Gen. Walter Sharp, former commander of U.S. Forces-Korea, raised more than a few eyebrows recently when he predicted, “There will be instability in North Korea that, I believe, will lead to the collapse of North Korea much sooner than many of us think.” We should hope and pray that Sharp’s prediction is accurate, because the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is the most backward, brutal, and beastly regime on earth today.
The DPRK is guilty of “a wide array of crimes against humanity” and “unspeakable atrocities,” as a special United Nations panel concluded in a sobering report. “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” according to the 372-page document.
The government-sponsored crimes include “persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
The report also finds in North Korea a “complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association,” noting that between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are being held in prison camps.
Indeed, the DPRK is consigned to the lowest tier—the bottom eight—on a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) ranking. Pyongyang “tightly controls all religious activity and perpetuates an extreme cult of personality venerating the Kim family as a pseudo-religion,” according to USCIRF. “Individuals engaged in clandestine religious activity are arrested, tortured, imprisoned and sometimes executed. Thousands of religious believers and their families are imprisoned in penal labor camps.”
Yet it could be argued that religious liberty is the least of the North Korean people’s concern. After all, North Korea is a place where citizens are required to donate food rations to the armed forces, where people subsist on a diet that relies on “wild foods”—Pyongyang’s Orwellian euphemism for tree bark and grass—during times of scarcity, where children are being orphaned by mass-starvation. And yet, the Kim Dynasty diverts one-third of its GDP to the armed forces, tests long-range rockets and nuclear bombs, and buys new tanks. North Korea has 200 more tanks today than in 2008.
If only those were the worst of Kim’s abuses of power.
The North Korean regime, according to the UN panel, is guilty of “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment.” It engages in systemic sexual violence, including rape, forced abortions, and infanticide. Newborns are regularly killed by drowning and suffocation, the UN reports. Many forced abortions are a function of Pyongyang’s retrograde desire to preserve a “pure Korean race,” according to the UN. “The concept of ‘pure Korean blood’ remains in the DPRK psyche,” the UN report explains, quoting a former North Korean official. “Having a child who is not ‘100 percent’ Korean makes a woman ‘less than human.’”
Recognizing the “many parallels” between North Korea and the Nazi regime, Michael Kirby, chairman of the UN panel, concedes, “I never thought that in my lifetime it would be part of my duty to bring revelations of a similar kind.”
Pointing to the nature and volume of Pyongyang’s crimes, the UN condemns “the inadequacy of the response of the international community.” (Of course, in doing so, it is condemning itself.) “The United Nations must ensure that those most responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are held accountable. Options to achieve this end include a Security Council referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal by the United Nations.”
A Nuremburg-style tribunal or ICC referral is certainly warranted, but the creaking machinery of the UN Security Council—where Beijing routinely shields Pyongyang from international condemnation and punitive sanctions—prevents any such action. And even if the UN Security Council somehow agreed to haul North Korean leaders before the ICC tribunal, the ICC has no power to apprehend the accused. That task would be left to civilization’s first responder and last line of defense—the U.S. military—and that would be an act of war.
No one of sound mind wants another war in Korea. The toll from the 1950-53 Korean War should give us pause: 38,000 Americans, 103,000 South Koreans, 316,000 North Koreans, 422,000 Chinese and 2 million civilians killed during three years of conventional warfare. Six decades later, we have the specter of a mushroom cloud hanging over the sequel.
Korean War II would give new meaning to the term “Pyrrhic victory.” The fact that it would end the Kim Dynasty is of little comfort given the costs. Kim’s arsenal includes 13,600 artillery pieces/rocket-launch systems, 4,100 tanks, 730 combat aircraft and hundreds of missiles. Gen. Leon LaPorte, former commander of U.S. Forces-Korea, noted in 2005 that every third round fired by North Korea would be a chemical weapon. Seoul would bear the brunt of the blow. With its 10.5 million residents, Seoul’s outer suburbs sit just 25 miles from the DMZ—a sobering thought given that 70 percent of the North’s ground forces are deployed within 60 miles of the border zone. That explains why experts talk of “World War I levels” of casualties.
What can Americans and their government do?
Preach from the bully pulpit
“A little less détente,” President Reagan once counseled with regard to another evil regime, “and more encouragement to the dissenters might be worth a lot of armored divisions.”
In other words, policymakers should draw attention—relentlessly—to the North Korean regime’s illegitimacy, brutality and assault on basic human rights. The State Department’s recent decision to cite Kim Jong Un for widespread human-rights abuses and “repressive policies toward his own people” is a step in the right direction. “Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor and torture,” Acting Undersecretary of Treasury Adam Szubin said in July.
The purpose here is not be to shame Pyongyang—for the shameless cannot be shamed—but rather to challenge its enablers. Toward that end, the White House should shame and name regimes that support the monsters in Pyongyang (China and Russia), shine a light on the daily plight of the North Korean people, point out the vast differences between North and South Korea, and offer a platform to the DPRK’s escapees.
Pray for transformation
If, as Asia expert Minxin Pei observes, “No modern authoritarian dynastic regime has succeeded in passing power to the third generation,” then the Kim Dynasty isn’t long for this world. Perhaps our prayers can push it over the edge.
“The real business of your life as a saved soul,” Oswald Chambers wrote a century ago, “is intercessory prayer.” In some mysterious way, intercession works. It pays to recall that Moses, Mordecai, Peter, and Paul were all intercessors.
We can pray that Kim’s regime falls like a rotten tree rather than explodes like a time bomb. We can pray for mercy to soothe the brutalized people of Kim’s vast prison state. And we can pray for wisdom to guide our leaders. Leading a superpower with a conscience is a thankless, endless exercise in searching for the least-bad option, which is why we need to offer “petitions, prayers and intercession” for “all those in authority” that they might make the right decisions—so that we might live in peace.
Prepare in order to prevent
Pyongyang’s assault on religious liberty, human rights, and humanity itself isn’t just about ideals. It’s also about interests. Regimes that have no respect for religion—regimes like the DPRK—see no limits on their power. Since they believe nothing is above the state, they can rationalize everything they do in the name of the state, the fatherland, the revolution, the “Dear Leader.” That’s a terrifying notion, given the arsenal Kim controls.
“We’re within an inch of war almost every day in that part of the world,” then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said of the Korean Peninsula in 2012. He wasn’t exaggerating: In 2010, North Korea shelled a South Korean island and torpedoed a South Korean warship. In 2012, North Korea conducted two long-range missile tests under the guise of satellite launches. In 2013, Kim detonated a nuclear bomb, proclaimed the 1953 armistice “dead” and threatened nuclear strikes against the U.S. In 2015, Beijing reported that North Korea had manufactured 20 nuclear warheads. And this year, Pyongyang detonated another nuke; test-fired an intermediate-range missile that could bring Guam and Alaska’s westernmost islands in range; tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile; and just this month fired medium-range missiles into waters north of Japan.
The only thing that has maintained the fragile peace in Korea since 1953 is America’s deterrent strength. Yet the U.S. defense budget has fallen from 4.6 percent of GDP in 2009 to 3.1 percent today—and if current projections hold, to just 2.7 percent of GDP in the next decade. The last time America invested less than 3 percent in defense was, ominously, 1940. This is the best way to invite the very worst of possibilities: what Churchill called “temptations to a trial of strength.”
Policymakers should recognize that a well-equipped military is not a liability to cut but an asset to nurture. And people of faith should recognize that the purpose of deterrent military strength is, by definition, to deter war, not wage it. As President Washington explained, “There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet an enemy.”
A policy of patient preparedness—bracing for the worst, getting through another day, another year, another term without another war—is how U.S. presidents have measured success in Korea for 63 years. It’s a low bar, to be sure. But given what Korean War II would look like, it’s a worthy goal.
Still, in light of Pyongyang’s beastly crimes, one wonders how much longer the friendless North Korean people can hold on.
Photo Credit: North Korea Victory Day in July 2013. By Stefan Krasowski, via Flickr.