Kim Jong Un’s relentless campaign of violent propaganda took a particularly nasty swing this week as North Korea announced that its atomic fuel production plants were back in full operating order. The news itself, believed to be at least somewhat accurate, comes as little surprise to experts on the reclusive country. Though the complex at Yongbyon was shut down in 2007, Pyonyang officials have been promising to restart operations since 2013.
The announcement comes on the heels of new war-mongering on the part of North Korea aimed at their democratic neighbor to the south. Last month, Kim Jong Un told his troops to be “ready for war” with South Korea and accused Seoul of broadcasting loud propaganda across the border. Immediate talks between the two countries seems to have cooled the situation for the time being, but Un’s latest announcement is sure to worry both the U.S. and South Korea.
“If the U.S. and other hostile forces persistently seek their reckless hostile policy towards the DPRK and behave mischievously, the DPRK is fully ready to cope with them with nuclear weapons any time,” the director of the North Korean Atomic Energy Institute said.
North Korea has been a persistent thorn in the side of the United States for decades, but president after president has been unsuccessful in cracking through the communist dictatorship. While Un’s constant saber-rattling has made him a joke on Western shores, the digital attack on Sony proved that there is at least some bite behind the bark.
Unfortunately, our complete inability to curb North Korea’s nuclear program – estimates vary, but most experts believe they have at least 10 nuclear warheads – likely encouraged Iran in their negotiations. If North Korea can shut out the world and develop nuclear weaponry, the far-richer Iran perhaps believes they can do it right under the nose of the United States. Obama hasn’t been any more or less successful than his predecessors when it comes to North Korea, but the deal with Iran proves that some things are better left alone.
The question, though, is how long we can continue to simply leave this human rights disaster of a country alone. A 2014 United Nations inquiry confirmed that religious freedom is nonexistent in the hermit kingdom:
North Koreans are tortured, sent to labor camps, and even killed for their faith. Possession of the Bible is illegal, and non-approved Christian religious activities are considered political crimes. Christians and North Koreans who have contact with Christians often face the harshest punishments for practicing their faith.
“The problem is a new formula needs to be pursued,” said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association told Politico. “When a certain policy, however logical, however principled, isn’t working … we’re past the point where an adjustment is in order. You don’t keep trying the same thing if it’s not achieving the result you want.”
Even if we’re willing to overlook the evil being done to the citizens of the DPRK, we cannot long afford to overlook Kim Jong Un’s nuclear arsenal. When he gets desperate (or crazy) enough to launch one of those warheads, we’ll regret the years we wasted laughing him off.