2014 was another year of lasting conflict between the Unites States and North Korea.The tensions between the two countries will affect the decision making process in 2015. Sony Pictures Entertainment, a Hollywood old timer, is the distributor of the movie The Interview, a satirical comedy deriding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The movie tells a story about two journalists who killed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and paints North Korea in negative and sarcastic terms. There was an immediate sharp response from Pyongyang. Sony Pictures came under massive cyber-attack before screening.
The movie incited anger in North Korea and provoked subversive actions allegedly committed by North Korean government against the distributor. It deteriorated the relations between the countries.
Heads of states, national banners and national anthems are symbols of statehood. Disrespectful attitude always entails tough official response. North Korean political culture has specific features – the national leader is treated with utmost respect as the man who enjoys a special status in the government political structure.
The moral values advocated by Confucius presuppose that the supreme leader is the father of the nation and the representative of Heaven among other things. Those who are acquainted with the North Korean cultural and historic traditions are not surprised when an insult is met with a tough response. No doubt, the US is aware of the fact.
The previous Republican administration wanted to slow down the bilateral negotiation process while putting the blame on Pyongyang. Former President Bush deliberately launched personal attacks against North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, for instance, calling him a “pigmy”. It immediately provoked the desired effect – an angry reaction to be followed by long pause in the contacts.
The US administration and those who shot the movie had been warned about the consequences in advance. The response was not unexpected. The movie was perceived by Pyongyang as a deliberate hostile action and a deep insult to national dignity.
No surprise, the diplomatic moves (formal appeals, statements and warnings) aimed at preventing the movie from hitting big screen or, at least limiting the demonstration after the premier, followed. Ja Song Nam, North Korea’s Ambassadorto the U.N., wrote a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on July 27, 2014 to protest the movie.
The Ambassador said he wanted the paper and its annex to be circulated as a document of the General Assembly and the Security Council. The letter says, “To allow the production and distribution of such a film on the assassination on an incumbent Head of a sovereign State should be regarded as the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war.”
According to the remarks by diplomats of North Korean embassy in Russia, Sony Pictures distributes a film which may entail dangerous consequences as it justifies and fosters terrorism… “The fact that it is an ordinary matter to shoot such a movie proves that the contemporary America is plunged in the quagmire of despair and insanity”.
The Pyongyang’s arguments and assessments have been widely supported across the globe, including in Moscow. The commentary by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that “The very idea of the film is so aggressive and scandalous that the reaction of the North Korean side (and not only them) is quite understandable.
Russia is concerned with yet another stage in escalating tensions between the United States and the DPRK due to accusations of Pyongyang of being complicit in the cyber-attack on the Sony Picture web site. The US never presented any direct evidence of these acts by Pyongyang.
Moreover, let me remind you that Pyongyang suggested conducting a joint investigation of the incident which would open up additional opportunities for easing the tension. In fact, the step is evidence of the North Korean side’s sincere striving for investigating the issue in every detail.
Revenge threats and calls to other countries to condemn the DPRK voiced by the US are viewed by us as absolutely counter-productive and dangerous, because they just contribute to the situation on the Korean Peninsula which is complicated enough, and can lead to the further escalation of the conflict. This runs absolutely contrary to everybody’s interests, especially to the interests of regional security.” (1) These assessments have solid foundation.
The North Korean evil-wishers in the United States, South Korea and some other countries saw the scandal as an opportunity to intensify the ideological subversion activities against North Korea. They want the scandalous film to spread around the world, even in North Korea, if there is a chance to make it get there. Fighters for a Free North Korea are planning to airlift DVDs of the comedy into North Korea via hydrogen balloons. (2)
For years balloons have been launched from South Korea to cross the demilitarized zone and deliver anti-North Korean materials. The fact has become an irritant to affect the bilateral relationship. Besides, in December, 2014 a wave of cyber-attacks was launched to interrupt the Internet connection in North Korea. No wonder that under the conditions Pyongyang launched a counter information operation.
The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs blamed the United States for spreading around unsubstantiated accusations. Pyongyang offered to conduct a joint investigation of the cyber-attack together with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to find the culprit. It said it can prove that the U.S. accusations of North Korean involvement in the cyberattack on Sony Pictures were “groundless slander”.
The Korean Central News Agency of DPRK cited the sources in the National Defense Commission saying “The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the US in all war spaces, including cyber warfare to blow up those citadels,” the statement said.
It stressed that, “Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the “symmetric counteraction” declared by Obama” The statement affirms that Obama is guilty of irresponsibly dissipating rumors about North Korea being the culprit behind the cyber-attack. The action was fully justified though North Korea does not know who did it. (4).
It should be noted that many media outlets have cited the Pyongyang’s warning. Concern was expressed about a possible retaliatory action on the part of North Korea. The North Korean rhetoric should not be taken at face value.
The experts on the country understand it’s a special manner of expression. They had to apply efforts to dispel the fears. There is one more thing to mention here. From the very start North Koreans distanced themselves from the hackers’ actions. They said they never planned to threaten or cause any damage to the common Americans going to cinema.
2) Sony Hack: Activists to Drop ‘Interview’ DVDs Over North Korea Via Balloon published byTheHollywood Reporter. 16.12. 2014, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/sony-hack-activists-drop-interview-75852
3) North Korea Threatens to Target White House after Claims it was Behind Sony Hacking published by The Guardian on 22.12. 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/22/north-korea-threatens-target-white-house-obama-sony-hacking
The hackers’ attack against Sony Pictures on November 24, 2014 threw the entire studio of the Hollywood giant into disarray with the computers wiped out. Media called it the biggest corporate hack in history.A group purporting to be the Guardians of Peace took the responsibility for the act. (1)
The data stolen by hackers included personal information about Sony Pictures employees and their families, e-mails between employees, information about executive salaries at the company, copies of unreleased Sony films and other information to be made accessible via internet.
The perpetrators demanded to cancel the planned release of the film The Interview (2) and threatened to attack movie-goers. A message from the Guardians of Peace group posted online warned of a 9/11-like attack on movie theaters that screen the Sony Pictures Entertainment film. (3)
At some point people panicked. After the threats of a terrorist attack the New York premiere of the Sony movie was cancelled. Screenings have also been cancelled at thousands of theaters across the country. The US administration was really concerned over the goings-on. After some time it peremptorily accused Pyongyang of complicity with no evidence to substantiate the claim. It only cited the results of FBI investigation. (4)
The accusations were as groundless as in the case of the Malaysian Boeing airliner that went down in Ukraine. They followed the same pattern: “We know who is guilty, we possess the facts that cannot be made public because it’s hush-hush information. So you have to take our word for it.” Here is another example of the same tactics in use.
In 2003 America accused Iraq of pursuing a WMD (weapons of mass destruction) program though the US administration knew it was not true. North Korea has twice flatly rejected such accusations. It offered its cooperation in finding the truth but Washington refused. Instead it said Pyongyang was welcome to compensate for the losses suffered by Sony Pictures.
In 2006-2007 the US Treasury Department conducted an operation against what it called the North Korea’s illegal economic activities. It arrested the Delta Asia bank accounts in Macao. The move negatively affected the six-party nuclear talks held in Beijing at the time.
The US never provided any proof of the bank’s illegal activities or its connection to North Korea’s nuclear program. Pyongyang offered to launch a joint investigation but Washington refused as it did in the case of Cheonan – the South Korean corvette sank off the country’s west coast near in the Yellow Sea.
Back then the United Nations Security Council held an emergency session called upon the South Korea’s initiative. The evidence provided by Seoul was not sufficient to blame North Korea for the tragedy. The US regularly refuses to hold joint investigations with North Korea. It makes the accusations of North Korean complicity in the hackers’ attack against Sony Pictures not credible.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement says “Pyongyang suggested conducting a joint investigation of the incident which would open up additional opportunities for easing the tension. In fact, the step is evidence of the North Korean side’s sincere striving for investigating the issue in every detail.”
Scared by threats movie theaters owners delayed the screening of The Interview.President Barack Obama authorized additional sanctions on North Korea in the wake of the “destructive and coercive” cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. “We take seriously North Korea’s attack that aimed to create destructive financial effects on a U.S. company and to threaten artists and other individuals with the goal of restricting their right to free expression,” the White House statement said.
It called the sanctions “a response to the Government of North Korea’s ongoing provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions and policies, particularly its destructive and coercive cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.”
Obama said the attack was technologically complex and unprecedented in scope. He promised to take punitive actions including returning North Korea to the list of terrorist sponsors. The US turns a blind eye to the fact that some details don’t fit into the version of North Korean complicity in the hackers’ attack.
The opinions differ even inside the United States. Stylometric analysis says the linguistic features are not North Korean, for instance, some digital crime perpetrators could even be Russian speakers. Another version is based on the facts ignored by Washington.
The Guardians of Peace told media they collaborated with the company’s staffers to make Sony Pictures pay for criminal business-practices. According to the stolen data, there was only one woman out of 17 managers with salaries exceeding 1 million dollars. There is ground to believe that the attack was staged by former Sony employees disgruntled with the management policies.
The third version is related to Chinese factor. The United States asked China to help in the investigation as the North Korean traffic that goes through Chinese cyber space. Beijing never detected any North Korean trace.
The US version states that the attack was technologically complicated and it took about a year to prepare it. It means there were many collaborators inside Sony Pictures. In this case Washington has to admit that Pyongyang was able to create a broad net of agents working in the United States and it possesses a capability to organize wide-scale subversive actions.
One way or another, experts believe the Washington’s reaction was disproportional. Digital crimes have become routine but nobody ever tried “to punish” sovereign states for such nefarious deeds. A close scrutiny of the incident against the background of US policy toward North Korea may provide some clue.
It is called the policyof “strategic patience” which various Americanexperts believe to be a version of “strategyof containment” aimed at toppling the North Korean government. Many researchers point out it was a surprise when Obama took a tougher stance on the issue than his predecessor George Bush.
The instruments used to implement the “strategic patience” policy include increased pressure, sanctions, isolation and rejection of meaningful dialogue and “engagement policy”. In 2014 many peace initiatives put forward by Pyongyang were rebuffed by Washington and Seoul as acts of propaganda.
The previous year Pyongyang abstained from nuclear tests and long-range ballistic missiles’ trials. The United States and the allies continued to conduct large-scale exercises near the North Korean border. The military activities serve as means of political pressure.
The campaign against human rights violations in North Korea has gained unprecedented proportions. It had never been that tense, as well as it had never been made part of the United Nations General Assembly’s agenda with an aim to refer the case to the International Court in the Hague.
No matter the United Nations structures have strictly divided responsibilities, the North Korean issue was added to the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. The very idea that the alleged or real human rights violations in North Korea could pose a threat to international security and become an issue for consideration by the United Nations Security Council in accordance with the UN Charter is ridiculous.
The Security Council will hardly come up with a unanimous ruling due to the opposition of Russia and China – the states which adamantly oppose the politicization of the human rights issue in relation to North Korea.
At that the pressure on North Korea continues. The hackers’ attack against Sony Pictures is used for the same purpose. The main goal is finding new pretexts to introduce new sanctions against North Korea. If the other countries don’t join in, the US will do unilaterally.
Many experts believe that the goal of unfriendly actions undertaken by Washington and his allies is provoking North Korea into renewal of nuclear tests. It will make easier for the West to introduce a new package of anti-North Korean sanctions.
It is worth to note what North Korean experts say. They are sure that since the autumn of 2014 the United States started another offensive to impede the ongoing economic progress in North Korea that has been lasting for a few years now.
Under the leadership of Kim Jong-un the country has achieved economic growth. Many social programs have been implemented, including high quality housing for the researchers of the Academy of Sciences, the professors of universities in Pyongyang, a waterpark, modern skiing resort, an equestrian sports complex, etc.
For North Korea the 2014 was a year of growing tensions, as well as the time of continuous economic growth that the country reached even being under international sanctions. It was also the year when military and political leadership consolidated the ranks thanks to the efforts of young Kim Jong-un.
In 2014 a three-year mourningperiod for the lateleader Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong-un, ended. It was also the time of increasing cooperation with friendly states, first of all Russia and China. Perhaps all these things will make the regime’s opponents realize that the hopes for the regime change in North Korea are groundless. Perhaps it will help to revive a substantive dialogue on the problems of the Korean Peninsula.
1)Donnelly, Matt. “Sony Hackers Have Flashed A ‘Disturbing’ New Warning On Staff Computers”, Business Insider, 11.12. 2014, http://www.businessinsider.com/sony-hackers-new-warning-on-computers-2014-12.
3) “Sony hackers threaten theaters with 9/11-style attack,” USA Today, 16.12. 2014. http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2014/12/16/sony-hackers-threaten-movie-theaters/20485591/
4)”U.S. Said to Find North Korea Ordered Cyberattack on Sony”, The New York Times, December 17, 20014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/world/asia/us-links-north-korea-to-sony-hacking.html?_r=0
Alexander VORONTSOV | SCF