Decisions, Decisions: Impose an Arms Embargo on North Korea

“At least since 2000 when we began providing assistance to the North, no one there has been starving to death.
““ UniFiction Minister Lee Jong-Seok, May 2, 2006

This week, the World Food Program is reporting what ought to surprise no one — that after the North Korean government forced it to cut back its feeding operations from one that fed 6.5 million people to one that feeds just 1.2 million — millions are going hungry as a result. We’ve already seen reports, via the Daily NK, that people are fleeing their homes and butchering draft animals, and that in some areas, people are barely clinging to life. The Financial Times realizes that North Korea must choose between food and arms.

“We’re very concerned,” one person who deals with North Korea’s food shortages said of Seoul’s threat . “Already the food situation is not looking good.

The threat, of course, is a threat by Lee Jong-Seok himself to cut off food aid that’s allegedly feeding the people. Some of us doubted that the food was really going to those in need, and if your doubts rise to the level of reasonable certainty — and South Korea vehemently denies them — then this is a legitimate threat. But what if that food really is going to the hungry?

Many analysts were perplexed that Seoul should use humanitarian aid as a stick, rather than its economic co-operation projects such as the Kaesong industrial development, through which millions of dollars are paid directly to Pyongyang, ostensibly for labourers’ wages.

Some questioned the sincerity of the South Korean warning and said it was an over-reaction. “I think South Korea has realised that its initial response was less than ideal in the eyes of the US,” said Peter Beck of the International Crisis Group.

Some still look at me incredulously when I suggest that this famine is no ordinary food shortage. It’s difficult for us to believe that people are capable of such things. Yet it’s undeniably deliberate and malignant that this regime made a decision to build a three-stage ICBM when it knew damned well that thousands of its people would starve to death as a result. We recently learned that North Korea increased its submarine fleet from 70 in 2004 to 88 today. Last year, we learned that North Korea had added 1,000 new artillery pieces to its inventory since 2001, and had further boosted the manpower of its reserve forces. Today, there is word that North Korea has just purchased six more MiGs for its air force.

Isn’t it well past time for the “United” Nations — if it’s united by any humanitarian imperative, that is — to impose an arms embargo on North Korea?