It probably would not be an exaggeration to say that the most popular North Korea-related media topic is the country’s nuclear weapons program.
More than a decade has passed since the DPRK first tested an atomic bomb and three basic misconceptions have emerged or been greatly strengthened. First, that the nuclear program is the biggest North Korea-related problem we face; second, that the UN-approved sanctions accurately reflect the will of the international community; and third, that the economic sanctions are taken into consideration by Pyongyang decision-makers.
Here I will try to disprove them all.
Few people realize that the nuclear program is one of the least dangerous activities of the Kim regime. Nuclear tests do not kill, wound or harm anyone. On the other hand, concentration camps do, and so does the country’s secret police and security bureaucracy. They murder and torture people, they brainwash them every day, they refuse them access to any uncensored information. In other words, all basic freedoms of the North Koreans are systematically stamped upon, yet the media focus is still on the nukes. Why?
Because unlike anything else Kim Jong Un does, nukes make some Americans – citizens of the world’s most powerful nation – scared. In other words, when Kim Jong Un orders mass executions inside the country, most outsiders do not give a damn.
But when he threatens to harm citizens of rich countries, all media immediately report it, since these are the people who read the media, pay for the content and thus indirectly define its agenda.
Few people realize that the nuclear program is one of the least dangerous activities of the Kim regime. Nuclear tests do not kill, wound or harm anyone
The next thing that always happens after another North Korean nuclear test (and never happens after another public execution of dissidents or people guilty of watching South Korean dramas in the North Korean countryside) is that the UN Security Council assembles to pass another round of sanctions.
This is usually described as a “decisive move by the international community”, objectively reflecting its will. Many observers claim that it may be one more step towards making the DPRK end its nuclear program. Both statements are wrong.
An organization like the UN, which treats India and Nauru as equal political entities (both are given exactly one vote in the General Assembly) and claims that Somalia is a state while Taiwan is not, can hardly be called objective. The fact that the ruling body of the organization is composed of five arbitrary countries makes one skeptical about the UN’s description of itself as “representative of the peoples of Earth”.
Second, no economic sanctions will ever cause the regime to surrender its nukes. North Korea will remain nuclear to the final day of its existence. To those who do not believe me and think that Pyongyang leaders do not surrender nukes because sanctions are either not harsh enough, or are not being properly implemented, I present the following imaginary scenario.
Imagine for a moment that the UN has the technology to surround North Korea with an impenetrable force field and that all nations of the Earth agreed to it: the harshest sanction conceivable. Would Kim Jong Un surrender the nukes?
No. A famine would follow, to be sure, but Kim won’t care. Let the peasants die.
…no economic sanctions will ever cause the regime to surrender its nukes. North Korea will remain nuclear to the final day of its existence
The resources the country would have left would still be used in accordance with the well-established and well-known order. First, to maintain the Leader’s palaces and provide for His Greatness’ family; second, to preserve and multiply the statues, portraits and other manifestations of the Kim family cult; third, to supply the elite; fourth, to feed the army, police and secret police. What little is left will be used to supply the masses.
This is how the North Korean economy has been organized for many decades, and this is not going to change. North Koreans won’t rebel, as they will spend all their time trying – and failing – to survive.
Dead bodies would, as they did in the late 1990s, lie on the street. State media would shriek about the vicious American imperialists trying to annihilate the Republic (which, for a change, would be true). Even if 90% of the population died because of sanctions, Kim would still be sitting in his palace surrounded by the elite, military, dead bodies and the nukes.
Responses on sanctions are usually predictable to the point of being dull. The problem is one of the basic traits of human psychology: team thinking. Many, if not all of us, tend to divide human beings into groups and judge them depending on whether they belong in the same group as us or not.
North Koreans won’t rebel, as they will spend all their time trying – and failing – to survive
North Korea is not an exception. One can point out at two teams formed around the ‘North Korean issue’, which can roughly be called “pro-Pyongyang” and “anti-Pyongyang”. The first tend to automatically ignore refugees’ testimonies since they are all “biased”, give a colossal benefit of the doubt to state media, and believe that South Korea is, at the very least, equally bad as the North.
The second team, on the other hand, tends to believe every single message that could possibly put the DPRK in the bad light without bothering to check, and that all possible sanctions should be welcomed with open arms since they are “anti-regime”.
This, of course, causes very predictable answers from people when it comes to nukes and sanctions. Team One would, disregarding the background of the test and its nature, blame America for being a hegemonic state, and say that Pyongyang, being provoked, was acting in self-defense. The word “peace” will almost inevitably be used.
Team Two would immediately say that Pyongyang has “violated international law”, “disrupted the stability in the region” and would assess that the sanctions are all welcome, but, sadly, are not harsh enough, long before reading the text of the UN resolution. The word “security” will almost inevitably be used.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
There are ways to symbolically hurt Kim Jong Un’s feelings, like expelling the DPRK from the United Nations. As for the money, ideally it should be used to undermine the iron curtain surrounding the regime, and radio broadcasts should be given much more funding than they are now.
Several television stations aimed at broadcasting to the North should be organized, and South Korean refugee support program should be less aimed at merely providing them welfare, and more on giving them necessary skills: computer skills for all, university education for many, and language courses – to name a few examples.
There are ways to symbolically hurt Kim Jong Un’s feelings: like expelling the DPRK from the United Nations
University exchange programs which expose North Korea’s next-generation elite to the outside world should be given funding instead of being shut down on ridiculous claims that they “support the regime”. How taking citizens out of their usual propaganda-filled surroundings and exposing them to the Western culture supports the regime is a big mystery to me.
Since we are talking about ideal and improbable scenarios, brokers who help North Koreans escape from the country should be not only sponsored but openly hailed as the heroes they are, people who earn their living by doing the noblest job: saving lives.
All of this based on the premise that decision-makers genuinely care about North Koreans and would be willing to place their interests above their own and the feelings of their voters. The first trait is a very rare one, while the second one is almost non-existent: nuclear-centered duplicity will likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
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Featured Image: Human Rights Council Discusses North Korea by US Mission Geneva on 2012-03-12 12:09:47