Sunday, November 20, 2005

Is there hope for North Korea?

It's not only in the Middle East that Iraq's election lights a way. Let us turn to what may be the world's most abandoned population, 23 million souls living under a government that surely qualifies as the worst totalitarian state on the planet: North Korea.

Long viewed as home to hopelessly brainwashed generations, marching in lockstep to the glory of the tyrannical father-son Kim dynasty, North Korea has been pretty much written off the world's list of candidates for transition to democracy--at least by the usual sophisticates of world politics, at least for the foreseeable future. The vision routinely offered in seminars and lectures on such matters as East Asian security is one of a North Korean population that, if ever set free, would have no idea what to do except perhaps pivot as one, swarm South Korea and devour its bounty like a colony of army ants--upsetting all sorts of cozy regional habits in the process.

That's one big reason why democratic states like the U.S., Japan, European Union members and South Korea have focused not on freeing North Koreans, but on wheeling and dealing with their tyrant, in efforts to contain Pyongyang's nuclear bomb-making, war-threatening, terrorizing ways. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in her confirmation hearings that she thinks North Korea can best be dealt with via "diplomacy."

What that means in practice remains to be seen. But let us hope that with Natan Sharansky's book, "The Case for Democracy," making the rounds in Washington, Ms. Rice was thinking more of reaching out in any way possible to the captive population of North Korea than of pinning our own security on yet more rounds of those "six-way talks" in Beijing. Those are the spectacles at which the North Korean representative huffs and puffs, and the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Russia all dignify his killer regime with their joint attention, while the Chinese communists smile and serve tea.

Not so long ago, this was more or less the approach of democratic societies, including the U.S., to Saddam Hussein and the millions of Iraqis who in 2002 "re-elected" him president with 100% of the "vote." The important people of global politics, at the U.N. and in many of the world's capitals, dealt with Saddam; meanwhile the Iraqi people under threat of torture or death collected their rations and either kept quiet, defected or died at state hands in numbers that far outstripped the current widely reported violence.

With Saddam gone, Iraqis now have opportunities that North Koreans--except the two million who were quietly starved to death by their own government these past 10 years--can only dream of. While Iraqis were wowing the world with their will to go to the polls, North Koreans, according to the state "news" agency, were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the late Great Leader Kim Il Sung's "unforgettable" publication of "Theses on the Socialist Rural Question in Our Country." Does anyone seriously imagine that is how North Koreans freed of their regime would choose to spend the day?

While North Korean cadres were pondering the agricultural insights of Kim Sr., the regime of the current tyrant, Kim Jr., was busy cutting the rations of ordinary North Koreans--again--to half the minimum daily energy requirement, as the U.N. World Food Program director for North Korea, Richard Ragan, recently told Reuters.

The classic answer is to send aid. Unfortunately, there is a mountain of evidence that this serves chiefly to sustain the Kim regime, which à la Saddam finds ways to divert relief to its own uses--one of those uses being to keep control over a horribly oppressed citizenry. President Clinton cut a deal with Pyongyang in 1994 meant to produce a nuclear freeze while feeding the people of North Korea.

Pyongyang predictably cheated on the freeze, starved the people anyway, and Kim Jong Il, who had just inherited the regime from his father, seized the chance to consolidate his grip.

[Excerpted from an article by Claudia Rosett, Wall Street Journal]

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