Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What To Do About North Korea?


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American Kenneth Bae with North Korean children
So, what do we do about North Korea?

According to a recent report by the United Nations, the isolated Communist dictatorship "has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity."

Um, yeah - we all knew that, didn't we?  Why did the UN think it needed to draw up a special report about North Korea now?  It says nothing that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch haven't been telling us for years.  Besides, every year since 2003, the UN's General Assembly ratifies a resolution complaining about North Korea's human rights abuses, and such diplomatic finger-wagging accomplishes nothing.

Things might be a little different this time.  According to the UN report, proof may exist that makes China complicit as a third party in the atrocities committed by the North Koreans.  It's also possible that the UN may try North Korea's current ruler, Kim Jong-un, at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for crimes against humanity.

The UN claims to have documented from first-person accounts of former prisoners and defectors a robust litany of human rights travesties, complete with names, dates, and mortality statistics.  Bleak hand-drawn depictions of torture by people who've experienced it were included in the report, lending it a graphic element of first-person corroboration, even if they're not all that surprising.  Anecdotal accounts have already become widespread about female political prisoners being forced to kill their newborn infants, for example, and other prisoners eating dirt.  And speaking of dirt, there's North Korea's dismal history with its botched agricultural programs, which had been thought to be the primary reason for the country's perpetual risk of national catastrophe via mass starvation.  But it's no longer beyond reason to suspect North Korea of manipulating food supplies in yet another sadistic ploy to maintain their authority over a servile, hungry populace.

After all, it's hard to muster the kind of revolution it would take to oust the Kim dynasty when people don't have full stomachs.

For years, we've been told about how cruel the Kim dynasty has been to their own people.  Yet somehow, we've been able to brush it aside with a "not our problem" air.  After all, there is already so much cruelty, hatred, and totalitarianism in our world.  Governments, human rights groups, non-governmental organizations, international diplomacy, prayer, and even a war have tried to mitigate the suffering of ordinary North Koreans.

Yet it continues, with the irony being that most of its victims may be clueless of their plight.  Generations of systematic brain-washing by the Kim dynasty have rendered most of its subjects automatons of the state.  Since generic diplomacy hasn't changed anything, unilaterally overthrowing North Korea from the outside could be another actionable alternative, but doing so would probably require a hefty amount of conventional warfare, since there is no organized resistance within the country.  Collateral damage would be massive, and resistance on the part of loyal North Koreans fierce.  How would we handle all those millions of people whose personal life experiences have been stunted to serve their rulers?  And look at how successfully our other preemptive wars have turned out lately.  A people group can't necessarily be freed from anything if they don't understand they need to be freed from it.

Indeed, the preemptive use of force against North Korea seems as fraught with dilemmas as our doing nothing has been.  That's the main reason why our political will within the "free" world necessary for a brutal liberation of North Korea simply doesn't exist.

That, plus the fact that there are no vital natural resources there that can't be found in greater abundance in far freer countries elsewhere on our planet.

Then, too, despite the sabre-rattling with which North Korea sporadically and unnervingly engages, experts doubt the country has the military capacity and engineering capabilities of inflicting serious damage to the United States, or Europe.  So it's no genuine, physical threat to us.  At least, right now.  And if it was a military threat, they'd be China's more immediate problem.

Then there's the astonishing ascendancy of South Korea, which has managed to invent a thriving economy and society on its part of the Korean peninsula despite the looming presence of the North, and South Koreans appear to have adapted fairly well to whatever threats their totalitarian sister state may pose.

There's also scant populist pressure in the West for doing anything of substance to force North Korea to change its ways because, in our collective consciousness, the country is more aberration than abomination.  Due to the Kim dynasty's near-total blackout of news and information from their country, most of the Western world remains blissfully unaware of what everyday, real-time life is like for ordinary, everyday, real-time North Korean citizens. We get the censured photos released by the government, showing what Pyongyang wants the rest of us to see of their country.  And occasionally, we get word of bizarre power struggles, such as the the unusually public arrest and execution of Kim Jong-un's uncle recently.  But other than that, the North Koreans have cut themselves so effectively off from the rest of the world, they've become more like the odd, temperamental uncle who only shows up on holidays and boasts of irrelevant photo-ops with people like Dennis Rodman.

As for the UN's scathing report on North Korea, it will be officially presented at a conference next month, after which the question of prosecution will be finalized.  Already, however, the North Korean propaganda machine has flatly denied everything in it, rejecting even the premise that human rights could be violated in their pure socialist state.  For its part, China has also protested, dubiously reasoning that what the rest of us might call "complicity" they see as the cost of doing business in a part of the world where human rights are assumed to be open to interpretation.

For most of us, none of this is really news, is it?  There are no easy answers, and no quick fixes.  None.  International policy experts don't expect any substantive change for North Korea, even with yet more evidence mounting against the regime.  Americans were briefly captivated by the saga of Merrill Newman, the retired California businessman and Korean War veteran who was temporarily under house arrest in Pyongyang last year.  But he was released without incident.  Kenneth Bae, the Christian businessman arrested in 2012 in North Korea under obscure charges, was reportedly relocated by his captors to a labor camp earlier this month, but as is typical of our mainstream media, his plight loses less and less coverage the longer it drags on.

Kinda like our state of mind regarding North Korea in general.

And that's probably the way the North Norean government would want it.

Except they arrested yet another Christian today in Pyongyang - an Australian named John Short.  A cross-cultural missionary of sorts, Short already has an extensive rap sheet in China, where he's been arrested multiple times since 1976 because of his proselytizing.  Currently, not much is known about North Korea's charges against Short, but from the sound of things, his "detention" - as some news organizations are diplomatically calling it - could come at an interesting time.

It may still be a reclusive country, but increasingly, that's only for its own people.

How much longer can it last?


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