Nuclear detection equipment has sniffed not one but two separate nuclear weapons programs wafting from North Korea, one based on highly enriched uranium and the other on plutonium-enough fissile material for more than a couple of nuclear bombs ... Former North Korean prisoners have produced names and locations for five gulags and begged the United States to monitor them with spy satellites. One lens already has revealed that one prison camp is larger than the District of Columbia ...
Dictator Kim Jong Il can threaten nuclear war but can't-or won't-feed his own people. One-third of them, at least, live on donated overseas food rations ...
Across the demilitarized zone, one of South Korea's wealthiest executives last week jumped from his 12th-story Seoul office, ending his life but launching new questions about South Korea's role in propping up North Korea at the expense of fellow Koreans-and a fresh nuclear standoff ...
North and South Korea have been split into hostile camps for over 50 years, but they agree on one thing: Neither wants to be Germany. Fear of unification, of becoming a broken social system with declining regional power, is an unspoken psychosis gnawing at the edges of every diplomatic deal penned with Pyongyang.
It's no surprise that North Korea views any interaction with the free world's economic and political system as a threat to its socialist system and the cult of "dear leader" Kim, as he's called.
South Korea, on the other hand, protects in its constitution the right of North Koreans to become citizens. It runs a cabinet-level Ministry of Unification. Yet every year of decline in the north brings rising apprehension about the high cost of reunification. Prospering South Koreans fear a reunified Korea would slump into an economic and social chaos reminiscent of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, only worse. North Koreans are far more destitute than East Germans were at the end of the Cold War. They cannot eat without overseas charity, while South Koreans have the 12th-largest economy in the world.
South Koreans' increasing standard of living also means more to lose, potentially, from reunification. That's led South Korean leaders to accommodate the north's depraved dictatorship, even investing in it, when collapse of the communist holdout should be the goal. U.S. officials, preparing for six-way talks next month to defang the North Korean nuclear threat, face a double-edged sword: how to deal with North Korea's manifold evils when South Korea, a key ally in the upcoming negotiations, is tolerating, even abetting them?
"Since 1998 the South Korean government has been looking as hard as it can the other way," says longtime Asian demographic expert Nicholas Eberstadt, "trying not to offer the constitutional guarantees to these [North Korean refugees] who have crossed the border into China, much less offer these rights to the people who are living in the northern half of the peninsula."
Misguided engagement, Mr.Eberstadt told a Senate panel on July 31, is a key reason the United States now faces nuclear showdown with Pyongyang. Reliable economic data show that the flow of merchandise and raw goods to North Korea has doubled since 1997-98, he said. That's when South Korea launched its "sunshine policy," a blatant attempt to buy peace through south-to-north business investment, putting billions in the hands of Kim Jong Il. It also coincided with international efforts to ease the country's famine. The United States gave $10 million to North Korea in food aid in 1997 and has contributed over $600 million since. That's in addition to the billions the United States and its allies have poured into so-called energy development.
Mr. Eberstadt, author of The End of North Korea, said the foreign aid, together with illicit income from weapons sales, drug trade, and counterfeiting, pays for imports, and for the development of nuclear weapons. Legitimate exports, meanwhile, have held flat at less than half the import rate and less than $50 per person.
"It's our money," said Michael Horowitz, a Hudson Institute scholar who also testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It's in some measure Japan's money and it's very particularly South Korea's money that's kept the regime propped up."
Under-the-table payments to North Korea led to the Aug. 4 suicide of Chung Mong Hun, chairman of Hyundai Group and South Korea's leading businessman. The demure 54-year-old executive jumped to his death from the 12th floor of the conglomerate's headquarters in Seoul on a Monday morning. He was about to face trial on charges that he illegally funneled cash to North Korea on behalf of the South Korean government. He apologized in suicide notes to family and colleagues for "being a stupid man and for doing a stupid act."
At the behest of Mr. Chung and his father, who was born in North Korea, Hyundai sank millions into a failing mountain resort complex and other business ventures in the north. Prosecutors accused Mr. Chung of secretly paying North Korea $400 million for exclusive rights to operate those businesses. They say he transferred $100 million in bribes directly to North Korean officials, payment for attending a June 2000 summit meeting with then-president Kim Dae Jung, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for coaxing the north to the negotiating table. Prosecutors suspect many of the millions actually came from government sources.
Doug Shin, a South Korean pastor, says he gladly became a "sunshine activist" because, like many South Koreans, he saw the official opening with the north as a means to family reunification and to ending misery for North Korea's persecuted Christians.
Now he says, "The sunshine policy is like making a deal with the devil. Sunshine activists wanted to shine bright sun in dark corners, not on the mountaintop where it's already warm enough. Our government called for an appeasement policy instead, wanting to warm support that is already too warm and now forces us to confront nuclear weapons."
Mr. Shin told WORLD that Mr. Chung's prominent suicide is leading others to despair. Two highly publicized suicides ensued in the 48 hours following the Hyundai executive's death. "This country is lost and disillusioned," he said.
Meanwhile, the millions in cash transferred to Pyongyang remain there, sustaining brutality. North Korean defectors believe 3 million people have died of starvation in the last decade. Ten defectors, most of them former gulag inmates, met in July with Thomas Hubbard, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea. They provided locations of five prison camps where they believe 200,000 North Koreans are interred. The former prisoners described ongoing forced labor practices, chemical experiments on prisoners, and torture. "If Nazi concentration camps killed prisoners by poison gas, North Korean gulags systematically slaughter prisoners by starving them or killing them through grueling forced labor," they said in a statement released after the meeting.
"Our parents fought against American soldiers during the Korean War, deceived by the North Korean dictator into joining his reckless war. But, today we are convinced that if America did not rid the country of the spread of communism by the dictator, there would no longer be a future for the Korean peninsula," they said.
Such revelations give fuel to a coalition of U.S.-based activists who say the United States must do more than pour money into North Korea or exercise military might. Their cause has attracted at least 35 varied groups-including Christian, Jewish, secular human rights, and Korean-American advocates-according to Sandy Rios, head of the North Korea Freedom Coalition and president of Concerned Women for America.
The group's first goal, Ms. Rios said, "is to make sure that if the United States negotiates with North Korea it is not simply a matter of saying, 'Don't export weapons of mass destruction.' We need to make sure that human rights are on the table. We need to make sure humanitarian aid is going in with real monitoring. We must undertake measures that will help refugees."
Mr. Horowitz, who represented the coalition in his Senate testimony, believes the "human-rights basket" must be in play when U.S. arms negotiators sit down with North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China next month in Beijing. "The regime will continue to be a terrorist threat to everybody so long as it is a terrorist threat to its own people," he said.
Hardliners, including former CIA director James Woolsey, argue that the United States must be prepared to go to war to take out underground nuclear facilities as well as to protect Seoul, just 35 miles south of the DMZ.
But the United States also has many diplomatic levers to pull ahead of the military option. Coalition members want U.S. diplomats well armed to press for family reunification, gulag monitoring, religious freedom, and protection of refugees.
Refugees from the north, for instance, are protected under South Korean law and an agreement China has with the UN. Yet most who arrive in northern China are arrested or returned. Beijing authorities arrested and beat four refugees July 27, while eight more were taken into custody the same day in Quingdao.
By any standard they should instead be granted sanctuary. Mr. Horowitz believes Congress should amend its own visa procedures to authorize entry of those with past experience in North Korea's weapons programs. That could encourage defections that could speed the regime's reform or collapse.
Forcing human-rights issues to the table may also strengthen the U.S.-South Korea tie. (In the wake of suicide and scandal, more South Koreans recognize the limits of top-level engagement.) "Human rights is not some mushy addition to the 'realistic' agenda. It is the most powerful means the United States has of advancing its own national interest," Mr. Horowitz said.