interested buyers.Saddam's no longer in the market, but Al Qaeda is.
In the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Pyongyang'sstrident threats sound, well, a bit too strident. While many militaryanalysts believe North Korea's would resist a hypothetical U.S. militaryattack, Kim's dictatorship knows it's vulnerable. Kim saw what "out ofnowhere" quick-reaction U.S. precision airstrikes did to the Iraqileadership.
Now the regime needs to know it's strident threats havebackfired.
Japan, the presumed soft touch in the blackmail scam, is nowdiscussing improving its offensive military capacity, and that could meanJapanese nuclear weapons. No one in Asia wants a militarily resurgent Japan,particularly China.
If the SARS virus worries Beijing, you can bet Shanghai thoseworries are small change compared to the political and military significanceof a Japanese bomb, or a high-tech Japanese Army and Air Force prepared forAsian expeditionary operations.
China is playing an important role in current North Koreannegotiations, but it must do more. If we're to avoid a nuclear disaster inAsia, the United States can't be the only cop on the beat. Beijing doesn'twant Japan wearing a sheriff's badge -- that means Beijing has to act like aresponsible regional power.
China sent North Korea a message when it briefly cut off oilsupplies, but brief doesn't cut it with these drug lords. Kim's regime saysimposing an embargo on North Korea is an act of war. But a "slow war" isalready being waged, with heroin an arrow in Pyongyang's arsenal. The UnitedStates is at war with Al Qaeda, and North Korea has threatened to sell AlQaeda nukes. Beijing knows this.
A "python" embargo -- an all embracing squeeze on Kim'sregime -- is rapidly becoming the best option for ending Pyongyang's crimespree. A real python embargo means no goods leave, no goods enter, by land,sea or air.
It's time for Beijing to decide if it's going to help police theneighborhood.