North Korea is the world’s true rogue state. The Hermit Kingdom, subject to Stalinist authoritarianism for more than half a century, is one of the most desolate and most impoverished places on the planet with a people living in dismal misery. Little wonder that the United Nations should want to try to alleviate part of the North Koreans’ suffering with several hundreds of millions worth of aid programs.
The organizations involved in the effort include the United Nations’ Development Program (UNDP), UNICEF, the World Food Program (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The North Korean government has agreed to implement minimal changes in procedure to meet UN requirements for aid. The tight, indeed ferocious control which the state maintains over its citizens and all activities within its borders, even if they are undertaken by foreign nongovernmental organizations, renders it highly unlikely that the humanitarian and development assistance provided by the UN will have a significant impact on the plight of the North Korean people however. Instead, the bulk of those millions in “aid” are far more likely to disappear into the coffers of Kim Jong-il’s despicable regime, allowing it to perpetuate its oppressive and destructive reign.
North Korea’s recent track record is anything but encouraging. The country is a proliferator of nuclear technology, having helped construct a Syrian nuclear site that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in 2007; it is believed to be assisting Burma in its own clandestine nuclear program and it successfully detonated two nuclear devices in October 2006 and May 2009. The United States believe that the North has enough plutonium to construct at least half a dozen nuclear weapons. It is now developing the intercontinental ballistic missiles needed to deliver these weapons. In doing so, the country has violated numerous UN Security Council resolutions.
Earlier this year, North Korea sunk a South Korean corvette in the Yellow Sea and it has been threatening to wreck havoc on Seoul for participating in a naval exercise with the United States that was supposed to show Pyongyang who’s boss. Washington has also announced renewed economic sanctions while even North Korea’s only, if lukewarm ally in the region, China, has been compelled to distance itself from the regime’s recent saber rattling.
No matter sanctions and attempts to negotiate, North Korea will keep inventing crisis because it’s the only way for its regime to survive. As its people are slowly starving to death, the regime need some way to justify its very existence. The North Koreans no longer believe that the South is a slave to America. To the contrary, most are well aware that their former brothers on the other side of the 1953 demarcation line are prospering. So, rather like Airstrip One in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), North Korea needs crisis, constantly.
No ordinary crisis will do given the grumbling of a small but existing middle class that is able to exert some level of control. They understand that their country is on the decline and that there’s no way out. So the regime has to foster a fear of imminent danger in order to keep Kim Jong-il in control. For years, it has been one crisis after another, from nuclear weapons to intercontinental ballistic missiles to abducting American journalists to sinking a South Korean navy vessel.
Meanwhile, millions of North Koreans are suffering unnecessarily. Understandably, the United Nations want to intervene to do what they can to make life a little better for the ordinary North Korean but in doing so, it is giving the regime a lifeline to cling to, at least for a while. By handing North Korea just enough food and medicine to survive, Kim Jong-il and his fellow tyrants have no reason to change their ways, nor might the North Korean people start questioning the propaganda they have been fed from birth and contemplate regime change. Painful though it may be for them, having the rest of the world doing nothing to help the people of North Korea is likely to benefit them the most in the long run.