This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Aug. 23, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (2nd L) visiting the Chemical Material Institute of the Academy of Defense Science at an undisclosed location. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korea is a regime sustained largely on criminal enterprises, from slavery to illegal arms deals, with a carnivorous economy now left gnawing at bones due to international sanctions.
A hint at the size of the problem comes from Kim Jong Un’s recent New Year’s speeches where he mentioned his recent nuclear advances just 42 times over seven speeches compared to 120 mentions of the economy.
Clearly his audience cares more about rice and shoes than nuclear-tipped ICBMs.
Kim is facing a new generation of North Koreans that have been widely exposed to South Korean media, familiar with lifestyles denied to all but the elite in North Korea. They are demanding higher living standards, more market freedom, and access to the kind of everyday goods like cell phones and television programs that are still luxuries in the Hermit Kingdom.
In this photo taken on June 6, 2017, women look at a mobile phone as they ride a tram in Pyongyang. (ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Kim’s speeches emphasized the need for economic development across all sectors. But such growth faces a major impediment—a chokehold of sanctions.
Kim’s supposed olive-branch to South Korea, a round of talks aimed at figuring out North Korea’s participation in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, is almost certainly to feature repeated calls for a lessening of sanctions or direct bilateral aid.
South Korea has often provided North Korea with money and food, an effort to ease relations that some analysts have blamed for helping sustain the North’s communist regime.
But with the North now brandishing a nuclear negotiating card, it is more important than ever that the United States and South Korea keep something clear, according to one academic. Any effort to negotiate with the Kim Jong Un needs to acknowledge that North Korea is a criminal enterprise.
To deal with Kim effectively, nations must remember Kim is most accurately described as a gangster. His most critical weakness is money and how he gets it, writes Robert Huish, an associate professor in International Development Studies at Dalhousie University.
A man watches a television news screen showing a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un delivering a statement in Pyongyang, at a railway station in Seoul on Sept. 22, 2017. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
“View him as a thug. And like any gangster, understand how he makes money and what really scares him.”
Kim is desperate for cash, write Huish in a recent piece published by The Conversation.
The Kim regime is isolated and needs resources for its nuclear and missile programs. And unlike actual governments, the North Korean regime will resort to any means to get what it wants.
“Kim acquires weapons by sea, he pays for them with narcotics, cyber-attacks and cryptocurrency. Masterful smugglers, North Korean vessels run under flags of convenience, shell companies process the funds, and other vessels entering North Korean waters deceptively turn off their broadcast identifiers,” writes Huish.