Is the international community failing North Korean citizens?


The suffering of ordinary people in North Korea is beyond words. The United Nations estimates that 80,000 to 120,000 people are in Nazi-like prison camps, and that millions are facing starvation. The UN has also found evidence that the North Korean government has tortured, raped, and enslaved its own citizens for even the smallest crimes. Even from the little information available, it is clear that North Korea is facing a humanitarian crisis on an unthinkable scale. Now it has to be argued that action is needed. The international community cannot stand idly by, but must act to bring about change in North Korea.

The international community’s present policy of periodically threatening North Korea with war will not bring about change. Instead, it must engage with North Korea and offer rewards and incentives to leaders who take steps to modernise the country. The only people who can bring about long term change to North Korea are the people of influence within the country itself. An approach based on supporting and encouraging reformist within North Korea is therefore the only way of bringing about change.

A more engaged approach may seem less aggressive, and could even be seen in some respects to legitimise Kim Jong Un’s brutal actions. However, a policy of smart interaction can be a lot more effective. A policy of influencing key members of the Communist Party to realise a more modern North Korea and grasp the basics of common human decency would shake the Kim regime to its core.

A change in policy course from the US, the UN and the rest of the international community is a logical step towards helping the long-suffering citizens of North Korea. The only alternative to a policy of engagement is war. No one wants a war: not the international community, nor the citizens of North Korea. With nuclear weapons involved, the thought of war is disturbing. This is a call to Barack Obama, Ban Ki Moon, or whoever is listening: the international community is making a grave error in its dealings with North Korea, and this has to change.

by Oliver Craven

I am studying for a degree at the University of Hull in politics and international relations.

Photograph by Tierry Ehrmann, via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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