If all geopolitics are local, and entire regions can be described as neighborhoods—and they often are—North Korea is like a run-down, falling-apart shack, its starving residents barricaded inside by a mad, gun-toting patriarch, in an otherwise well-to-do-area where everyone drives nice cars, goes to good schools and posts pictures of their struggling neighbor on Instagram under the hashtag #SAD.
(Except instead of a gun, the eccentric leader has a nuclear warhead, and instead of a nice manicured lawn, the neighbors have enormous U.S. military bases.)
To torture the metaphor further, when North Korea does peek out from behind its boarded-up windows, it’s only to cause problems.
Like serving as the local trap house.
According to DailyNK, a Seoul, South Korea-based news source that relies on informants inside North Korea using contraband mobile phones to deliver the latest dish, economic sanctions have left the reclusive autocratic regime so strapped for cash that it’s resorted to dealing drugs to fund its clandestine nuclear program. In other words, if a ballistic missile wipes out Guam, as Donald Trump has hinted can happen, it’ll be because of the global appetite for speed and heroin.
As per these entirely reliable and unbiased reports:
Sources within North Korea say that companies have been “ordered to earn foreign currency” and, as legal means of doing so have been curtailed by the United Nations’ export bans, “are turning to drug manufacturing on an industrial scale.”
It works like this: North Korean diplomats will head to countries in Southeast Asia where narcotics are in high demand. They’ll stash the drugs in official diplomatic luggage, immune to search and seizure. Once in a foreign country at the embassy, they’ll then make a transaction with people who are into this sort of thing.
Experts on the country say that drug smuggling out of North Korea has been going on for decades.
Drugs of choice include stimulants made in university labs and poppies grown on North Korean farms, refined into heroin. In the early 1990s, so much methamphetamine—popular at the time as a medication in North Korea—was pouring into China that officials there had to admit on the record that it was a problem.
There have also been reports of Chinese tourists going to North Korea to buy marijuana—or what we’d call hemp. Hemp has been grown for fuel and fiber in North Korea for ages, but only recently has it dawned on its cultivators that visitors get a kick out of trying to smoke it.
However, economic sanctions and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s naked desire to become a big-shot on his block via threatening everyone around him with nuclear destruction have led the country to ramp up its drug-dealing operations. It’s not immediately clear what’s being shipped to where, but the need for hard specie in the short term is clear.
“The North has a long track record of manufacturing and selling drugs overseas, and it is a convenient fallback for the regime to ratchet up production when sanctions are stepped up and it is harder for them to export legitimate goods,” Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, said in an interview with DW.com. “It is clear that they need hard cash for their new military gadgets, and they know there is a big cash market for illegal drugs.”
If the reports are true, it would represent something of a trend among America’s bogeymen.
If you’re counted among Team America’s current axis of evil, you’re probably in the drug game. Reports out of the Middle East claim that in addition to being speed freaks, ISIS is also growing marijuana in Iraq and smuggling its jihadi weed into Turkey.
Drawing the obvious conclusions, if North Korea-watchers were serious about denying the country a revenue stream, someone might recommend an alternative to the decades-long not-so-Cold War waged on drugs. That would eliminate any incentive for the country to engage in narcotics trafficking.
But that would also remove the moral outrage—the same reserved for America’s domestic enemies, drug gangs and cartels. It’s almost as if this has been drawn from the same script.