By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS | 14 January 2024 (IDN) — North Korea, which has long suffered a shortage of food and medicine, has made relatively fast progress in cranking out ballistic missiles and emerging as an arms supplier to one of the world’s major nuclear powers: Russia.
A joint statement issued on January 10 by eight countries—France, Japan, Malta, Slovenia, South Korea, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States—accuses Russia of launching “several waves of devastating aerial attacks against Ukraine, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more.”
“These heinous attacks were conducted, in part, using ballistic missiles and ballistic missile launchers procured from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (DPRK or North Korea).
The export of these weapons from the DPRK to Russia, says the statement, “blatantly violates multiple UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit UN Member States from procuring arms or related materiel from the DPRK and prohibit the DPRK from exporting arms or related materiel”.
Additionally, Security Council resolutions also prohibit DPRK’s development of ballistic missile programs. These violations lead to further suffering of the Ukrainian people, support Russia’s brutal war of aggression, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime, the statement adds.
“Each violation makes the world a much more dangerous place. And a permanent Security Council member, (namely the Russian Federation), that willingly engages in these violations demonstrates a clear exploitation of its position”, the eight countries warn.
But despite multiple warnings, North Korea has openly violated UN resolutions, backed by two permanent members of the Security Council, namely China and Russia, while the US, UK and France, have thrown their protective arms around Israel facing charges of genocide in Gaza.
The new Cold War has brought the Security Council to a near-standstill.
According to a September 13 report on Cable News Network (CNN), North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin, following intense speculation, met on September 13, to discuss a potential arms deal—one that could see Pyongyang provide weapons for Moscow to use against Ukraine.
Putin signaled a potential willingness to assist North Korea in developing its space and satellite program as he gave Kim a tour of Russia’s Vostochny space launch site ahead of the arms talks.
At the end of his visit, Kim was quoted as saying he would “always be standing with Russia”.
In its latest report of North Korea, the State Department says the U.S., in the past, has provided food and other emergency aid to North Korea during times of famine and natural disasters, upon request by North Korea.
The U.S. does not provide any direct aid to North Korea. Currently, there are a number of U.S. NGOs that travel to DPRK through private and faith-based donor support, providing aid to fight infectious diseases such as multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis and to improve farming practices and agricultural output in rural area.
In its 2023 Yearbook, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said North Korea continues to prioritize its military nuclear programme as a central element of its national security strategy.
“While North Korea conducted no nuclear test explosions in 2022, it conducted more than 90 tests of missiles”. Some of these missiles, which include new ICBMs, SIPRI said, may be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
SIPRI estimates that the country has now assembled around 30 warheads and possesses enough fissile material for a total of 50–70 warheads, both significant increases over the estimates for January 2022.
Meanwhile, in its World Report 2023, released on January 11 at a UN press briefing, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says North Korea remains one of the most repressive countries in the world.
“Ruled by third-generation authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un, the government responded to the Covid-19 pandemic with deepened isolation and repression, increased ideological control, and by maintaining fearful obedience of the population by using threats of torture, extrajudicial executions, wrongful imprisonment, enforced disappearances, and forced hard labor”.
HRW also points out that the North Korean government does not tolerate pluralism, bans independent media, civil society organizations, and trade unions, and systematically denies all basic liberties, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and freedom of religion and belief.
“North Korean authorities routinely send perceived opponents of the government to secretive political prison camps (kwanliso) in remote regions where they face torture and other ill-treatment, starvation rations, and forced labor. Collective punishment is also used to silence dissent”.
The North Korean government, says the HRW report, failed to protect economic rights, resulting in violations of the right to health, food, and access to an adequate standard of living in 2022.
The impact of the nearly three-year-long Covid-19 nationwide country lockdown intensified as the country was hit by major droughts in May, and flooding in July and August.
Meanwhile, in May, North Korea imposed more severe lockdowns across the country after it announced North Korea’s first official Covid-19 case. The government continued to prioritize weapons’ development and conducted a record number of over 30 missile tests between January and October, said HRW.
In an academic analysis last November of the situation in North Korea, Jisun Yi, a Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), said the global community has been actively monitoring food situations around the world and developing contingency plans for regions at risk of deteriorating food conditions.
However, in recent years United Nations agencies responsible for assessing global food security and planning food assistance have been unable to include North Korea in their monitoring processes. This is largely due to almost no access of the outsider to the country, especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The country seems to be experiencing a ‘hidden food crisis’ where internal food conditions are rapidly worsening under tightened government controls but with little room for external actors to intervene”.
On another note, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service recently reported significant surges in starvation deaths, suicides, and violent crimes within the north. These disturbing numbers serve as a rough but non-negligible indication of a severe food problem in North Korea.
Above all, it underscores the crucial need for the outside world to recognize the country’s unique-type food crisis which has been characterized by multiple disconnections from international sanctions, border closures, and information blockades.
Thus, it is paramount for the global community to resume interest and devise methods to possibly monitor the ongoing situation in order to mitigate the likelihood of famine or famine-like conditions in North Korea, says the study. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: Russian President Putin with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Credit: Vladimir Smirnov, TASS