The North Korean Crisis

The greatest divide in the world’s socio-political landscape is that between countries submersed in democracy and freedom and countries based around dictatorship and totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is clearly defined by the American Heritage Dictionary (2005) as a government whose political authority, “exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life,” and the citizen, “is subordinated to the state,” while, “opposing political and cultural expression is suppressed.” It is very clear, by all parameters, North Korea’s government is totalitarian. The tyrannous dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, has overexerted his power to the point where it severely threatens the domestic security of his citizens as well as global wellbeing. The North Korean problem is twofold: 1) the economy is in ruins, facilitating mass starvation and severe despotism and 2) North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is a serious threat to global security. The North Korean problem did not maturate instantly; instead, it is clear that there were many pervasive causes and subsequent ramifications of North Korea’s depleted economy and menacing nuclear weapons program harbored by Kim Jong Il.

Kim Jong Il’s tenure as a ruthless dictator has greatly exacerbated the international crisis within North Korea. When Kim Il Sung died in 1994, at age 82, Kim Jong Il assumed dictatorial control. Since accepting office, Kim Jong Il has created a military based communist society (known as ‘Juche’ meaning self-reliance) that has left thousands of citizens starving, homeless, and bound to the state through inhumane laws and restrictions of liberty. Kim Jong Il’s foreign policies involve the production of nuclear weapons in order to “deter” foreign threats and perpetuate fear (British Broadcasting Company 2000). The North Korean problem is a critical one because the proliferation of nuclear weapons within this country poses an imminent threat of epic proportions to the United States, Japan, South Korea and other foes. It is very important that action, either through military might or diplomatic tact, be taken immediately.

One of the major causes of the current North Korean problem is North Korea’s violation of international protocol through the maintaining of two nuclear reactors at Yongbyon, North Korea’s capital. According to the, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, when North Korea signed in 1968, they agreed to not, “manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices” in any way (United States 1968). However, according to Kim Duk Hong (one of North Korea’s most important defectors) practically since the signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, North Korea has violated it; resuming nuclear weapons production immediately. In January 2003, North Korea withdrew from the treaty an­­­d in February 2005, the North Korean Foreign Ministry officially claimed that they "have manufactured nuclear weapons for self-defense” (Choe 2005). This violation, though officially announced only in recent months, has been a major cause in the North Korean crisis.

An important catalyst to the corrosion of the North Korean economy was the unprecedented amount of resources being poured into the military. Much of any money, food, or economic aid accrued within the country was allocated to support the military. According to, Warnings Go Unheeded Over North Korea Threat, “The North Korean military's effect on the economy cannot be overestimated.” In addition, Document 2 states that North Korea spends more than eight times as much money on their military when compared to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than the United States in a similar comparison (Gordon 2005). The money poured into the military could have been more appropriately spent towards revitalizing industry or increasing citizens’ standard of living. North Korean’s economic despair was largely due to poor fiscal management in the name of bolster military might.

A final, and perhaps most pervasive cause of the international North Korean crisis is the power-enhancing effectiveness of citizen isolation—perpetuated through low standards of living and severe civil liberties restriction. Throughout history, poverty stricken, freedom deprived nations have facilitated rises in tyrannous dictatorship. This was true with post World War I Germany, Italy, and now it holds true with North Korea. Kim Jong Il, ranked as the worst dictator in the world in 2004 by a committee involving the Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, has squelched almost every civil liberty entitled to modern citizens, propagandized his message of strength, deprived the people of acceptable standards of living, and coerced widespread support. Kim Jong Il stifles all dissent, curtailing freedom of speech, press, and assembly in order to maintain support. All radios and televisions within North Korea praise Kim Jong Il, executions are held in public, and more than two hundred and fifty thousand torture camps have been located within North Koreas small borders (Wallechinsky 2005). Additionally, energy supplies within North Korea have decreased significantly over the 1990s, paralleling North Korea’s economic breakdown. This decrease in usable energy limited food production by hindered agricultural efficiency, and limited sanitation control—lowering the standard of living while further isolating the citizen (Saunders 2003). The stifling of liberty, coupled with societal disarray, enables the tyranny of dictators like Kim Jong Il.

In addition to the distinct causes of the North Korean crisis, there are many political and social ramifications to North Korean economic collapse and Kim Jong Il’s over exertion of power. One the most important, deadly, and imminent effects of Kim Jong Il’s dictatorship is the creation of nuclear weapons, resulting from the violation of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The production of nuclear weapons by North Korea destabilizes global nuclear power and creates a looming nuclear threat to Japan, South Korea, and the United States. According to Document 4, the United States has named North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” because of the creation of “missiles and weapons of mass destruction” by the Kim Jong Il regime in order to “threaten the peace of the world” (Bush 2002).

Another implication of Kim Jong Il’s dictatorship is the brutal inhumanity inflicted on his citizens. According to Amnesty international in 2004, “13 million people in North Korea -- over half of the population -- suffered from malnutrition… two million people have died since the mid-1990s as a result of acute food shortages caused by natural disasters and economic mismanagement.” Furthermore, statistically, two thirds of North Korean children are developmentally stunted from severe malnutrition ( 2005). The freedom from starvation or malnutrition within North Korea is severely restricted, a right enshrined by both the International Bill of Human Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), a political party which North Korea is a part of (Japanese Embassy 2004).

Another important and severe human rights violation committed by North Korea is the freedom of expression and right to seek asylum. Just as these restrictions of liberty enable Kim Jong Il’s reign, they also are a deadly byproduct of it. Any person who voices an opinion contrary to those espoused by the government, is liable to the extent of public execution, torture, or penal labor camp. Labor camps are, “severely overcrowded, with poor hygiene, grossly inadequate healthcare and crippling food shortages. Reports of beatings are common, and a combination of torture, disease and malnutrition leads to the deaths of many people” (Amnesty International 2004). Meanwhile, those who attempt to leave North Korea are subject to brutal punitive action. According to the, Criminal Code of North Korea, any citizen who, “[leaves] to a foreign country … shall be committed to a reform institution for not less than seven years” (Hibbitts 2004). Despite the United Nation’s claim in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “Everyone has the right to leave any country,” (United Nations 1948) North Korea has placed a minimum seven year labor camp sentence on that very crime.

The crisis in North Korea is a result of years of economic subversion, international protocol disregard, and general citizen isolation. North Korea’s economic despair, mass starvation, sponsorship of inhumanity, and menacing nuclear weapons program makes their crisis an especially important one. Though North Korea has never successfully tested a nuclear weapon ( 2005), it is imperative that the Global Powers approach the North Korean threat with prudence and respect. Kim Jong Il’s reign as a dictator will prove to be one of the most gruesome and dangerous in history; clearly demarking the vast wall of separation between democratic freedom and totalitarian suppression and fear.



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