Wednesday, December 27, 2006

North Korea in decline?

Information leaking out of North Korea suggests both the economy and internal political support for the Kim Jong-il regime are deteriorating. In recent weeks, South Korean media have cited intelligence and other sources claiming the financial restrictions imposed by the U.S. Treasury are having an effect.

For years the State Department and Pentagon tried without success to find ways to pressure North Korea. The Kim dynasty that has ruled the country since World War II emphasizes "juche," or self-reliance, refusing to make concessions to obtain foreign aid, even if it means allowing its people to starve.

But now the Treasury Department has found the North's Achilles heel -- the laundered money and luxury goods the leadership bestows on the military and other members of the elite to keep their support. In addition to blocking North Korean bank accounts, the Treasury convinced financial institutions worldwide, concerned about possible adverse effects on their dollar transactions, to stop doing business with North Korea. The drop in foreign exchange earnings reportedly is said to have forced Mr. Kim to suspend his custom of dispensing money and gifts to his top aides.

[The threat to Kim Jong-il’s] regime caused by unrest resulting from economic difficulties and food shortages. A South Korean aid official told the press the fuel shortage in the North is worse than he has ever seen it, and power outages are more frequent than at any time in the last 10 years.

South Korean intelligence reportedly claims the unrest has spread to the party, government, and military elites who keep Chairman Kim in power. ... Regime change is the only realistic long-term solution.

[Excerpt of commentary by James T. Hackett, The Washington Times]

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