Nuclear Blues and the Production of Empire

It is of today the news that North Korea says it performed its first nuclear test. Whether this is true or not, remains to be seen. What interests me here are two things tangentially linked to this story. One is the use of financial freezing as Empire’s instrument of bringing rebel governments into line. The other is the indication of how multilateral practices are necessary so as Empire can exercise its power. My working definition of empire is here — very generally — the production of a common terrain around which different nation states articulate and constitute their practices.

On the first point: according to one commentator (See Jonathan Watts’s article on the Guardian, August 30 2006: Growing fears over North Korea nuclear test), when a couple of months ago North Korea renewed its boasting that it was in possession of such weapons, without having proved it, it hoped to

frighten Washington into making concessions, particularly lifting the financial restrictions on North Korea’s overseas deposits. The choking of Pyongyang’s foreign accounts, initiated by Washington in the name of an anti-money laundering campaign, has put Mr Kim under more pressure than any previous measure.

In other words, financial freeze started to bite.

Since 2001 financial freeze has been increasingly deployed as a tool for the production of Empire and its extent and methodology needs to be investigated more in details. In one document from the US state department discussing Hamas assets freeze, we can glimpse at the methodology involved in such operations. It is interesting to note that the US state department — even at the hight of its unilateralist years with the early George W Bush, acknowledges its dependence on others to implement financial restrictions on “terrorist elements”. Here is an extract from E. Anthony Wayne, Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs, Testimony Before the House Committee on Financial Services Washington, DC September 24, 2003. From here the methodology of empire assets freezing seems to have three dimensions

1) Agencies coordination with a key dominant role of the tresury department which then becomes directly involved in the management of Empire (not simply of its “economy”)

Before I address HAMAS, I believe it is important to recognize how far we have come in terms of U.S. Government interagency coordination when it comes to dealing with terrorist financing. We have made enormous strides in improving the degree to which all U.S. agencies with equities related to the pursuit of terrorist financing cooperate and coordinate their efforts. This strong interagency teamwork involves the intelligence and law enforcement communities, as well as State, Treasury, Homeland Security, and Justice collectively pursuing an understanding of the system of financial backers, facilitators, and intermediaries that play a role in this shadowy financial world. It involves the Treasury Department coordinating the policy process by which we examine actions to disrupt these financial networks. It involves the Department of Justice leading investigations and prosecutions in a seamless, coordinated campaign against the sources of terrorist financing. And it involves the State Department leading the interagency process through which we develop and sustain the bilateral and multilateral relationships, strategies, and activities, including the provision of training and technical assistance, to win vital international support for and cooperation with our efforts.

A Policy Coordination Committee established under the framework of the National Security Council and chaired by the Department of the Treasury ensures that these activities are well-coordinated. The Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement agencies all work very closely together in this effort. The Department of Homeland Security is a recent addition to the framework, and we look forward to involving them in the disruption of terrorist networks. Our task has been to identify, track, and pursue terrorist financing targets and to work with the international community to take measures to thwart the ability of terrorists to raise and channel the funds they need to survive and carry out their heinous acts. We have briefed your staff in closed session and there may be questions you have that will need to be answered in a classified setting or for the record.

2) Introduction of special legislations widening the scale and scope of government intervention on financial flows for the purpose of Empire management (rather than regulation of financial markets as hoped by many “anti-globalisation” NGOs)

A key weapon in this effort has been the President’s Executive Order 13224, which was signed on September 23, 2001, just 12 days after the terrorist attacks of September 11. That Order provided the basic structure and authorities for an effort, unprecedented in history, to identify and freeze the assets of individuals and entities associated with terrorism across the board. Under that Executive Order, the Administration has frozen the assets of 321 individuals and entities. The agencies cooperating in this effort are in daily contact, looking at and evaluating new names and targets for possible asset freeze. However, our scope is not just limited to freezing assets. This is a collaborative, results-based, decision-making process, in which we all share the common goal of clamping down on terrorist financing. We have very successfully used other actions as well, including developing diplomatic initiatives with other governments to conduct audits and investigations, exchanging information on records, cooperating in law enforcement and intelligence efforts, and in shaping new regulatory initiatives. We recognize, however, that designating names is — along with arrests — the action that is most publicly visible. But designations are, in no way, the only action underway. Allow me to stress this point, particularly because some questions have been raised by commentators in this regard: Every approach the PCC has adopted regarding a specific target has involved extensive, careful work. We need to make sure we have credible information that provides a reasonable basis linking the individual or entity to terrorism; we need to weigh the options available to us for addressing the target; we need to identify the most effective approach, realizing that we may shift gears and adopt a different strategy later on. We want to be right, legal, and effective. In some cases we support public action, such as designations, in other cases we choose other methods, including law enforcement, intelligence, or getting another country to undertake law enforcement or intelligence action. At the end of the day, all our actions combined, and the efforts of countries around the world, have succeeded in making it more difficult for terrorists to move and collect funds around the world, in particular through regular banking channels.

3) Central role of multilateral actors in making assets freezing operationally viable:

Internationally, the UN’s role in responding to the challenge of terrorist financing has been crucial: The UN helped to give international impetus and legitimacy to asset freezes and to underscore the global commitment against terrorist financing. This is extremely important, because: 1) most of the assets making their way to terrorists are not under U.S. control; and 2) when it comes to al Qaida in particular, it means that when an individual or entity is included on the UN’s sanctions list, all 191 UN Member States are obligated to implement the sanctions, including asset freezes. It has added a total of some 217 names to its consolidated list since September 11.

This last point takes us into another issue, the relation between China and the US as one defining complementary poles of Empire. Among many commentators left or right, China is generally seen as the rising challenge to “US imperialism”. In thus doing, they forget its role in the shaping of Capital’s empire. This not only thanks to its incessant promotion of market relations in areas left adrift by others with the complicity of World Bank “anti-corruption” policies, to its endless promotion of “development” policies uprooting millions, to its promotion of sweatshops organically linked to global production chains with no national allegiance, to its organic role in sustaining a financial order in which faith in the US dollar is maintained through the backing of US trade deficit with Chinese trade surplus. Also for its active participation in the geopolitical governance of Empire.

On the North Korean affair for example, we read in the same Guardian article mentioned above we read that in the last few months:

China has also demonstrated its frustration with the North Korean leader. Although the two countries were once described as being “as close as lips and teeth”, there have been several signs of a rift in the past year.

According to customs figures, China’s exports of rice, maize and wheat to North Korea have slumped by more than two thirds in the first seven months of this year to 102,000 tonnes, compared with 331,000 tonnes in the same period last year. South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper has reported a “significant decline” in oil exports. Chinese financial institutions are also said to have cooperated with US moves to freeze North Korean accounts.


It’s quite clear that relations between China and North Korea are tense now,” said Shi Yinhong of Renmin University in Beijing. “Since the North Korean missile test, China has been indirectly supporting US sanctions on Pyongyang. If today’s visit is confirmed, it may show that Kim Jong-il wants to complain about this.

Mr Kim is said to have expressed his distrust of his country’s traditional allies after Beijing and Russia supported a United Nations security resolution criticising Pyongyang for the missile tests. According to a report by the Kyodo news agency, Mr Kim said China and Russia were unreliable at a meeting of North Korea’s ambassadors, all of whom were hastily recalled to Pyongyang and instructed to prepare for a strengthening of the country’s deterrent power.

It is a critical time for North Korea. They are clearly frustrated. The financial restrictions are getting tighter and the Bush administration is showing no sign of flexibility,” said Peter Beck, a North Korea expert at the International Crisis Group in Seoul. “If North Korea wants to do a nuclear test, they would want to consult with China first.”

Apparently, the “consultation” occurred less than an hour before the actual test. As reported by David E. Sanger of the New York Times (Test follows warning from U.N. October 9, 2006 )

. . .North Korean officials had called their counterparts in China and warned them that a test was just minutes away. The Chinese, who have been North Korea’s main ally for 60 years but have grown increasingly frustrated by the its defiance of Beijing, sent an emergency alert to Washington through the United States Embassy in Beijing. Within minutes, President Bush was notified, shortly after 10 p.m., by his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, that a test was imminent.

What can we expect from China now is a question mark, since its diplomatic avenue to deal with the issue has been closed. Again, Peter Beck argues that

Beijing was already unhappy with its neighbour and a test would make relations worse. “China’s leaders want a stable buffer, but they also want a stable region and right now North Korea is threatening that stability. I don’t know at what point Chinese leaders would start to think that North Korea is acting in such an irresponsible way that they cannot support it any more.”
But he said Beijing was already unhappy with its neighbour and a test would make relations worse. “China’s leaders want a stable buffer, but they also want a stable region and right now North Korea is threatening that stability. I don’t know at what point Chinese leaders would start to think that North Korea is acting in such an irresponsible way that they cannot support it any more.

Watch out what the Chinese are going to do, and how this is linked to what the US want them to do. Focus on the production of their common ground.

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