On North Korea

See No Evil, Stop No Evil (washingtonpost.com)
It seems everywhere I look these days there’s evil of some sort. It’s tough to be an optimist in the world we live in. Saudi Arabia is a state-sponsor of terrorism, though they’re not on the State Department’s list. Iraq is hopeful, but it will be several months before we see real results and possibly years before we find out if we have really created a free country. Then there’s North Korea.

Anne Applebaum has written a column on North Korea that could be a companion piece to her book, Gulag, that provides some detail on the horror of being a North Korean. The DPRK is the last Stalinist country on earth and it’s not surprising that she would write on it.

It’s also not surprising that she looks at North Korea, sees evil, and concludes that any democracy worthy of the name would make regime change their official policy with regard to North Korea. We currently don’t have the means to take North Korea, nor would it be advisable to do so, but it is tempting. They have advanced missile technology and at least a couple of nuclear warheads. They have enough missiles pointed at South Korea to kill hundreds of thousands and we have 37,000 troops stationed there in perpetuity for no good reason. They’re hostages more than anything else.

We could make regime change in North Korea an official policy without acting on it in the immediate future. We did the same with Iraq in 1998 and didn’t act on it until this year. However, Kim Jong Il is not Saddam Hussein. Mr. Kim is extremely paranoid whereas Saddam thought he could hold us off indefinitely.

I don’t know how to handle this. One possibility is to treat North Korea the way we’ve treated China and Taiwan since 1979: intentional ambiguity. With the Taiwan Relations act of that year we left open the possibility that the President could attack China if they move against Taiwan. In practice, we’ve supplied advanced weaponry to Taiwan, deployed carrier groups to the area when the Chinese held military exercises too close to Taiwan, but have always been coy as to whether we would actually attack. The reasoning is fairly simple: Taiwan is, for all practical purposes, a free nation. It’s not in our interest for them to outwardly declare their independence and irritate China. By remaining ambiguous we have kept a lid on both parties leaving neither feeling comfortable, thus unwilling to make any big moves.

Would a similar strategy work with North Korea? Kim Jong Il, more than anything, wants to know his country is secure from an attack by the United States. Some ambiguity that keeps him ill-at-ease might work, but it might also set him off. He’s not the world’s most psychologically secure leader. He’s a psychopath.

We can’t promise an attack because we don’t have the troops right now, unless we limited our participation to air raids and made the South Korean army put their troops on the line, which they’ll have to do in any case. Hundreds of thousands will die in the process unless we have managed to sneak many, many Patriot anti-missile batteries into Seoul.

We’ve tried appeasement — the Jimmy Carter agreements of 1994 — and found that we can’t trust a word the DPRK says. If their lips are moving, they’re probably lying. They either never stopped their nuclear program or resumed it within a couple of years of the Carter accords.

That leaves only one alternative that I can think of: a nuclear standoff. We place enough short- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles in South Korea and Japan to make sure there is no North Korea left if they ever fire a nuclear weapon. Not a particularly pleasant option, but it may be all we have if they refuse to end their nuclear program. Having the DPRK as a significant nuclear power should not be an option.

The piece by Anne Applebaum is excellent and I suggest you read the whole thing. North Korea is a potential horror story for the rest of the world and a present horror story for the people unfortunate enough to live there.

In the immediate future, it isn’t likely that the publication of these photographs will have much bearing on the talks in Bangkok or on any diplomatic discussions of North Korea. The Chinese, who have more influence over North Korea’s future than any other nation, would prefer not to know about them, not least because they have their own camps to conceal. The South Koreans, who — it would seem — have a direct interest in this subject, have actually resisted efforts to publicize the camps, for fear of harming whatever mildly improved relations they have with the North. For the record, the South Korean government did not provide the photographs that will be published today, although it surely has access to the same satellite sources.

But the problem is not only one for immediate neighbors. In fact, if any of the democratic participants — the United States, South Korea, Japan — were to absorb fully the information the images convey, the knowledge would make it impossible for that country to conduct any policy toward North Korea that did not make regime change its central tenet. The more that is known about terrible human rights violations, the harder it is to do nothing about it. Yet at the moment, few of the countries involved in the debate about North Korea feel able to do much about it. As a result, we all probably prefer not to know.

But will these photographs have any impact in North Korea itself? That’s a question that requires a longer answer. Stories of human rights violations, if they filter back into the country after being published abroad, will not cause this dictatorship or any other to collapse overnight. Yet they will make it more difficult for North Korean leaders and North Korean police to justify what they do, both to themselves and their families, and more difficult to claim that they bear no responsibility for what is happening in their country. Pictures and testimony will also help to chip away at whatever support, feigned or genuine, remains for Kim Jong Il’s government.

No regime can remain legitimate indefinitely if its citizens know that thousands of their compatriots are being unjustly tortured.

Pictures and testimony are also important to collect now because they will, eventually, become part of whatever recovery process North Korea goes through, if and when its totalitarian system ever collapses. In recent years, documents testifying to past human rights abuses have played a role in the collapse of dictatorships and the restoration of more open societies in Russia, Serbia, South Africa, Argentina and Cambodia — and in all of these places, even today, there are still people who feel that more information, more testimony, more public knowledge, would improve matters further.

Yes, it’s naive to expect photographs to create a revolution. But yes, it also matters that they now exist. No one can say, ever again, that “we didn’t know.”

True enough, but what can we do? That’s what I would like to know.

OpinionJournal: North Korea’s Gulags: Even babies aren’t spared from Pyongyang’s regime of torture and murder.
The article below covers much of the same territory and is critical of President Bush for apparently buying into the idea that we need to make Kim Jong Il feel more comfortable. I’m sympathetic to that point of view, but my concern is what Mr. Kim might do if he were made to feel more uncomfortable.

Believe it or not, I’m fairly happy with the approach President Bush has taken thus far. He’s insisted on six-way talks that exclude the UN and the EU — a good move, as I see it — and we don’t know what will come of those talks. The first round failed and another round is set for December. If an agreement is reached that ends the DPRK’s nuclear program and has the U.S. acting as a monitor, from the ground, it might be worthwhile.

Consequences should be spelled out in the event of a failure to comply. The first thing that comes to mind is a war resolution passed by Congress in conjunction with any agreement, though, again, we are limited as to what we can do at the moment. It won’t end the suffering of the North Korean people, but it will enhance world security and possibly open the door to a more open and benign North Korea.

The latest hallucination of geopolitics has it that if only we can make North Korea’s Great Leader Kim Jong Il feel safe from the fate of Saddam Hussein, maybe he’ll stop testing missiles and making nuclear bombs. So the experts–whose ranks have now swelled to include, alas, even President George W. Bush–have been scrambling for ways to make Kim feel more secure.

Bad mistake. Even in the exquisitely complex realms of geopolitics, there comes a point at which right and wrong really do matter. Ensuring the safety of monsters is not only an invitation to even more trouble ahead, it is also wrong. Before Mr. Bush says another word about security for North Korea’s regime, before any more policy makers suggest any more deals to gratify Kim Jong Il’s deep appetite for his own ease and longevity, there’s a report the entire civilized world needs to read–released today by the Washington-based U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. In landmark depth and detail, this report documents the filthiest of all Kim’s backroom projects: North Korea’s vast system of political prisons, which underpin Kim’s precious security right there in his own home.

Not that North Korea’s longstanding gulag has been a complete secret. Though Kim’s regime denies its existence, and foreign observers have no access to it whatever, enough people have escaped North Korea in recent years to provide substantial testimony about conditions inside the country, and even inside the prison camps. A handful of defectors have told their tales to U.S. congressional committees, some have published books, and dozens have given interviews here and there. In the past year, as Kim’s nuclear industry has bumped him up in the headlines, Western journalists have been piecing together damning portraits of Kim and his regime. Information has at last stacked up high enough to suggest that in North Korea, existence as a political prisoner is a particularly hideous business.

But the sources have been scattered. The picture has been murky. The 3,000 or so defectors who over the past decade or so have found asylum have almost all been funneled to South Korea, where the “sunshine” policy of appeasement shoves their awful stories into the shadows. In the West, the general sense has been that somewhere, in nameless places in that area of darkness called North Korea, faceless people may be suffering and dying. But individual accounts invite suspicions that North Korean defectors may be prone to exaggerate, especially given the excesses they describe of deliberately inflicted starvation and routine torture, execution and infanticide in the camps. Hanging over the entire scene is the question, how can we be sure?

South Korea’s “sunshine policy” is simply appeasement by another name. Another Nobel Peace Prize that had nothing to do with ensuring peace.

The report mentioned in both stories is located here, for those with strong stomachs.

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