Advice for Kim Jong-un?
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
I was recently asked by an expert on North Korea what I would tell dictator Kim Jong-un if I had a chance to meet him.
My response: “Nothing.”
As I explained to my baffled colleague: “Do you think I could convince KFC to stop killing chickens? The mafia to stop committing crime? Kim Jong-un is in charge of a country, treating 24 million people like they are his personal property. His wonderful life depends on controlling, terrorizing, brainwashing and extracting wealth from North Koreans.”
And vice versa. There is nothing the third dictator of North Korea could tell me that could get me to support his system. If I did start lecturing him about the right of locomotion or respect for individual autonomy, he’d probably interrupt me to ask: “Which country are you in charge of where you make your magic happen?”
Like my colleague, North Korea experts may want to give the North Korean dictator a piece of their minds. While the talkers debate, I would suggest that the mere mortals among us who would like to engage in practical action in our lifetimes check out the call to action paper “Light Through the Darkness” issued by the George W. Bush Institute.
Victor Cha, Fellow in Human Freedom at the institute and author of the paper, outlines six main areas for “improving the human condition in North Korea,” recommending specific actions. They include breaking through North Korea’s information barriers, engaging and supporting U.S.-based escapees and raising global awareness. The paper makes specific recommendations for individuals, organizations, governments and non-experts. The many bullet points could keep NGOs looking to engage in practical action busy for years or decades to come.
A beautiful thing about Cha’s paper is that it encourages people to focus on actions, not words of wisdom for the North Korean dictator. When I listen to the experts talk about North Korea, they seem to be having life-and-death discussions over which policy is correct. With so many options available, it would be like having a heated argument to resolve the “apples versus oranges” debate while at a buffet.
That’s why Cha’s paper goes against the grain when it comes to North Korean issues. The approach of the paper is to let a thousand flowers bloom rather than to debate about a particular policy in isolation. Analysts will engage in endless verbal fisticuffs, for example, over whether air balloons being sent into North Korea can topple the regime. As a stand-alone action, no, it can’t, anymore than humanitarian assistance, tourism, increased engagement, a peace treaty or sanctions can. That kind of snapshot analysis, isolating just one part when there are many moving, would be like concluding that tires are ineffective because, by themselves, they can’t make a car move.
As Cha writes: “Thus, it is not a question of choice ― a new approach to North Korean human rights must operate on all tracks simultaneously to have the most effect.” Some can focus on the 24 million people in North Korea, some can focus on helping North Korean refugees on the run in China and other countries, and others can focus on helping North Korean resettle and adjust. It isn’t hypocrisy to focus one’s limited time and resources on just one. There doesn’t have to be agreement, in advance, about which policy or approach is correct when there is so much to do, different people have different skills to get things done and we can’t know in advance which will work (or who has the ability to make the “golden key” or “silver bullet” happen).
It is often said that there is a “marketplace of ideas.”Arguments can be useful, stimulating and invigorating, but we don’t have to wait for experts to come to agreement before doing what we can. There needs to be a separate “marketplace of action.”Anyone who wants to engage in action, but is not sure where to start, can check out Cha’s paper.
The experts will continue to debate which policy is correct, I know. I’d like to remind them of something objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand said when asked by a student: “What should be done about the poor?” Rand responded curtly: “If you want to help them, you won’t be stopped.”
It sounds harsh, but it is a point that needs to be made to various researchers and activists debating about what to do about North Korea, that they won’t be stopped, except by government in some cases, from putting legs and arms to their ideas. If they look through the Bush Institute report and find something practical they can do, I promise that when Kim Jong-un asks me for advice, I will tell him not to stop them.
The writer is director for international relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu
Original Korea Times link,