WSJ N. Korea Problems Reach Beyond Weapons

The Country’s Military Might Obscure Its Other Difficulties, A Speaker Contends.

SCOTT CARNEY For the Wisconsin State Journal

Nuclear weapons in North Korea aren’t the biggest problem there. The biggest problem is the regime, said a Washington pundit at UW-Madison on Thursday.

Gordon Flake, executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation in Washington, D.C., said all the attention the world gives to nuclear issues and stabilizing the Kim Jung-Il regime obscures a constellation of human rights and humanitarian issues.

“Without nuclear weapons, North Korea would be Bangladesh: poor, starving and backwards,” said Flake to a group of 40 students and professors. “We pay attention to them because of the potential for conflict.”

Technically, the United States is still at war with North Korea. The 1953 truce that brought an end to hostilities in the Korean War did not end the war itself. Since the late 1990s the United States has done everything it could to avoid a resumption of the conflict, but Flake suggests that the emphasis of avoiding war has been a “Faustian bargain” paid for by over a million North Korean citizens who died of famine in the last 10 years.

“On one hand, the humanitarian need to provide aid is an immediate good that feeds people in need. On the other hand, providing food aid props up a regime that will continue to hurt its own population,” he said.

Gordon argued that economic isolation of North Korea has “provided an economic pillow that supported the regime,” and that if it had been exposed to a free market, the regime would have already changed.

Gordon’s talk was last in a series of four lectures on North Korea sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies. The foundation Gordon works for promotes U.S.-Asia dialogue and runs several exchange programs for government officials between Japan, South Korea and China.