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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Slave to the Blog: The I-Threes Edition

by | August 1st, 2014 | 06:19 am

Must be something about tropical islands and ganja. Here in Hawaii, where I am temporarily based, Bob Marley’s birthday is a big deal and Gregory Issacs used to perform in the football stadium. (No kidding—the Cool Ruler played Aloha Stadium.) The local reggae scene is large enough to support multiple radio stations and competing stylistic factions. So yesterday’s musical commentary was by Toots; today it’s by the I-Threes.

“I” number one: Inequality. Anecdotal accounts imply that inequality in North Korea is rising, though it is hard to get a handle on this quantitatively. The most recent tidbit: earlier this month Radio Free Asia reported that rising school costs were driving up the dropout rate. The state of public education in North Korea seems to be one of those issues where there may be a very large gap between what we think we know and reality. Many ballyhooed last year’s increase in the number of years of compulsory public education, but the survey work that Steph Haggard and I did showed that in reality many respondents– at least among some cohorts in some socio-economic classes–had less education than prescribed on paper. This result was particularly striking insofar as these responses were self-reported and not subject to verification, so if there were a bias, it would surely be in respondents exaggerating their educational credentials, not downplaying them. Add to this the frequent anecdotes of families scrounging to bribe teachers so that their children pass through the system and are properly credentialed and the picture that emerges is of a public education system that is collapsing, at least in the hinterlands.

“I” number two: Iran. The title of the newspaper story pretty much stays it all: “Judge finds North Korea, Iran liable for missile damages.” Michael Doyle of McClatchey, which has done some really good North Korea reporting over the years, writes that federal judge Royce Lamberth found North Korea and Iran liable for damages caused by a series of Hezbollah missile attacks on Israel in 2006:

“’North Korea provided Hezbollah with advanced weapons, expert advice and construction assistance in hiding these weapons in underground bunkers, and training in utilizing these weapons and bunkers to cause terrorist rocket attacks on Israel’s civilian population,’ Lamberth wrote, ‘and Iran financed North Korea’s assistance and helped transport weapons to Hezbollah.’

Indeed, Lamberth’s decision in a case first filed on behalf of Chaim Kaplan and other survivors and family members in 2009 is a primer, of sorts, on the linkages between Iran, North Korea and Hezbollah.

‘Hezbollah members began travelling to North Korea for specialist instruction as early as the late 1980s,’ Lamberth noted. ‘Hezbollah General-Secretary Hassan Nasrallah himself visited North Korea for training purposes during this time.'”

Lamberth added that Among other noted Hezbollah members who underwent training in North Korea was Mustafa Badreddine, who served as the movement’s counter-espionage chief in the 2006 war, as well as the head of Hezbollah’s security and intelligence service.”

“I” number three: Iran, again, though this time in German. Someone (forgot who, sorry!) passed along a piece from Die Welt written by Hans Rühle, the former  Head of Planning in the German Ministry of Defense, that basically argues that the analysis of Swedish nuclear physicist Lars-Erik De Geer is probably correct, and that there were actually two explosions associated with North Korea’s third nuclear test. Then there are two hypotheses as to why. The first is that the coincident tests were designed to disguise progress on the uranium enrichment program with the implication that North Korean progress on weaponization may be further advanced than commonly understood. The second hypothesis is that one of the two tests was done for Iran. For a fee, of course.