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Criminal Sovereignty: Understanding North Korea's Illicit International Activities

Criminal Sovereignty: Understanding North Korea's Illicit International Activities - Cover

Authored by Dr. Paul Rexton Kan, Dr. Bruce E. Bechtol Jr., Mr. Robert M. Collins.

April 2010

47 Pages

Brief Synopsis

This monograph examines Office Number 39’s origins, organizational structure, and activities in order to develop a more calibrated strategy and policy to meet the North Korean challenge. This monograph focuses on Office Number 39's key illicit activities— to include manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs, the counterfeiting of U.S. currency, and the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit cigarettes. Finally, as Kim Jong-Il grows frailer, assessing how his successor may continue or alter Office Number 39’s activities is also examined.

Summary

North Korea’s criminal conduct—smuggling, trafficking, and counterfeiting—is well known, but the organization directing it is understudied or overlooked. Policymakers, military leaders, and scholars may feel that they have a reasonable grasp on how and why North Korea is actively involved in criminal enterprises. However, unlike the other remaining communist states “orphaned” after the Cold War, or ordinary corrupt autocratic regimes, or criminally linked warlords and insurgent groups, North Korea practices a form of “criminal sovereignty” that is unique in the contemporary international security arena. North Korea uses state sovereignty to protect itself from external interference in its domestic affairs while dedicating a portion of its government to carrying out illicit international activities in defiance of international law and the domestic laws of numerous other nations. The proceeds of these activities are then used in a number of ways to sustain North Korea’s existence and to enable other policies. For example, criminal proceeds are distributed to members of the North Korean elite (including senior officers of the armed forces); are used to support Kim Jong-il’s personal life style; and are invested in its military apparatus.

The authors of this monograph focus on North Korea’s Office #39 as the state apparatus that directs illicit activities to include the manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs, the counterfeiting of U.S. currency, and the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit cigarettes. Finally, as Kim Jong-Il becomes more frail, the authors assess how his successor may continue or alter Office #39’s activities.


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