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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Sterling Compass

Fifty years of economic sanctions and political ostracism has made North Korea a starving bulldog, snarling and rarely biting, but nonetheless dangerous. The United States stubborn policy of non-engagement needs to change. North Korea poses a threat not only to the United States, but also to global stability and the U.S. is in the best position to help create a long term solution to the longstanding Korean question.

But, why should we care about whats happening in a country led by a man whose name we know only because he was the bad guy in Team America?

Well, I will give you a few good reasons.

Nuclear weapons; they are bad. And believe it or not, North Korea has them; it exploded its first nuclear device in October 2006. The movie Team America was not so farfetched; a desperate North Korea would have few qualms over providing nuclear weapons to terrorists in hopes they would be unleashed.

Another thing to worry about is ballistic missiles; they are to the nuclear warhead what a Unitrans bus is to the UC Davis student. Although both the Unitrans bus and the ballistic missile are inherently dangerous, ballistic missiles can deliver their ordinance to targets anywhere on the planet. North Korea is preparing a long-range ballistic missile test that, if successful, will threaten the West Coast, and yes, even Davis, California.

Human rights violations; these should bother you. Well, North Korea treats its citizens even worse than China does. Public executions are commonplace and young girls are often forced into prostitution to service the political elite. Children born with disabilities are routinely murdered and discarded like garbage. North Korean civilians are prisoners within their own country.

So, what does the U.S. need to do to amend these problems?

Dont underestimate the power of economics to change a nation.

The United States needs to lift or reduce its economic sanctions against North Korea. As the political elite squanders what little wealth remains, sanctions only strengthen the despotic regimes grip over the desperate and poor populace by making them dependent on handouts. Sanctions also give substance to the regimes anti-American rhetoric, as it blames the United States for the countrys problems.

Economic sanctions are designed to encourage rebellion against an unpopular regime by making the people miserable. Well in North Korea, the military, the guys with all the guns, are also the ones who benefit from the oppressive regime, thus the people are miserable with no chance to challenge their oppressors.

If the U.S. lifted its economic sanctions against North Korea, then the rest of the world would follow suit. South Korea would likely become the Norths biggest trade partner, encouraging Korean cooperation. Once capitalism began to take root, political liberalization would inevitably follow. Finally integrated with the global economy, North Korea would be less inclined to pursue a nuclear program and more prone to listening to the international community.

The U.S. tried this with China in the 70s and it worked wonders. After normalizing relations with China and reestablishing trade, China came out of its cave and became a productive member of the international community. Of course, China is not the perfect example, as it has a less than ideal human rights record. But Chinas economic codependence with the United States makes it more willing to partake in international cooperation and less likely to engage in hostilities.

An opportunity to normalize relations with North Korea looms on the horizon.

When North Korean leader Kim Jung-Il bites the dust, whoever assumes power will suffer from a lack of simply not being Kim Jung-Il. The new leader will look for a way to assert his authority, most likely by clamping down on political dissidents and renewing vigor for North Koreas nuclear weapons program.

The only thing worse than a starving bulldog is a starving bulldog armed with nuclear weapons.

But if the U.S. acts quickly by strategically lifting economic sanctions while simultaneously opening a direct dialogue with North Korea, then the first steps towards normalizing relations will be achieved.


MIKE HOWER apologizes if he offended anyone affiliated with Unitrans. But seriously oh never mind. Contact him at mahower@ucdavis.edu.


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