How realpolitik is getting people killed in North Korea

Abraham Cooper:


Since 2002, defectors among the flood of refugees from North Korea have detailed firsthand accounts of systematic starvation, torture and murder. Enemies of the state are used in experiments to develop new generations of chemical and biological weapons that threaten the world. A microcosm of these horrors is Camp 22, one of 12 concentration camps housing an estimated 200,000 political prisoners facing torture or execution for such "crimes" as being a Christian or a relative of someone suspected of deviation from "official ideology of the state." Another eyewitness, Kwon Hyuk, formerly chief manager at Camp 22, repeated to me what he asserted to the BBC: "I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber. . . . The parents were vomiting and dying, but until the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing."

So why no worldwide outrage?

For now it appears that realpolitik trumps distant horrors. Despite heroic efforts by Christian activists on both sides of the Pacific to sound the alarm, the South Korean government views these accusations as unwelcome complications to its problematic and complex relations with the North. Indeed, a foreign ministry official whom I met did not deny that North Korea gassed political prisoners to further its program to develop weapons of mass destruction. He politely stated that Seoul was focusing exclusively on the threat from Pyongyang's nuclear program in the context of the six-nation peace talks. Meanwhile, most South Korean nongovernmental organizations are so committed to the idyllic vision of a reunified Korean Peninsula that they have turned a deaf ear to the horrors inflicted on their own people north of the 38th parallel.

The Western media haven't exactly ignored this story. Instead, they have generally treated it in an offhand manner chillingly reminiscent of how the Holocaust was reported during World War II. For example, the Pentagon just recently sought emergency authority to resume administering the anthrax vaccine to U.S. troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula as well as in the Persian Gulf because of "a significant potential for a military emergency involving a heightened risk to United States military forces of attack." The limited coverage of the story focused not on the threat posed by North Korean chemical and biological weaponry but on the controversy over the safety of inoculating the troops.

Indifference in the face of evil begets more evil. A diplomatic solution with people whose word is no good, with people who murder their own, will be meaningless. What we are witnessing is a diplomatic dance as a prelude to taking more effective actions. The next phase will be an attempt at sanctions. South Korea and China could easily thwart a sanctions effort. The Norks has already said that sanctions would be an act of war. Actually sanctions are in lieu of war, but if that is truly their attitude, then the sanctions become only the last act in the diplomatic dance. They must be told that thwarting sanctions will only lead to "other means" as described by Clausewitz. The Norks will then find what real war is.


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