Enforce North Korea Sanctions

The United States Congress should pass H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013, which is currently in committee.  Sanctions restrict the export to and import from North Korea of goods and technology for the use, development, or acquisition of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.  Sanctions also ban the export of luxury goods to North Korea, a tactic that could help undermine the North Korean regime, which bribes its VIPs in Pyongyang with imported luxury goods while people in the countryside starve.

The people of North Korea are suffering, with perhaps millions going hungry and almost all denied their basic human rights.  There is no freedom of speech in North Korea, as the brutal Kim family regime (“KFR”) that governs North Korea imprisons or executes its critics.  There is no freedom of religion in North Korea, as people can be sent to the gulag simply for owning a Bible.  And of course there is no economic freedom in North Korea, where state control of the economy stifles initiative and renders many people helpless to improve their impoverished living conditions. 

Against this background of poverty and despair reigns the despot boy-king Kim Jong-un.  Recently Kim made news with the execution of his uncle and advisor, Jang Song-Taek.  Unfortunately, Jang is just the highest-ranking of millions of North Koreans subject to capricious punishment under a ruthless dictatorship.  The KFR runs a brutal authoritarian state, as documented in the report of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which called for adopting “targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity.”  To make matters worse, in addition to terrorizing its own people, the KFR threatens regional peace in East Asia and exports WMD technology to Iran, where it could be used against Israel or someday even the United States.

Enacting H.R. 1771 would further the goals of liberating the North Korean people while eliminating the proliferation threat posed by the KFR’s cooperation with Iran.  Both of these goals would be accomplished by undermining the KFR and forcing it to change or risk collapse.

American policy should also take into account the concerns of our ally, South Korea.  South Koreans would be on the front line of a new Korean war.  This should not be taken lightly; indeed, it is one major reason why world powers have appeased North Korea for so long.  There is a legitimate concern that if the KFR becomes unstable, it could strike South Korea.

However, there is another reason why South Koreans are reluctant to undermine the KFR.  Many South Koreans do not want to see a North Korean collapse, with the economic cost it could bring.  South Koreans enjoy life in free and prosperous South Korea.  As such, a continuation of the status quo regarding North Korea may not be so bad for them.  Some South Koreans prefer to prop up the KFR in order to maintain regional stability and not disturb the South Korean economy.  Even during times of North Korean “provocations” (actually attacks) such as the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, most South Koreans pretend that North Korea does not exist.  This author was living in Seoul at that time and recalls expatriates packing their bags and grabbing their passports, preparing to flee a war, while locals went about their business as usual.

This author can only infer that South Koreans were not worried because they knew that their government would not take major action against North Korea.  Even after a North Korean attack, public opinion seemed to hold that the best course was only a very limited response.

Yet the mood in Seoul could be changing.  South Korean President Park Geun-Hye recently commented that Korean unification could be a kind of bonanza for the economy.  She has also made statements that Koreans should prepare for reunification.  Hopefully more South Koreans will become concerned about the plight of their fellow Koreans living under the brutal KFR in the north.  Even if not, the promise of a booming united Korea could change enough minds in South Korea to nudge public opinion in the direction of supporting reunification.

For a long time, people in East Asia have worried about the “dangers” of a North Korean collapse, but President Park is trying to draw attention to the opportunities therein.  Chief among these opportunities are an end to human rights abuses in North Korea and the cessation of the proliferation of WMD by the KFR.  However, if there are also economic opportunities, then there is no harm in drawing attention to those opportunities, if doing so can persuade some people to stop supporting the KFR.

After years of engaging the North Korean regime with almost no positive results, it is time to change course and work to end the suffering of the North Korean people.  The goal of American policy should be to undermine the KFR and liberate the North Korean people.  Passing H.R. 1771 will further that goal.

Andrew W. Keller is an American lawyer living and working in South Korea.

The United States Congress should pass H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013, which is currently in committee.  Sanctions restrict the export to and import from North Korea of goods and technology for the use, development, or acquisition of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.  Sanctions also ban the export of luxury goods to North Korea, a tactic that could help undermine the North Korean regime, which bribes its VIPs in Pyongyang with imported luxury goods while people in the countryside starve.

The people of North Korea are suffering, with perhaps millions going hungry and almost all denied their basic human rights.  There is no freedom of speech in North Korea, as the brutal Kim family regime (“KFR”) that governs North Korea imprisons or executes its critics.  There is no freedom of religion in North Korea, as people can be sent to the gulag simply for owning a Bible.  And of course there is no economic freedom in North Korea, where state control of the economy stifles initiative and renders many people helpless to improve their impoverished living conditions. 

Against this background of poverty and despair reigns the despot boy-king Kim Jong-un.  Recently Kim made news with the execution of his uncle and advisor, Jang Song-Taek.  Unfortunately, Jang is just the highest-ranking of millions of North Koreans subject to capricious punishment under a ruthless dictatorship.  The KFR runs a brutal authoritarian state, as documented in the report of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which called for adopting “targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity.”  To make matters worse, in addition to terrorizing its own people, the KFR threatens regional peace in East Asia and exports WMD technology to Iran, where it could be used against Israel or someday even the United States.

Enacting H.R. 1771 would further the goals of liberating the North Korean people while eliminating the proliferation threat posed by the KFR’s cooperation with Iran.  Both of these goals would be accomplished by undermining the KFR and forcing it to change or risk collapse.

American policy should also take into account the concerns of our ally, South Korea.  South Koreans would be on the front line of a new Korean war.  This should not be taken lightly; indeed, it is one major reason why world powers have appeased North Korea for so long.  There is a legitimate concern that if the KFR becomes unstable, it could strike South Korea.

However, there is another reason why South Koreans are reluctant to undermine the KFR.  Many South Koreans do not want to see a North Korean collapse, with the economic cost it could bring.  South Koreans enjoy life in free and prosperous South Korea.  As such, a continuation of the status quo regarding North Korea may not be so bad for them.  Some South Koreans prefer to prop up the KFR in order to maintain regional stability and not disturb the South Korean economy.  Even during times of North Korean “provocations” (actually attacks) such as the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, most South Koreans pretend that North Korea does not exist.  This author was living in Seoul at that time and recalls expatriates packing their bags and grabbing their passports, preparing to flee a war, while locals went about their business as usual.

This author can only infer that South Koreans were not worried because they knew that their government would not take major action against North Korea.  Even after a North Korean attack, public opinion seemed to hold that the best course was only a very limited response.

Yet the mood in Seoul could be changing.  South Korean President Park Geun-Hye recently commented that Korean unification could be a kind of bonanza for the economy.  She has also made statements that Koreans should prepare for reunification.  Hopefully more South Koreans will become concerned about the plight of their fellow Koreans living under the brutal KFR in the north.  Even if not, the promise of a booming united Korea could change enough minds in South Korea to nudge public opinion in the direction of supporting reunification.

For a long time, people in East Asia have worried about the “dangers” of a North Korean collapse, but President Park is trying to draw attention to the opportunities therein.  Chief among these opportunities are an end to human rights abuses in North Korea and the cessation of the proliferation of WMD by the KFR.  However, if there are also economic opportunities, then there is no harm in drawing attention to those opportunities, if doing so can persuade some people to stop supporting the KFR.

After years of engaging the North Korean regime with almost no positive results, it is time to change course and work to end the suffering of the North Korean people.  The goal of American policy should be to undermine the KFR and liberate the North Korean people.  Passing H.R. 1771 will further that goal.

Andrew W. Keller is an American lawyer living and working in South Korea.