By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — North Korea, long described as a “hermit kingdom”, apparently isn’t living in total political isolation or is cut off from the rest of the world.
Or so it seems, judging by the failure of the US and some of its UN allies to impose sanctions on five North Korean officials—sanctions really aimed at a country which continues to defy the West with its multiple ballistic nuclear tests. [2022-01-30-26] JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | NORWEGIAN | SPANISH
A proposal to impose sanctions on the North Koreans, at a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on January 19, was blocked by two of the permanent members in the Council: China and Russia.
If the US proposal was later introduced as a formal resolution in the Council chamber, it would have been vetoed by, not one, but two of the big powers in the UNSC. But the US, conscious of the possible consequences, refused to take that path
Asked about North Korea’s seventh ballistic missile test in a single month—and the longest-range missile tested since 2017—US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told ABC TV on January 30: “It is provocative, and it is something that we have very, very strongly condemned in the Security Council”.
“The United States, as you know, imposed unilateral sanctions in the past few weeks against the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea). And we have pushed for sanctions within the Security Council. And I will be engaging with our allies—the Koreans, as well as Japanese, who are also threatened by this—to look at other options for responding”.
Asked whether it is time for President Joe Biden to engage personally with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, she said: “You know, we have been clear on that from the beginning. We are open to having diplomatic discussions. We've offered this over and over to the DPRK. And they've not accepted it. But we're absolutely open to a diplomatic engagement without preconditions. Our goal is to end the threatening actions that the DPRK is taking against their neighbors.”
Following North Korea’s first nuclear test, the Security Council initially imposed sanctions on DPRK in 2006 and additional sanctions in response to further nuclear tests triggering economic hardships in the country.
Meanwhile, despite all the humanitarian assistance from the United Nations to a country suffering from food shortages, North Korea continued with its nuclear weapons program unhindered.
According to a 2019 report from the Rome-based World Food Programme (WFP), there were 11 million people undernourished (2019 Needs and Priorities report) and 1 in 5 children stunted in a population of 25.5 million people.
John Delury, a professor of history at the Yonsei University in Seoul, was quoted in the New York Times January 28 as saying: “No amount of sanctions could create the pressures that Covid-19 created in the past two years. Yet do we see North Korea begging and saying: "take our weapons and give us some aid"?
"The North Koreans will eat grass", he said, rather than give up their nuclear weapons—a quote reminiscent of a famous statement made by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who said: “We will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own (nuclear bombs). We have no other choice!”
Bhutto’s statement followed India’s “peaceful” nuclear explosion in 1974.
Of the world’s nine nuclear powers, four are from Asia: China, India, Pakistan and North Korea, while the remaining five include the US, UK, Russia, France and Israel.
Joseph Gerson, President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, and Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau, told IDN the nuclear crisis with Korea has multiple origins, not the least of which are the numerous times, beginning in the Korean War, that the US has prepared and threatened to attack North Korea with nuclear weapons and missed opportunities by 21st century US presidents.
President George W. Bush, he pointed out, made a massive error when he rejected the comprehensive agreement with North Korea negotiated by former Secretary of Defense Perry and former Secretary of State Albright. It was then that Pyongyang began its nuclear weapons tests.
President Barack Obama pursed the failed policy of "benign neglect" during which North Korea advanced both its nuclear and missile capacities. Then, the refusal of President Trump and National Security Advisor Bolton to pursue a step-by-step nuclear arms control with North Korea was another lost opportunity, said Gerson.
“North Korea, an isolated, authoritarian and highly militarized state has felt threatened by US-South Korean war games which have included practice runs for regime change in Pyongyang.”
He said North Korea has insisted that before progress in disarmament negotiations can be made, the US much cease its hostile policies directed against it.
“With the Biden Administration focused on reinforcing US power and influence in Europe, and now on the Ukraine crisis with Russia, and the priorities that Biden and Blinken have been giving to increasing containment pressures on China, little attention in Washington has been devoted to Korea. Hence Kim Jong UN's recent disturbing missile tests,” declared Gerson.
An important step that the Biden Administration should take to signal an end to the United States' hostile approach to North Korea, would be finalizing a declaration with Seoul, now under discussion, declaring an end to the 72-year-old Korean War.
“More will be needed, but it would be an important first step in building the mutual trust and confidence essential to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia,” he noted.
Kevin Martin, President, Peace Action Coordinator, Korea Peace Network, told IDN “I think it's unfortunate, but mostly consistent with DPRK actions over the years/decades”.
The North Korean government still feels, quite reasonably, insecure with the US/South Korea (and you can throw in Japan) military alliance arrayed against it, what it terms the "hostile policy."
The Biden Administration should commence much more urgent and serious diplomacy with North Korea, and quickly while South Korean President Moon Jae-in is still in office as a partner for peace, said Martin.
Christine Ahn, executive director of Women Cross DMZ (De-Militarized Zone), a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean war and ensure women’s leadership in peace building, told IDN “I think the takeaway of North Korea’s 7th launch this month is that it’s demonstrating its ability to deter any unilateral first strike from the US”.
Despite all its overtures of willing to talk to the DPRK, “anywhere, anytime,” the US’ “hostile” policy has not shifted one slight bit.
In fact, Biden just appointed Philip Goldberg as US ROK (Republic of Korea) Ambassador who is most known as a sanctions-enforcer and regime change.
This signals that the US is ready to dig in its heels and continue its failed policies of military exercises and sanctions, which only embolden North Korea to further strengthen its military capability.
“This is a dangerous game of brinkmanship that can be resolved with genuine diplomacy towards replacing the ceasefire with a peace agreement,” said Ahn.
According to the WFP website, the DPRK continues to face a wide range of food and nutrition security challenges, which add to the protracted humanitarian situation in the country.
Agriculture annually falls short of meeting food needs, due to shortages of arable land, lack of access to modern agricultural equipment and fertilizers, and recurrent natural disasters.
Droughts, floods, typhoons and heatwaves continue to affect the country every year, causing soil leeching, erosion, landslides and damage to crops and infrastructure.
Even minor disasters can significantly reduce agricultural production and the availability of food, stressing communities’ already limited coping capacities. In late 2018 a severe heat wave in the provinces considered to be the ‘food basket’ of the country pushed temperatures 11 degrees higher than average.
This was followed in late August 2018 by Typhoon Soulik that brought heavy rains to South Hamgyong and Kangwon provinces, as well as flash floods to North and South Hwanghae provinces.
Economic and political issues add further difficulties, with restrictions on international trade and investments imposed by the United Nations Security Council.
In February 2021, the WFP said the country’s pandemic-related restrictions have “curtailed” the group’s ability to bring in food, deploy staff members and monitor its aid program. [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 January 2022]
Photo: North Korean farmers in a field. Wikimedia Commons.