Week 2: What fuels DPRK?

What channels does North Korea use to bypass sanctions?

No cars on North Korea’s main highway Ships coming in and out the Wonsan port

  • Ensuring that the sponsor-provided problem is a key component in the wider issue of enforcing sanctions
  • (Dis)proving our ideas as to who are the actors relevant to the problem
  • Forming a hypothesis as to what form should our solution take

This week’s goals

Overall, while in the previous week our focus was largely on who we should serve, this week we were trying to get closer to establishing what they need.

Working hypothesis:

  • Illegal maritime trade in hydrocarbons is crucial to the DPRK sanctioned weapons programme

The hypothesis has been proven

“Devoiding North Korea of illegally smuggled petroleum would metaphorically and literally deprive the DPRK war machine of fuel.”

EU Office of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security

“North Korea has a $3.4 billion dollar total import economy. When we stop a $1 million dollar refined petroleum shipment, that has a major impact.”

North Korea Policy Expert

The two interviews have strongly indicated that illegal maritime imports of refined petroleum are a key part of the problem. It is furthermore the only one that would seem to be under at least partial control of US and allied assets, as opposed to DPRK’s other suspected revenue sources.

  • The key obstacle towards efficient interdictions is the diplomatic/legal procedure involved (taking upwards of a day

The hypothesis has not yet been proven despite strong indications

The interviews have provided us with a thorough overview of the marine interdiction process and the legal/diplomatic aspects behind it. In further weeks, we will try to look for possible improvements in the procedure and look for potential time gains which would allow US/allied assets to increase their interdiction efficiency.

Post-interview summary

The team has conducted 11 interviews with relevant actors and contacted another 36. The noteworthy conversations were:

  1. Allen Weiner (Professor, International law, Former State Dept Legal Office)
  2. Tess Bridgeman (Professor, Sanctions Expert, Former State Dept)
  3. Andrzej Sikorski (Current Acting Polish Ambassador to DPRK)
  4. Matthew Kaseman (OSD Korea Policy Team)
  5. Richard Nephew (Former State Dept)
  6. Cliff Johnson (Former State Dept Legal Office)
  7. Newell Highsmith (Former State Dept Legal Office)
  8. Greg Terryn (Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation)
  9. Jennifer Chalmers (Department of State)
  10. Matthew Kaseman (Office of the Secretary of Defense)
  11. Official (preferred not to be identified), (EU Office of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security)

Key Learnings

  • Interdiction of illicit importation of refined petroleum likely has significant impact on North Korean leadership decision making.
  • Maritime interdiction often requires extensive diplomatic clearance, even when pursuant to a Chapter 7 UNSCR.

Next steps

Evaluate Refined Petroleum Maritime Interdiction Effectiveness:

  • Continue to engage experts on how sanctions are being felt within the DPRK
  • Continue to build interview chain to State Dept Negotiators/White House actors

Improving Flag State Approvals:

  • Seek out ship commanders, State Department Desk officers, Flag State Post personnel, and common Flag state diplomats/experts to better understand the clearance process
  • Identify where standing Government groups have had success in similar areas
  • Formulate potential international agreement that might eliminate need for case-by-case Flag State approvals

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