Several prominent media outlets assert that sanctions on North Korea are hurting the people, not the regime, but this prevailing argument has one huge flaw.
The Trump administration’s North Korea strategy is one of “maximum pressure and engagement,” that involves using economic, diplomatic, and military pressure to bring the rogue regime to the negotiating table. News outlets like NBC and The Washington Post have in recent weeks run articles claiming American-led efforts to pressure North Korea through tough sanctions are harming the North Korean people, not the leadership.
“Sanctions aimed at punishing the North Korean regime are hampering the ability of aid groups to operate inside the country, triggering warnings that the international campaign is harming ordinary North Koreans,” The Post wrote Saturday, arguing sanctions are hindering humanitarian aid operations in the North.
“Sanctions are designed to hurt so that the government will change its policy,” the paper further argued, quoting an American involved in humanitarian work. “But they’re hurting the wrong people.”
NBC was critical of the Trump administration’s calls for an oil embargo against North Korea, asserting that doing so could cause a devastating famine. Cutting off the oil would “have minimal impact on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and would instead hit the country’s agricultural sector, potentially leading to mass starvation,” NBC wrote, citing various analysts.
Other outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal, claimed sanctions were crippling an important pharmaceutical company in North Korea, that could prevent North Korean citizens from getting much-needed medication.
The reports failed to mention in each case the fact that North Korea is believed to spend as much as 25 percent, if not higher, on its programs for national defense. Kim Jong Un is spending billions of dollars that could be used to meet the basic needs of the North Korean people on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
“The regime could feed and care for women, children and ordinary people of North Korea if it chose the welfare of its people over weapons development,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the United Nations Friday. “It can reverse course, give up its unlawful nuclear weapons program, and join the community of nations, or it can continue to condemn its people to poverty and isolation.”
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The argument that sanctions are behind the suffering of the North Korean people is consistent with that of Pyongyang propaganda. “The U.S.-led racket of brutal sanctions and pressure against the DPRK constitutes contemporary human rights violation and genocide,” the North Korean mission to the United Nations in Geneva said in a statement last month.
Sanctions “threaten and impede the enjoyment by the people of the DPRK of their human rights in all sectors,” the North Korean mission said. “All types of anti-human rights and inhumane sanctions against the DPRK should be terminated immediately and thoroughly.”
Such comments regularly appear in North Korean state media.
China used the humanitarian angle to negotiate loopholes in sanctions resolutions for many years, allowing the country to prop up its rogue neighbor. The media appear to be making a similar argument.
The alternatives to hard-hitting sanctions are war, which could kill millions of people, or the acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear state — an action that is detrimental to global nuclear non-proliferation initiatives.
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