North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile on October 4 over Japan. The Hwasong-12 traveled farther downrange than any other of Pyongyang's missiles. Setting a record pace, the test was the North's 23rd of the year. Two days later, it fired off two short-range missiles.
The Biden administration has done little to stop the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), so that regime is likely to engage in even more provocative behavior soon.
The U.S., in response to the launch, asked for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting, which was held on October 5th. As expected, nothing came of the session. China and Russia, blaming the United States for the North Korean launches, blocked any tightening of sanctions.
The Security Council in recent times has been deadlocked because Beijing and Moscow, each with a veto, have been adamant in protecting the Kim regime from international action. In May, both of them vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that would have imposed new sanctions on ballistic missile launches. All other members of the Security Council voted with Washington.
The Asia Times online news platform said that Chinese and Russian diplomats have "knee-capped" the Security Council.
China's and Russia's failure "to fully and completely fulfill their obligations... has only, we fear, emboldened the DPRK in undermining the U.N. Security Council, the international rules-based order, and global non-proliferation regime," said Daniel Kritenbrink, the U.S. State Department's Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, shortly after the October 4 launch.
"I don't think anyone should doubt our resolve in terms of pursing sanctions and other authority to impose a cost on these actions," Kritenbrink, the top U.S. diplomat for the region, added.
On the contrary, everybody should doubt American resolve. The U.S. has the power to stop North Korean missile tests but has chosen not to do so. This is true not only of the Biden administration but also its predecessors. The U.S. has continually decided to adopt feeble options.
Without money, the Kim regime could not, among other things, launch missiles. The United States, without China's and Russia's approval, can cut off money to the Kims.
Chinese banks have been laundering the North's proceeds of criminal and prohibited activity for decades. The Trump administration in June 2017 designated, pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act, China's Bank of Dandong to be of "primary money laundering concern." The designation meant the bank could no longer clear dollar transactions through the U.S. banking system.
If the designation was meant as a signal, Beijing ignored it. And the Chinese assessed the situation correctly. The Trump administration in 2018 decided not to enforce money-laundering laws against two of the "Big Four" Chinese banks, Agricultural Bank of China and China Construction Bank, which were handling suspicious transactions involving North Korea. Such a designation would have put these banks out of business everywhere outside China, and Beijing, as a practical matter, would have had to stop money-laundering for North Korea.
As a result of inaction, President Donald Trump gave Chinese institutions free passes to violate American statutes. The administration's decision, an abrogation of its responsibility to uphold the law, was deeply prejudicial to its efforts to disarm the Kim regime.
The Biden administration has continued Trump's lax posture. As sanctions expert Joshua Stanton told Gatestone, Biden "is on track to a record low level of enforcement, both qualitatively and quantitatively."
"Treasury has issued small civil penalties to an American bank, and Australian shipper, and an American gift card company for unlicensed deals with North Korea," Stanton points out. "It did not announce any indictments or major penalties against three major Chinese banks that defied a Washington, D.C. grand jury investigation into laundering money for North Korea." The failure to designate is particularly egregious because these banks had been held in contempt of court.
The administration has the goods on the North Koreans and the Chinese but has continually failed to act. "This failure is a choice," says Stanton, who also writes on North Korea sanctions issues at One Free Korea. "The money Kim Jong Un obtains by fraud, computer hacking, and ransomware and which he uses to build bombs to threaten us is being laundered through our banks. We're giving Xi Jinping and Kim de facto immunity to keep right on doing it."
North Korea, analysts believe, will detonate a nuclear device sometime soon, perhaps later this month or next, in what will be its seventh test of a nuclear device. At some point, the Kim regime will make good on its promise, made in front of a New York City audience in September 2017, to detonate a thermonuclear weapon in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. North Korea in November 2017 tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15, which can reach any part of the continental United States.
North Korea's accelerated testing of missiles is a reminder that Kim is quickly developing the power to destroy American cities. Perhaps the only things his technicians cannot do is miniaturize a nuclear device and shield it from heat upon reentry to the atmosphere. These are, however, capabilities his military, perhaps with China's help, will develop soon.
Americans might wonder how one of the most destitute regimes on earth can build weapons capable of killing most every American. They may also wonder why Washington has done almost nothing to stop the North Koreans from selling their weapons to Iran, among others.
The answer is that every American president from George H. W. Bush on has refused to wield American power to protect Americans from a known and existential danger.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China, a Gatestone Institute distinguished senior fellow, and a member of its Advisory Board.