Politics & Policy

Pyongyang’s “Broken Windows”

The State Department should take some lessons from law enforcement.

Last month, the Center for Security Policy cosponsored an international conference in London that considered the transforming effect the approach to community policing known as “broken windows” had on the rehabilitation of American cities where it has been applied, starting with New York. Reduced to its essence, the theory goes that evidence of lawlessness and societal dysfunction, such as unremediated vandalism, invites more criminal behavior. Corrective actions that restore a sense of law and order — including literally fixing broken windows, eliminating graffiti, and cleaning up abandoned properties — and an intensified community-based police presence in neighborhoods have been proven to reduce crime.

#ad#Today, a similar syndrome is at work at the international level. Under its dictator Kim Jong Il, North Korea has become a classic example of “broken windows.” The spate of ballistic missile launches July Fourth weekend by the Stalinist “Hermit Kingdom” is but the most recent, glaring reminder that the blight that nation represents is not just bringing down the neighborhood, however. It constitutes a metastasizing danger on a global scale.

This metaphor holds true in another respect: As the Bush administration contemplates what to do about Kim Jong Il in the wake of his “provocative” missile tests, it is receiving advice very like that previously given to big-city mayors about how to deal with crime. Typically, this amounts to psychobabble about the criminals seeking attention and the need to understand — and satisfy — their demands for recognition, financial assistance and integration into civilized society.

North Korea’s government is even less worthy of legitimization, to say nothing of underwriting, than Mafia and other criminal organizations in the United States. It is, after all, guilty of a monstrous crime surpassed by few others in human history (i.e., the genocides perpetrated by Nazi Germany, Stalin’s U.S.S.R. and Mao’s PRC): the deliberate death by starvation to which some 2.5 million North Koreans have been subjected by Kim Jong Il.

The West’s willingness to ignore this ultimate “broken window” has been of a piece with its indifference to North Korea’s other crimes at home, notably, the system of slave labor camps and its brutal mistreatment of political prisoners and other dissidents.

We have even tended largely to turn a blind eye towards other criminal activities upon which the regime in Pyongyang depends for its survival and which are perpetrated at the expense of Americans among others. These include: drug-trafficking, money-laundering, counterfeiting, alien-smuggling, gunrunning, proliferation of nuclear technology, and ballistic missiles and gambling operations in Japan.

An exception was last September’s “Operation Smoking Dragon” — the name given to a U.S. Treasury-led effort to address one aspect of Pyongyang’s “broken windows” by imposing financial sanctions on Banco Delta Asia in Macau. Pyongyang had long used the bank to launder North Korean-counterfeited dollars, yen, Thai bhat, and euros. In the case of U.S. currency, this has been going on for decades and now involves so-called “supernotes” that are of exceedingly high quality. An American interagency task force estimates that $45-60 million has been “minted” by North Korea.

The freezing of some $25 million in Banco Delta’s assets apparently had a profound effect on North Korea. The Los Angeles Times has reported that:

North Korean banks kept large sums of money in the Macao bank. Now, with those accounts suspended and other banks frightened off by the Treasury Department action, North Korea has been largely cut off from international trade. “The impact is severe,” said Nigel Cowie, a British banker based in Pyongyang….In a telephone interview from Pyongyang, Cowie said that North Korea, because it had no credit and a weak banking system, dealt almost exclusively in cash….

This episode offers an insight into other courses of action that might now be adopted by the United States and Japan — the only other of the so-called “six parties” seemingly willing to address what the government of North Korea is doing to the neighborhood, and beyond. It is time to come to grips with Pyongyang’s “broken windows”; the object should be to put Kim Jong Il’s criminal enterprise out of business.

Toward that end, Japan should be encouraged to: cut off remittances from Korean exiles (worth by some estimates as much as $1 billion per year); prevent the repatriation of proceeds from North Korean-operated “pachinko” gambling parlors; and refuse to bail out a dozen-or-so North Korean-associated savings-and-loan institutions in Japan that have reportedly run up $7 billion in bad loans.

Western governments should end credit guarantees for investment in the North. And U.S. and Japanese vessels should intensify efforts to intercept Pyongyang’s various smuggling operations.

The private sector can also play a role. An American public trust fund called the Missouri Investment Trust (MIT) just showed how. Under the leadership of the chairman, State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, MIT’s board of directors decided to divest from portfolio all stocks of companies doing business with U.S. government-designated state sponsors of terror, including North Korea. As with South Africa, should such a divestment policy become widely adopted by U.S. public pension funds and other institutional and private investors, it will have the effect of further denying the North Korean regime vital financial resources.

These tools will, of course, be made vastly more successful in bringing about change in Pyongyang if they are accompanied by real pressure from Communist China, upon whom the North relies heavily for energy, food, economic assistance, and political support. The PRC’s enabling of North Korea’s criminal behavior, however, can no longer be allowed to justify the failure by America and its more responsible allies to take meaningful steps to correct that behavior.

The Bush administration must come to grips with a central reality. The “six-party talks” are the equivalent to negotiations with the Mob and its patrons. No good can come of them, even if North Korea can finally be induced to participate in them once again. The same is true of the U.N. Security Council, which makes a practice of ignoring the international equivalents of “broken windows” or, worse, of protecting the perpetrators from justice.

We have little hope of safeguarding our freedoms and interests as long as we encourage the rest of the world to join us in looking on with indifference at the “broken windows” associated with the egregious criminal conduct of a regime like North Korea’s.

– Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a contributor to National Review Online.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. — Frank Gaffney began his public-service career in the 1970s, working as an aide in the office of Democratic senator Henry M. Jackson, under Richard Perle. From August 1983 until November ...

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