Freeing North Korea: a readiness for responsibility

thaad
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) test. CC: United States Missile Defense Agency

 

This year has and will deliver continental-sized shifts in the global political landscape. New administrations in the United States and the Republic of Korea, major changes to China’s Politburo Standing Committee, and ongoing political flux across Europe will reposition our known political compass points. But one of the biggest changes looks likely to come from a small corner of north-east Asia, namely North Korea.

Pyongyang’s recent tests of ballistic missiles and the suspected murder of Kim Jong Nam should come as no surprise to global policymakers. North Korea has been on a deliberate march toward nuclear deterrence since the 1960s, while its support and participation in acts of terror have grown in stature and frequency in recent years.

Given the current political condition in which South Korea finds itself, Pyongyang appears to sense an opportunity to cement itself as Asia’s immovable force. The terrorisation of its nationals abroad is a deliberate part of this strategy.

How will our changed world respond to North Korea? Diplomatic overtures in recent years have lacked the urgency, intimate knowledge, and policy coherence which has been required. I have seen first-hand how many states, particularly in Europe, appear to believe that North Korea’s nuclear weapons (not to mention its human rights violations) could be negotiated away for political or economic reasons.

But as Nicholas Eberstadt recently explained to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Sovereign governments simply do not trade away their vital national interests.” It is beyond the realm of reason to think that a North Korean Government that keeps millions in hunger and poverty, hundreds of thousands in concentration camps, has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, violated two International Atomic Energy Agency agreements, two Agreed Frameworks, and six United Nations Security Council resolutions, would willingly negotiate away its only bargaining chip.

“Engagement and dialogue can and do work in many situations. North Korea is not one of those situations.”

Engagement and dialogue can and do work in many situations. North Korea is not one of those situations. North Korea’s rulers cannot put an end to their policies of human rights abuses. Nor can they relinquish their nuclear program. They are not ignorant of the costs of Libya’s rollback of its nuclear ambitions. Nor are they oblivious to the consequences that befell totalitarian regimes who initiated social and economic reforms or lessened their grips on violence.

Calls for negotiations with Pyongyang grow louder by the day, but we must not let reason yield to misplaced hope. The North Korean Government has repeatedly stated that it will not relinquish its nuclear weapons. Why doubt this? For North Korea’s elite, promises of personal wealth, immunity from war crimes, or foreign economic investment count for naught. They have the blood of millions of innocent people on their hands which cannot be washed away. They know that with reform will come retribution.

Given recent developments, the former UK Ambassador to North Korea, David Slinn, posed the question: “Is it possible to even think of negotiating with [somebody] who believes it is OK to use a deadly nerve gas in public in a foreign country?” North Korea’s new tools of lethal intent clearly demonstrate one point: that it will seek survival at any cost. The world cannot continue to endure such an existential threat. It is high-time that we adopt a new and radical approach.

It is taboo, yet entirely reasonable to expect states to initiate policies that seek the demise of the North Korean regime in a controlled and non-violent manner. No status quo can last forever, especially one as catastrophic as that which exists in North Korea, and any effective foreign policy should acknowledge this point.

“No status quo can last forever, especially one as catastrophic as that which exists in North Korea, and any effective foreign policy should acknowledge this point.”

The rise of the Cheollima Civil Defense, an underground and seemingly powerful group that operates inside and outside of North Korea to save the lives of its vulnerable citizens, suddenly allows us place our hope in a revolutionary actor who tells us that change is not just conceivable, for it already exists. This group’s brave actions, which have been supported by the governments of the US, China, and the Netherlands, should be supported more widely.

As a member of the UK’s International Development Select Committee, I know it is vital for a network of international experts to commit to planning the rebuilding of vital infrastructure and services in North Korea. We must learn from cases such as Iraq and put in place rapid response strategies in the event of regime failure in North Korea for food and medical aid; and from Burma, where we have seen that democracy building is a slow, painful process, which requires persistent support over time in a coordinated manner by the international community to promote progress. The governments of the US, UK, South Korea, and European powers are in strong positions to begin this urgent task today.

“The time to speak out against North Korea has, to a certain extent, already been and gone. History will judge those who turned a blind-eye, appeased North Korea, or disempowered the exiled community. Soon, actions and not words may be crucial if millions of North Koreans are to be saved.”

The time to speak out against North Korea has, to a certain extent, already been and gone. History will judge those who turned a blind-eye, appeased North Korea, or disempowered the exiled community. Soon, actions and not words may be crucial if millions of North Koreans are to be saved. Unification, democratization, marketization — these can all come later. First, we must carefully consider how we can help free North Koreans.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the anti-Nazi dissident, proclaimed that “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” This is especially true in the case of North Korea. When change arrives, governments, civil society, and other stakeholders, including the United Nations, should be ready for the responsibility that Bonhoeffer described. Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenbürg concentration camp in April 1945, just one month before the liberation of Germany. The same fate must not befall those in North Korea’s concentration camps. We may only have one chance to help North Koreans reclaim their country; and it is a chance that we must not surrender.

Fiona Bruce is Co-Chair of the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, and a serving Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

*A version of this article was originally published in the Korea Times on March 28th 2017.

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North Korean Diplomats: personae non gratae

Once again, the international community finds itself asking a perennial question: What to do about North Korea? A chain of events has unfolded in the past month-and-a-half which has proved as astonishing as it has belligerent, and the international community is now compelled to take immediate and resolute measures — not only to uphold numerous international laws and norms, but also to ensure the security of North Korean exiles and refugees.

On February 11th, North Korea launched a Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missile aimed directly at Japanese waters, followed by the launch of four more ballistic missiles on March 6th which landed just 300 kilometres west of Japan’s Oga Peninsula. Both were acts designed to perfect weapons capable of inflicting death on an enormous scale.

Yet it is the calculated and cold-blooded murder of one individual, Kim Jong Nam, which appears to have exposed a new and deadly intent of the North Korean regime. Slain on February 13th in broad daylight at a crowded Kuala Lumpur airport with a highly toxic liquid nerve agent that has been classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction, the murder — if carried out by the Government of North Korea — would be one of the most brazen acts of state-sponsored terrorism and chemical warfare in recent memory.

Apparently orchestrated by a North Korean institution designed to network with foreign governments and non-government agencies, the External Liaisons Department, seven North Korean nationals have been suspected by Malaysian police of being involved in the murder. Four immediately flew to Pyongyang, while the remaining three suspects, one a North Korean diplomat, are still in hiding at the DPRK embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

The refusal of the DPRK Ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol, to release the North Korean suspects into Malaysian custody, combined with his unsuccessful attempts to impede Malaysia’s police investigations and a suspected attempt to gain entry at the morgue where Kim’s body was held, rightly led the Government of Malaysia to declare Kang to be persona non grata.

As the international community reflects on this series of events, what is to be done about North Korea’s belligerence and the suspected wider problem of North Korean diplomats acting as agents of terror?

Continued missile launches pose existential threats to us all and North Korea’s military operations must be countered by direct and targeted disruption, in addition to the roll-out of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system and the imposition of yet further and far stronger sanctions. But the gruesome murder of Kim Jong Nam, which is just the latest in a long list of outrages suspected to have been coordinated by North Korean diplomatic personnel, requires a closer consideration of North Korean diplomats and agents across the world.

Operating as potential extensions of Pyongyang’s domestic arms of terror, corruption, and belligerence, North Korean diplomats have the capacity to move freely to conduct illicit activities, organise slave labourers, and execute North Korean exiles — even in Europe.

A recent United Nations Panel of Experts report found “diplomats, missions and trade representatives of the [DPRK] systematically play key roles in prohibited sales, procurement, finance and logistics.” Indeed, I have written in this paper before that such actions make it abundantly clear “that diplomatic relations with Pyongyang are effectively a façade.”

The latest United Nations Security Council Resolution calls upon Member States to “reduce the number of staff at DPRK diplomatic missions and consular posts.” The United Kingdom and other European Union states have submitted their initial implementation reports concerning this resolution to the United Nations Security Council, and we should expect many North Korean diplomats to face de-recognition and a return to North Korea in the coming months.

Of course, a return to Pyongyang is not the only option for North Korean diplomats. The example of Thae Yong Ho, who I met while he worked at the DPRK Embassy in London and who has provided valuable intelligence on North Korea’s illicit activities since his defection, demonstrates the pull of freedom and prosperity over tyranny and fear. The emergence of the Cheollima Civil Defence, a discrete organisation which rescues and evacuates high-level North Koreans, and the recent quadrupling of the reward given to elite North Korean defectors who share intelligence to $860,000 by the South Korean Government, suggests that many more North Korean diplomats may refuse to abandon the freedoms and living standards they and their families enjoy in Europe and across the world.

But for now, the murder of Kim Jong Nam has brought the actions of North Korean diplomats sharply into focus. For far too long, Pyongyang’s diplomatic personnel have acted as potential vehicles for terrorism, murder, sanctions evasion, illicit sales, and the procurement of weapons of mass destruction. The latest United Nations resolution provides states with an opportunity to uphold international law and better protect exiled North Koreans and refugees who now find themselves to be targets of this most brutal regime. Starting today, this is a task that must not fail.

Fiona Bruce is Co-Chair of the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, and a serving Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

*An edited version of this article was originally published in the Chosun Ilbo in Korean on March 28th 2017.

Fiona Bruce MP and Benedict Rogers: What to do now about the most closed country in the world

Fiona Bruce MP, Vice Chair of the APPG NK, and Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide have co-authored an article for ConservativeHome.com on the challenges and options that Britain faces in its attempts to bring reform to the DPRK.

Benedict Rogers & Fiona Bruce MP
Benedict Rogers & Fiona Bruce MP

Listing four key recommendations for government policy – namely, a referral of the DPRK to the International Criminal Court; support for a BBC World Service in the Korean-language; increased engagement with Britain’s North Korean refugee community; and greater normative pressure on the PRC to end its forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees – the authors call for a sustained momentum in the international community and “a much greater sense of urgency…at the very highest levels of government”.

Link: Fiona Bruce and Benedict Rogers: What to do now about the most closed country in the world