Monday, July 30, 2012

The Price of the Bomb: Why North Korea Needs to Start Playing By the Rules

When Kim Jong-il was pronounced dead just before Christmas of last year, I was not alone in exhibiting a touch of optimism at the prospect of a freer North Korea more willing to participate in the global arena under the guidance and leadership of Kim Jong-un. Years of bizarre isolation and a reluctance to obey any international laws or honor any alliances had created a sort of enigma in North Korea, and the rare glimpses outsiders got of the nation were bleak – North Koreans have experienced some of the worst living conditions in the world for decades.

Kim Jong-un has not lived up to expectations when it comes to interactions with the rest of the world. Yes, there have been talks and negotiations between the United States and North Korea since the beginning of 2012, but these negotiations have not produced any concrete results. North Korea still has nuclear weapons, is steadfast in their desire to hold on to them, and like his father, Kim Jong-un seems apathetic when it comes to the well-being of his people.

From a humanitarian standpoint, the leadership of North Korea is ineffective, and dangerously so. Just these past several weeks, torrential rain has caused rampant flooding – the New York Times reported yesterday that the death toll from these floods is now at 88 people, with 63,000 left homeless. This nation, which already has inadequate food supplies for its people, is having its farmland damaged or in the worst cases, completely destroyed. In most cases, such an unfortunate natural disaster would be offset by the generosity of outside nations in the form of aid. However, because of North Korea’s stubborn leadership and the relationship the country has with the rest of the world, not much aid is expected. The New York Times article states that last year, the United Nations requested $218 million for emergency aid in North Korea – donors together contributed just $85 million.

And why should they donate? North Korea offers nothing in return for the food, money, clothing and other resources that other countries provide for them. Furthermore, the request of the U.S., the U.N., and numerous others to re-join the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (which North Korea formally withdrew from in 2003) has been met with a lackadaisical disinterest from North Korea.

Herein lies the key to better relations between North Korea and the rest of the world, as well as an increase in aid provided to North Korea. Kim Jong-il’s obsession with developing nuclear weaponry and fortifying his army should not be adopted by his son; President Obama has paved the way for Russia and the U.S. to begin disarming their nuclear bombs, and there seems to be greater urgency in much of the developed world to diminish the vast arsenals of WMDs. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, since its inception in 1970, has had 190 signatory states, and this number will likely increase in the upcoming decade. There is no room in the world anymore for nuclear weapons, and North Korea is the last country that should be concerned with such a powerful and devastating technology. Additionally, the exorbitant costs associated with the uranium-enrichment process of developing nuclear power could have been spent on the North Korean public, who desperately need it. If Kim Jong-il had thought that nuclear bombs would be able to feed and clothe his citizens (which he most likely didn’t), then he was sorely mistaken.

This is more of an urge to Kim Jong-un than anything else. It is a shame to see a country with such promise stuck behind in a Cold War-type weapons build-up while agricultural resources and squandered and the general public starves to death. While it may not be necessarily copious, there is aid generated by much of the developed world every year, and with a little effort on the part of Kim Jong-un, his country will receive more of it. Just look at Vicky’s article on Cuba from yesterday: after Raul Castro agreed to have talks with the U.S. recently, a weekly service of cargo ships containing aid will head from Miami to Havana. It is apparent that the U.S. is willing to help those in need so Mr. Kim – please, let us help you, and agree to further negotiations. Your people will thank you.

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