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Sometime in the next four days, North Korea intends to launch a "satellite" into orbit. The international community is skeptical, and the consensus is that the launch will instead be a test of a long-range ballistic missile. The American response has been muted, though, since the North Korean government last week arrested two journalists. Euna Lee and Laura Ling, correspondents for Nobel Peace Prize recipient Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV network, are being detained at an undisclosed location for unlawfully crossing the border. These arrests are more than a violation of international codes for treatment of journalists: they amount to the taking of hostages as leverage for conducting the missile test.


Some background: North Korea is a one-party military dictatorship under the guise of a democratic socialist republic. Founded by Kim Il-Sung (father of current dictator Kim Jong Il), the East Asian nation has spurned attempts at negotiation from the international community, although it relies heavily on outside aid to keep its population alive. After pouring much of the country's precious resources into a nuclear program, North Korea is estimated to possess approximately seven plutonium and an unknown number of uranium bombs. But having a bomb is not the same as using a bomb; Use against the United States would require ballistic missiles capable of crossing 13 time zones. It is a missile of this type that many suspect Korea is trying to test.

Meanwhile, the issue is causing a political storm in Japan. After Korea's 1998 test crashed in the ocean off the Japanese coast - after flying over several population centers - the government decided that it would prepare to respond to future tests. The US has sent three destroyers to the Sea of Japan to collect data on the missile launch. Some observers have speculated that American technology will allow our government to learn more from the test than North Korea itself does. But this is not the issue: Clearly the Korean government is determined to carry out the test. It is common sense that we cannot convince Kim Jong Il to change his mind by way of feeble protests. The problem that the rest of the world now has to consider is how to put its foot down without endangering the safety of the journalists.

 title=North Korea has the world's 47th largest population, but it has the 4th largest standing army: 1.2 million men. It relies heavily on food aid, with South Korea and China providing over a million tons per year. Before Bush ended our large-scale aid, America provided nearly 700,000 tons per year. Heavily subsidized oil is provided from China, though the nation has abundant coal reserves. Organized suspension of food aid would be terribly politically destabilizing - not to mention morally abhorrent - the rest of the world does have some degree of leverage insofar as North Korea cannot survive at market prices.

As I write these words, Barack Obama is in Europe working on the economic crisis, but a grave security threat is a ticking time bomb in the East. Now is the time for him to establish a precedent that such tests are unacceptable, making American policy clear in preparation for similar tests that will surely come in the following year or two from Iran. Korean officials taunt us, as Rachel Maddow pointed out yesterday, by quoting back at us Bush-era quotes and policy decisions justifying torture, unlawful detention, violation of habeas corpus, and other crimes. When we ask about the welfare of the prisoners, they quote back our policy on waterboarding. Naturally, the journalistic community is furious: Not only that North Korea would do this but that the United States government has justified the same policies. It's nice to hear that "the United States does not torture," but but if they are not meaningful words backed up by meaningful action, they are false and endanger American citizens around the world.

If torture is a crime, its perpetrators are criminals. Bringing to justice John Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld, and others who violated international law is a good first step, but it is only a first step. Next we must give fair, speedy, and public trials to each and every detainee in Guantánamo, and provide them with the same rights afforded anyone else tried under our Constitution. Congress must issue a formal declaration of apology for war crimes committed in our secret prisons. Obama should offer to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il without preconditions. This is needed to negotiate release for the prisoners and cancellation of the "satellite" launch. And despite our need for leverage, we must find a way to exert pressure without withholding food. This not just our only moral alternative, it is the only way we can re-establish our reputation and protect our citizens. Soon, I hope, we will extricate ourselves from the paralysis of our own policies turned against us.

Until then, we are all North Korea's hostages.

Originally posted to Young Sentinel on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 12:03 PM PDT.


Why did North Korea arrest the journalists

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Comment Preferences

  •  One option no one is talking about (7+ / 0-)

    is swapping john Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld, and the other asshat tourturers for the hostages. Then everyone would be happy.

    America first, and rich and obnoxious people second. - Angry Bob

    by psilocynic aka Nick Zouroudis on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 12:07:01 PM PDT

  •  Kim Jon Il is probably dead dude (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Or so far gone there's no point in meeting with him. I seriously doubt he runs N. Korea anymore.  

    The problem with negotiating too openly with North Korea is that you are basically giving them what they want: attention. The official strategy of the N. Korea is to consistently do something provocative (take hostages, build nukes, fire missiles) to get the attention of the U.S. and beg for food.

    Otherwise, the honest truth is, no one would give a shit. I think the general consensus by China, South Korea, and the U.S. would just let that weird little country rot from the inside out.  You don't see this general kerfuffle over Laos or Burma, even though they are on par with N. Korea in terms of repressive regimes. Why?  Because they don't have nukes and the star of Team America isn't running their weird little countries.

    You also don't want to give N. Korea incentives for taking hostages or testing nuclear weapons either. Because, as previously stated, they'll keep doing it every time the country is on the brink.

    The real tragedy in all this is that Euna Lee and Laura Ling got caught in the middle and that the traditional media is just too tired, or too busy with their own demise, to beat the drum for them.

    "You Can't Piss on Hospitality... I WON'T ALLOW IT!" Michael Waits, Troll 2

    by Larry Madill on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 12:16:00 PM PDT

    •  I'm still trying to figure out... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      What the hell the reporters were thinking trying to sneak into N. Korea in the first place.  Of the absolute stupidest things in the world to even attempt, that clearly ranks in the top 5.

      I actually wouldn't put it past N. Korea to have somehow manufactured this whole thing in some way... like subtly giving some indication that the reporters would be safe, maybe through their Chinese guide, only to turn the tables on them and use them as hostages.  The timing of this and the test launch of their long-range missile... I mean "Communications Satellite of Peace" is just too perfect.

  •  Maybe we should try talking to them. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I understand we've got to waste lots of money, time, and lives not talking first, though.

    "All wars end with talking." - CKendall.

    by haruki on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 12:18:47 PM PDT

  •  All politics is local. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The missile tests, the threats against the west, kidnappings, the nuclear program, all of them are merely used by Kim to bolster his regime. The best thing for the USA to do is studiously ignore the North Koreans. It's time to make this a Chinese problem. If they are happy to have nuclear-armed, ICBM-toting power on their doorstep, so be it. I think it unlikely, however, that China would put up with it. The Chinese are actually quite content with this being a US problem. That should change.

    Ambition is when you follow your dreams. Insanity is when they follow you.

    by Batfish on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 12:54:45 PM PDT

  •  Racism (0+ / 0-)

    I really really really really hate calling the 'race card' but if it was two blonde white journalists, I guarantee you that the media would be going psycho about it.  Two Asian women aren't seen as 'real' Americans, so they are aren't seen as really that big a deal.  

    Recovering Intellectual. 12 days stupid.

    by scionkirk on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 12:55:20 PM PDT

  •  I have some objections (0+ / 0-)

    Granted, this is a nasty regime.

    Yet, it has full rights to detain folks on its souvereign territory, no kidnapping there, and I think there is no international law against launching unarmed missiles either.

    By all means, we can ask North Korea to be nice on those two matters, but I do no see why they have any obligations to do so.

    It could help if we had some good example to offer.  On detaining aliens issue, we actually detain a number of kidnapped aliens after paying bounty to private parties who captured them.  Do we want ANYONE to copy that behavior?  In nuclear proliferation, we could return to the treaties abrogated by Bush, like the one that limits anti-missile defense (and in general, the insane "first strike" policy, which may lead to extremally dangerous arms race).

    It could also help to recognize that North Korea is a threat only from the point of view of hyperactive foreign policy that searches for worthwhile causes.

    Note also that contrary to some myths, suicidal madmen do not rule for 60 years.  After decades of observation, one can conclude that they are not suicidal.  

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