More Than Bluster

Tensions are rising in the Korean Peninsula, following confirmation by international investigators that North Korea torpedoed a South Korean ship in March, killing 46 sailors which were South Korea’s worst military fatalities since the Korean War ended in 1953.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak vowed to cut off nearly all trade with North Korea and to deny North Korean merchant ships permission to use South Korean sea lanes. South Korea also plans to broadcast propaganda messages into the North and to drop leaflets by air.

The United States is planning joint military exercises with South Korea in a show of resolve.

China does not want to do anything that might further inflame the situation, while its friends in North Korea are talking about going to war.

As for the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters at his monthly press conference at UN headquarters in New York that the evidence laid out in the report of the international investigators “is overwhelming and deeply troubling.”  Ban Ki-moon expressed his grave concerns, not only on behalf of the United Nations but also personally as a South Korean citizen. “I have a very strong attachment and even a sense of responsibility,” he told reporters.  “Now, serving as Secretary-General, this is most troubling for me to see what is happening in the Korean Peninsula – that’s my motherland.”

The Secretary General said that the Security Council will be conferring on what “appropriate” measures to take against the rogue regime. What that means is anyone’s guess, since China will most likely use its veto power to make sure that North Korea gets no more than another slap on the wrist following the ineffective sanctions imposed after North Korea’s missile and nuclear arms testing.

China’s solicitude for North Korea should not be surprising, considering that China has been North Korea’s largest trading partner and supplier of assistance (through subsidized trade and direct transfers).  Moreover, as pointed out by the Congressional Research Service, “Beijing values North Korea as a buffer between the democratic South Korea and the U.S. forces stationed there, as a rationale to divert U.S. and Japanese resources in the Asia Pacific toward dealing with Pyongyang and less focused on the growing military might of China.”

For its part, the United Nations itself is still throwing North Korea a lifeline, so to speak. Irrespective of its government’s aggressive actions, humanitarian aid to North Korea will continue, promised Ban Ki-moon.  He emphasized the needs of the malnourished children, calling them “the leaders of our future generations.”

After his formal news conference was over, I approached the Secretary General and asked him what level of confidence he had that the humanitarian aid would actually reach the people in North Korea who needed it.  I reminded him how previous aid projects to help the people sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme had failed.

All that Ban Ki-moon could say in response was that “We have to try.”

Unfortunately, it is a doomed effort. The North Korean regime has a habit of raiding the UN piggybank.  For example, it convinced the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to provide hard currency payments without any safeguards. Those funds ended up lining the dictator Kim Jong-Il’s pocket. At least $20 million was transferred from the UNDP directly to the North Korean regime for so-called development projects. The UNDP enabled North Korea to use UN-affiliated accounts to launder money and to import dual-use technology.  As a consequence of this scandal, the UNDP had shut down its North Korea operations, but has since decided to resume them.

The terrible malnutrition that Ban Ki-moon laments is a direct result of the regime’s cruel neglect and mismanagement.  It lets its people suffer from severe food shortages and a near-total breakdown in the public health system while it squanders money on nuclear arms and missiles.  The UN’s World Health Organization has managed to get some limited rations delivered to less than a third of the neediest people. While the World Health Organization claims it has international staff monitoring distribution of food aid, reports have surfaced that people getting food are giving it back to the government.

As long as this closed regime stays in power, there is little the United Nations can do to really break through and reach the imprisoned population with humanitarian aid, even with the best of intentions. The aid will be squandered by Kim Jong-Il and his henchmen, as they have done before with development assistance.  The UN is simply enabling the government to continue to survive.

The back of this regime must be broken by strangling its economy and quarantining entry and exit of ships to and from North Korean ports suspected of carrying nuclear or other military equipment and materials.  There is no other way to save its people.

Article Seven of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines various categories of acts that constitute crimes against humanity including murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment, torture, rape, sexual slavery or enforced prostitution, persecution and enforced disappearance of persons. North Korea is guilty of virtually all of these horrendous crimes against its own people, yet nothing is being done to hold its leaders to account.

Even if the International Criminal Court should take some action against the North Korean regime, it will mean nothing.  Kim Jong-Il need only look at what is happening with Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir as an example. The Court issued a warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest more than a year ago on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Not only is al-Bashir still free, but he will be serving yet another term as president.  Two top UN officials in Sudan are even planning to attend his inauguration ceremony.

Decisive action against North Korea, beyond what the United Nations is capable of doing, is needed immediately.  Will the world’s democracies finally have the courage it takes to put this aggressive dictatorship in its place once and for all? So far, it does not look promising.

  • MARTY KITCHNER

    I AM 78 YEARS OLD AND HAVE AN ARTHRITIC BACK. THEREFORE, I AM AT THIS TIME, VIRTUALLY A PRISONER IN MY OWN BODY, IN MY OWN HOME , AT MY OWN COMPUTER.
    I AM IN INTENSE PAIN AND HAVE JUST TAKEN TWO PAIN-KILLER PILLS. I THINK THAT THE TWO PILLS HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF R ELIEVING MY PAIN THAN ANY ATTEMPT TO GET THE UN-NIGHTED NATIONS TO RELIEVE THE NORTH KOREAN POPULATION'S PAIN.

    MY PILLS HAVE NEVER WORKED YET……….. KTCEL8@AOL.COM

    • USMCSniper

      Smoke pot then!

  • USMCSniper

    China has too much at stake in North Korea to halt or withdraw its support entirely. The idea that the Chinese would turn their backs on the North Koreans is naive even if they invaded South Korea because they view America under Obama as a toothless tiger.

    • coyote4

      Yeah, I don't know if you really are/were USMCSniper or not, and don't really care. I was just a drafted grunt, but spent a career with USBPS. Something about this??? Did you ever get that "old funny feelin"?, and its not the "tingle" in Chris Matthews' leg either. Got a "bad" feelin about this one. NK may be just taking this to the usual brink to get some goodies, but this is further than it has been in long, long time.

      • USMCSniper

        I was Cpl E-04, fireteam leader and a qualified sniper Chu Lai RVN sniper class of 66', 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, III MAF, Operations Starlite 65, Harvest Moon 65, Utah 66, and Hastings in the DMZ 66. My daughter's fiance was a Marine Corps sniper early in his career but now is a senior sniper instructor in the Army. He has 5 tours under his belt, 3 in Iraq and 2 in Afghanistan. One 16 month one in RVN was more than enough for me when I was young.

  • whatsso4me

    I disagree with Joseph Klein's assessment that: "The back of this regime must be broken by strangling its economy and quarantining entry and exit of ships to and from North Korean ports suspected of carrying nuclear or other military equipment and materials. There is no other way to save its people."
    I believe that only full-scale war – waged to the point of utterly extirpating the northern regime – will work at all from this point forward. Reunification is the one and only answer to the call for the continued existence of South Korea, as well as for lasting peace and prosperity for all parties in this region.
    Thankfully, such a war seems imminent – I pray for the swift overthrow of North Korea with minimal carnage.

  • eric

    North Korea is upping the ante because thugs understand only two things: strength and weakness. They respect strength and sense and despise weakness which they can feel oozing out of Obama's Washington from half way around the world. North Korean technicians are again at work inside Syria helping them convert liquid fuel rockets to solid fuel to vastly decrease prep time prior to launch and increase accuracy of flight. They know that as they assist Iran & Syria to cause havoc in the Mid- East it will open more opportunities for aggressive action on the Korean pen. Torpedoeing the S Korean navy ship is just a toe dip in the water to test the response. As there will likely be no response other than hand wringing and concerted talk, the bully will cause a bigger fight next time. Iran is egging them on so that Iran can learn by watching exactly what Obama's response or lack thereof will be.

    It is interesting to note that most wars in the last 100 years were the result of liberals who were dedicated to "peace in our time" and whose favorite song choice is Obama's, "I like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony."