North Korea: More Questions than Answers

Underestimating despotic leaders have become a nasty habit of the West and is proving difficult to reverse. As the Allied powers’ fatal mistake in World War II, it is an error to avoid at all costs and Kim Jong-un is no exception. The recent Seventh Worker’s Party Congress has reminded the world of both North Korea’s nuclear development and it’s oppressive censorship. As a congress that hadn’t gathered in 36 years, and it is certainly leaving us with more questions than answers.

Kim Jong-un isn’t making a secret of North Korea’s nuclear development, openly posing with nuclear warheads and praising the nation’s military progress at the Seventh Worker’s Party Congress last week. Kim Jong-un’s rhetoric confirms that he has no intention of renouncing his nuclear program, which is not surprising considering the nation’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003. In January, the ‘hermit kingdom’ tested a hydrogen bomb underground Punggye-ri, which many speculate was actually an atomic bomb. Yet regardless of the severity of North Korean nuclear experiments, the more tests the regime conducts, the more developed their knowledge and technology becomes. A nuclear domino effect in the world’s most volatile region, the Middle East, is becoming plausible as North Korea inspires fellow rogue states to invest in nuclear production.

North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism is continuing, which the international community cannot afford to turn a blind eye to. Nuclear technology has already been sold to tyrannical states, namely Libya, Egypt, and Myanmar. However, the pariah’s relationship with Syria and Iran remains the most concerning, as such alliances significantly jeopardise international security. With the proliferation of nuclear knowledge to non-state actors Hezbollah and Al-Kibar in the past, future North Korean infatuation with the Islamic State, unfortunately, does not seem unrealistic.

Amy Nelson, from the Council of Foreign Relations, notes that as Pyongyang aims to ‘establish it’s legitimacy as a nuclear power’, politicians are overlooking the most pressing issue at hand. The West’s policy of denial is even more threatening to world peace than the amount of nukes North Korea tests. The world cannot simply expect North Korea to reverse it’s foreign policy, one founded on despotic leadership and patriotic militarism. The human cost of nuclear war would be unprecedented; astronomical civilian casualties are an understatement. Phillip Hammond asserts that resuming the six-party talks, aided with the tools of compromise and diplomacy, is the only path to containing North Korean antipathy and ensuring world peace.

Additionally, North Korea’s Seventh Congress is on the radar this week after BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was detained and expelled for allegedly offending the ‘Great Leader’. O Ryong-il, Secretary General of the National Peace Committee, claims that Wingfield-Hayes was speaking “ill of the system and the leadership of the country” revealing North Korea’s hostile and unforgiving perception of the West. Foreign journalists from the Los Angeles Times, Financial Times and the Washington Post were similarly excluded from attending the Congress after questioning the carefully choreographed tours that concealed the reality of North Korea. A tour of Pyongyang’s Children Hospital heightened the journalists’ suspicion for two reasons; there didn’t appear to be a doctor and the children were very healthy. Wingfield-Hayes concluded that “everything we see looks like a set-up” to simultaneously glorify Kim Jong-un and disguise the devastating division between Pyongyang’s elite and the majority of civilians. Discussing North Korea’s human rights record was hubris, which is significant considering that Human Rights Watch rates it ‘without parallel in the contemporary world’. However, Kim Jong-un’s desperation to prove North Korea’s modernity to the correspondents didn’t fool anyone. Foreign journalists clearly didn’t fall for it and paid the price, once again leaving with more questions than answers.

Charlotte Owens