Skip to main content

The danger of North Korea is no joke

By Joshua Stanton and Sung-Yoon Lee
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
In an undated photo released on November 28, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is seen on a field trip to see the airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. North Korean Newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported Kim "guided a flight drill of pursuit airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. He went out to an airport's runway to learn about the plan for solo take-off and landing drill by women pilots of pursuit planes and guide their flight." In an undated photo released on November 28, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is seen on a field trip to see the airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. North Korean Newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported Kim "guided a flight drill of pursuit airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. He went out to an airport's runway to learn about the plan for solo take-off and landing drill by women pilots of pursuit planes and guide their flight."
HIDE CAPTION
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • North Korean state media hurl foul insults against Obama, South Korea president, others
  • Writers: U.N. report finds vile words nothing like the hate crimes against its own people
  • Writers: Obama administration can't ignore regime that assists Iran, Syria, terror groups
  • They say Pyongyang must be convinced by strong sanctions that change is its only choice

Editor's note: Joshua Stanton, an attorney in Washington, has advised the House Foreign Affairs Committee on North Korea-related legislation and blogs at OneFreeKorea. Sung-Yoon Lee is Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies and assistant professor at the Fletcher School, Tufts University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writers.

(CNN) -- In the past weeks, North Korean state media have called the female President of South Korea a "dirty political harlot" and an "old prostitute"; the gay chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on North Korea "a disgusting old lecher with 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality"; and, in a loathsome screed, referred to U.S. President Barack Obama as a "monkeyish human monstrosity."

Still, North Korea's exceptionally vile words pale in comparison to its criminal actions.

In North Korea, racism isn't just talk. That U.N. Commission of Inquiry's report summarizes testimony from North Korean refugee women and former border guards who say that the regime forcibly aborts or murders the babies of refugee women sent back to North Korea by China, on the presumption that the babies' fathers were Chinese, to maintain the myth of state-mandated "racial purity." It described a system of hereditary discrimination, based on perceived political loyalty, that denies lower-caste North Koreans opportunities for education, employment, and even food.

Joshua Stanton
Joshua Stanton
Sung-Yoon Lee
Sung-Yoon Lee

The report asserts that Pyongyang fines women for wearing pants or riding bicycles, and forces thousands of them into sexual slavery by denying them an adequate supply of food. As for gay North Koreans, Pyongyang denies that they even exist, and said the report was spurred by lies and "hostile forces."

North Korea's repellent language and actions teach us some uncomfortable lessons:

First, North Korea's remaining defenders on the far left do not deserve to be described as liberal or progressive. Although increasingly fewer in numbers, these ideologically committed apologists echo Pyongyang's justifications for its nuclear weapons programs, deny its responsibility for crimes against humanity, and -- despite Pyongyang's repeated violations of the 1953 Armistice -- insist that only a peace treaty can prevent war. To defend Kim Jong Un's rule, they must also defend its racism, its sexism, its homophobia, its class discrimination, and its extreme repression.

Second, we should stop infantilizing North Korea and dismissing it as ridiculous. The temptation is understandable. The North Korean regime's very weirdness causes much of the world to dismiss its invective as the rant of a regime that is merely isolated, eccentric, and misunderstood.

But North Korea is not just a bizarre abstraction --- an impoverished kingdom ruled by a young, overly well-nourished hereditary leader with an affinity for the National Basketball Association. It is a murderous regime that is approaching nuclear breakout, and whose human rights violations, according to the Commission of Inquiry, "have no parallel anywhere in the world." North Korea's words reflect the character of its political system. They manifest the malice of a regime that practices hate and inflicts it on its own people and its neighbors alike. It's time to treat Kim Jong Un like the threat to civilization that he is.

North Korean drones raise fears
Defector lifts curtain on North Korea
North Korea's arsenal by the numbers

Third, North Korea is not a problem the Obama administration can keep ignoring. North Korea has been caught assisting Syria's nuclear weapons and chemical weapons program; has sold ballistic missiles to Iran and Syria; and has sold arms to Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet, it has not been penalized for most of these actions. Indeed, North Korea may be the most influential regional actor in history in relation to its economic, political and cultural power, and the size of its territory and population. Over the past two decades, this poor, aid-dependent, isolationist state has outplayed the biggest and wealthiest nations in the world, including the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, on high international politics -- nuclear diplomacy.

Fourth, North Korea can't be appeased or patronized away. Since the mid-1990s, Pyongyang has reaped billions of dollars from the U.S. and its allies in return for empty pledges of de-nuclearization while forging ahead with its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Since 2008, North Korea has refused to show up at six-party de-nuclearization talks, in spite of U.S. and South Korean offers of aid. Despite years of aid and engagement, North Korea shows no interest in reform, has become more dangerous to South Korea as well as to its own people, and has become more hostile to the U.S. and the world. Today, North Korea is on the verge of a fourth nuclear test.

North Korea must be held to the standards of the civilized world. For decades, diplomats and nongovernmental organizations alike have excused Pyongyang's transgressions, lies and crimes out of a desire to maintain relationships with it at all costs.

The consequences of such appeasement are telling: Aid doesn't get to the hungry, disarmament deals collapse, U.N. sanctions leak, and a regime sustained by hate and contemptuous of human life and dignity acquires the bomb. Pyongyang uses its access to the civilized world to supply its increasingly wealthy elite with cash, while, according to the United Nations, 84% of North Korean households have poor or borderline food consumption. The world cannot sanction and subsidize the same regime at the same time. It must first pressure Pyongyang into understanding that change is its only choice, by taking the enforcement of U.N. Security Council sanctions seriously.

For once, actions must have consequences. For Pyongyang to enjoy the benefits of civilization, it must live by the standards of civilization. Accepting Pyongyang's hate at face value is a first step toward credibly presenting Pyongyang with that dose of reality.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT