Skip to main content

The danger of North Korea is no joke

By Joshua Stanton and Sung-Yoon Lee
May 12, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seen walking with a cane in this image released Thursday, October 30, by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. Kim, who recently disappeared from public view for about six weeks, <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/28/world/asia/kim-jong-un-cyst/index.html'>had a cyst removed</a> from his right ankle, a lawmaker told CNN. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seen walking with a cane in this image released Thursday, October 30, by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. Kim, who recently disappeared from public view for about six weeks, had a cyst removed from his right ankle, a lawmaker told CNN.
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
<<
<
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
>
>>
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
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT