When I first suggested writing commentary in support of an embargo of North Korea to several national security experts, they were less than excited about it. They were full of reasons as to why an embargo was a dangerous idea. I understand and appreciate their concern. But the idea is at least worthy of inclusion in the conversation over how to deal with the increasingly aggressive and nuclear regime in Pyongyang.
Any information about North Korea is subject to skepticism because it is a closed society, thus data are not reliable. First, the best estimate for real GDP is about $16 billion. The 100th-largest city in the United States is Reno, Nevada, and it has the same GDP as the entire country of North Korea: $16 billion.
According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, North Korea in 2016 had approximately $3.47 billion in imports and $2.83 billion in exports. Coal represented 34 percent of its exports. The number-one import was oil, at $180 million. China now accounts for 90 percent of all of North Korea’s exports. Coming in at an incredible distance in second place is India, at 3.1 percent.
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The budget of the North Korean government is $3.2 billion with military spending accounting for about 30 percent of the budget. There are five major seaports in North Korea: one on the west coast, Nampho, and four on the east coast, Rajin, Chongjin, Wonsan and Hamhung.
Unlike the 1962 blockade of the island of Cuba, my proposed embargo would target the five North Korean ports, with the concentration on the two deep-water ports that can handle large ships. By stopping the flow of goods in and out of these ports, we could effectively shut down the country’s meager economy. We can use other ships to patrol the coastline, but the action would be at the ports.
China and Russia have indicated by their votes in the UN that they are opposed to the continuation of both missile and nuclear tests conducted by the Kim regime.
The United Nations Security Council this past weekend voted 15 to zero in favor of economic sanctions against North Korea over its testing program.
If we reached out to China, Russia, Japan, Australia and England to supply ships for a proposed embargo, the sheer act of openly talking about the coalition, the number of ships and the specter of total economic collapse may bring Kim to the table.
According to a CNN August 7 report, North Korea has tested 12 missiles in the first six months of this year. Real data on what it costs to build and launch these North Korean missiles is challenging to acquire. Some experts suggest a range of $100 million to $200 million per rocket. If we use the low end of a $100 million price tag, then North Korea spent $1.2 billion in the first six months of 2017.
According to the CIA World Fact Book and as stated above, the budget for North Korea is $3.2 billion for the year; so the $1.2 billion already spent represents one-third of the national budget. If the North Koreans continue at this pace, they will spend close to 100 percent of their total budget on missile tests. The nation’s already anemic economy has no buffer space for a total halt of exports. A full embargo of North Korean ports would be a game-ending catastrophe for the Kim regime, and it should be in the mix as a tool to force the North to the table.
Dan Perkins is an author, radio and TV talk-show host, current events commentator for seven blogs, and a philanthropist. His books are available on Amazon.com. More information about him, his writings, and other works are on his website, danperkins.guru.