The government of North Korea is sanctioning and facilitating industrial scale exports of class A drugs
There are quite a lot of unpleasant psychoactive drugs in the world, and one of the worst is probably Methamphetamine, commonly known as Meth. Though most media attention is focused on America’s astronomically expensive ‘War on Drugs’, North Korea (DPRK) is also having its fair share of narcotic activity. Before the 1994-1998 famine in the People’s State, North Korea was sponsoring poppy production. It was a small operation, with ninety one hectares been cultivated every year, but this was devastated when a famine hit the country.
From 1998, North Korea has turned to Meth production. So much so, in 1999 40% of all Meth seized in Japan originated from the the hermit state. Ever since then, production and distribution has increased, spreading across all of South East Asia. It is estimated over half of North Koreans have tried the drug and many countries have branded it as a huge scale drugs pandemic. But what does this mean for North Korea politically? This isn’t simply another sad story which makes up the overall misery and suffering present in the country.
Currently, the South Korean government estimates around ten to fifteen tonnes of Meth is shipped out from the DPRK every year, which isn’t a huge amount considering forty tonnes of cocaine entering the United States from Mexico can be done within two hours. However, the fact such drugs are distributed and how, are what is important. Under the auspices of the Foreign Affairs Department in the DPRK government, the ‘Ryugyong Corporation’ operates the country’s drug business. And in a surprisingly capitalist manner. Specialist equipment is shipped in from Hong Kong, and Ryugyong officials are present in many neighbouring countries to sell their wears, often competing, or working with, infamous groups such as the Yakuza and Triads. Though in typical North Korean fashion, their profits eventually end up in the pocket of the state.
Furthermore, these secret dealings are also on the ‘high politics’ stage as well. Though vigorously denied by the North Korean government, defectors now claim DPRK diplomatic missions are given Meth to sell in their respective countries. South Korean and Chinese officials have discovered evidence of the secret cargo and even instructions informing diplomats they must raise a certain amount of money and in what currency it should be. These dealings are managed by what is known as ‘Room 39’, deep in the vaults of the Foreign Affairs department, and is estimated to process $100-200 million every year. With embassies stretching from Lima to London, North Korea is not simply engaging in purely diplomatic missions, but black market financial ones as well.
On the surface, this appears to be another desperate, almost darkly comedic, attempt by the DPRK to rake in some foreign currency on the side. Yet with such a crumbling economy, where growth per year is around 0.2%, they mean serious business. North Korea certainly dreams of becoming a powerful leviathan on the world stage, and it will hope to achieve that by any realistic means necessary. With this in mind, allowing the Ryugyong Corporation to act capitalist and working with Yakuza operations in China, doesn’t really sound that shocking anymore. Yet, as always, there are victims in the sad saga that is the DPRK. As medicine supplies run dry throughout the country, the impoverished population often turn to the one drug available to them- Meth. In typical communist style, ruthless and illegal state sponsored profit making has triumphed over a population.
Finding it very hard to decide what his ideology actually is, Calum is probably an odd mix of Libertarianism and High Toryism. Think of William Buckley Jr and Margaret Thatcher happily chatting away with Enoch Powell hiding in the corner. Follow him on twitter @Weltpolitik.