On Friday evening, whilst in a bar scrolling through my Facebook, I saw breaking news that North Korea and South Korea’s leaders had met on the border and shaken hands. After polite greetings and a show of smiles for the camera, Kim Jong Un briefly invited his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae In, to cross into North Korea leaving the world stunned.
I am not a hawk. I would love to see lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. I would love to see a Korean Peninsula where there is no longer a Cold War-era hotspot waiting to flare up at a moments notice
But when I say North Korea should not be trusted, it is not built on anti-North Korean sentiment. It is not built on a want of war or a desire to keep up the division and the anger. Far from it.
The reasons why I do not advocate trusting North Korea are entirely to do with the regime. They are in large part to do with the scheming Kim’s who have a track record of pulling the wool down over the eyes of the West in order to gain more leverage. It happened in the 1990’s when North Korea wanted significant aid, and the West said it could have the aid if it stopped its then clandestine nuclear weapons and missile programmes.
Kim Jong Un is like any other dictator. Staying in power is everything. When a dictator is in power they have the police and military forces under their direction pretty much in lockstep on national security. Transparency suffers as does the human rights record of the dictatorship. Surveillance of potential dissidents; restrictions on the type of activities civilians can indulge in all come to the fore.
North Korea’s record on human rights is the worst of any planet. It has the only concentration camp in the world at Yodok. Its many prisoners are treated appallingly – sexual violence, torture of all sorts, execution and starvation are rampant. The gates happily open to let people in, but are rarely seen opening to let people out. The transparency in North Korea is about as good as a windowless room with no other light source. The corruption is as bad as anywhere else.
North Korea’s involvement in terrorist activities and helping prop up other regimes also comes into question. It has been linked to the training of police forces in Zimbabwe who have used terror as an instrument. It’s execution style murders of people outside of North Korea as well as its kidnappings cannot go unchallenged.
However the United States has questions to answer as well. In the 1990’s when North Korea asked for assistance, the U.S. made a set of concessions that were supposed to have been carried out within a couple of years if North Korea kept its end of the deal. Fast forward to 2003 and almost none of the American concessions had been actioned. This was despite North Korea having apparently complied with the American demands. If America could not keep its end of the bargain struck under former President Bill Clinton, could it keep any bargain that might be struck between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un?
Another question that needs an answer, although I am a bit afraid of what it might be, is whether or not National Security Advisor John Bolton, a hawkish figure who advocates war would tolerate peace? According to past N.S.A.’s there is apparently not a war that Mr Bolton disagreed with and yet to be a peace agreement that he agrees with.
If peace really does break out on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea must take a lot of credit. They have put up with North Korea’s antics for nearly 70 years. They have seen families broken up by some of the most cruel geopolitics in the world. They have been through who knows how many periods wondering if war is imminent.
Let us see how this goes, but now is not the time to be saying “oh, what a great man Kim Jong Un is”. Nor is it the time to be nominating anyone for the Nobel Peace Prize.