(December 16, 2002) Not since it came into being some five decades ago has North Korea shown much regard for international opinion, preferring instead to operate as though it alone would be the judge of its actions.
North Korea's outlook has earned it the title of "the hermit kingdom" and solidly established its reputation as an international outcast. Now, as before, as it pleads for foreign investment to rescue its defunct Marxist-Leninist economy, it still keeps that reputation intact.
Oblivious to international efforts to establish a lasting peace in the Middle East, Pyongyang has peddled weapons - including missiles - to terrorist-supporting states in the region, such as Iran and Syria, and to Libya in northern Africa.
Oblivious to international efforts to establish a lasting peace in the Middle East, Pyongyang has peddled weapons - including missiles - to terrorist-supporting states in the region, such as Iran and Syria, and to Libya in northern Africa. North Korea also expanded its role as missile provider to another master terrorist, Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. The two countries wrote a contract under which, with Libyan financing, North Korea agreed to develop and build a long-range missile that would then be sold to Tripoli.
There can be little doubt as to what Pyongyang has done with its profits from military sales, and it is not to relieve the country's increasingly desperate food shortages.
Already back in 1993, a Russian intelligence report stated that North Korea was on the verge of developing a nuclear weapons capability, but was stuck short of the final stage because of technical problems. The same Russian document also stated that North Korea was experimenting with animal pathogens for biological weapons and that it was engaged in a highly secret plan to develop a chemical arsenal. The Russian report, North Korea's primary economic benefactor for many years, was uniquely credible.
After several years of increasing confrontation over North Korea's nuclear arms, Pyongyang signed a nuclear accord with the United States in 1994 that required North Korea to "freeze" its nuclear program in exchange for a supply of alternative energy and the creation of U.S. diplomatic and economic relations. It was also supposed to have curbed the future North Korean sales of nuclear weapons and missile technology to the Middle East. Even back then, many experts concluded that North Korea would continue to pursue its covert nuclear weapons program and would do all in its power to protect that program from international inspection. Noting past North Korean actions, then U.S. Defense Secretary Perry had said: "It is one thing for North Korea to sign an agreement, and another thing for it to carry out that agreement."
In December, 2002 Pyongyang threatened that it would reactivate a nuclear reactor that it had agreed to close, and to resume construction on two others. A month earlier, the regime had admitted that it was secretly developing a uranium enrichment program. And it further threatens to expel international inspectors who are there to ensure that spent fuel rods are not used to produce nuclear weapons. This seems to demonstrate once again that the regime is either not to be trusted or is interested in brinkmanship with blackmail.
Living in the most totally controlled police state on earth, North Koreans have yet to demand more food and fewer weapons. Repression in North Korea can be compared to the worse excesses of Stalin's Soviet state and Mao's China. Reliable reports say that at least 150,000 political prisoners are held, along with family members, in a vast "gulag" of camps in North Korea. Due process of law is unheard of in the country. Prisoners have been reported to have been the victims of torture, beatings, disease, starvation, exposure and other forms of abuse.
But the values it propagates will bring ruin to you and conflict with us. As Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute wrote in National Review, "No faith will make rote memorization of ancient texts, suppression of critical inquiry and dissent, subjugation of women, and a servile deference to authority the recipe for anything other than civilizational decline."
Political indoctrination classes are required for all North Koreans, as are weekly "self-criticism" classes. All citizens are under the constant observation of "guardian-of-the-revolution" units that seek out "anti-socialist" elements. One must even be careful of what is said around family members. Unbending censorship via the official party line, steady brain-washing and ceaseless control is all the communist regime in Pyongyang has been able or willing to offer its citizens.
It is no exaggeration to say that the communist regime is unable to provide the North Korean people with even the basic necessities of life. Already years ago, serious food shortages induced the regime to launch a "two meal a day" campaign. The situation has become steadily worse. Citizens are now down to one meal a day. Even rice is a scarce product, and is often mixed with other grains such as corn, when available.
North Korea's economic output has steadily declined since the implosion of the Soviet Union. In the mid-1990s as many as 2 million people were reported to have starved to death. And yet, according to a book written by Konstantin Pulikovsky ("Orient Express"), a Russian insider who spent time with North Korea's secretive leader, Kim Jong Il, the dictator enjoys drinking fine wines imported from France and eating gourmet meals during lengthy banquets.
While North Korea has devoted its energy and resources to an enormous military machine - perhaps including nuclear, chemical and biological programs - hardships for its citizens have increased. One can only hope that the erratic behavior on the part of the regime in Pyongyang will change for the better. Pyongyang has yet to comply fully with its obligations under the NPT. Nor has North Korea fulfilled its obligations to the international community in observing basic human rights.