Has the Hermit Kingdom gone too far?
The death of the American Otto Warmbier certainly raises the question. After being returned home in a coma he perished shortly after. A simple glance over the pictures released at the “handover”, the cold looks on the faces of the guards escorting him, their opinions on the matter unknown, and the tired barely conscience face of Mr. Warmbier laced with fear, provide only a sliver of what was likely occurring behind closed door. The blatant mistreatment of a foreign citizen by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea government capitalizes on the delicate situation present on the Korean peninsula. Though typically an excuse to cut diplomatic ties, demand apologies/reparations, or even take aggressive actions in an attempt to avenge a citizen, North Korea offers a unique (and delicate) situation for America due to its proximity to a rising great power (China) and history. This delicate situation manifests itself in the diplomatic tight rope which America must continue to walk.
In order to address the question of whether or not North Korea has gone too far, it is important to note the difference in its thought process as compared to that of the majority of the world. Simply put, the world has likely yet to see an example of what North Korea may consider as going too far. A bit similar to the “Rational Actor Theory”, which denotes that political leaders will act via a method which pays note to their best interest, the way North Korea thinks may seem just and reasonable within their policy making circles.
It is also important to remember that this is certainly not the first time that an American has died at the hands of North Korea. Incidents on the 38th parallel occurred throughout the Cold War resulting in the death of American servicemen. This also isn’t the first time that North Korea has been responsible for the death of non- DPRK citizens. For example, the island of Yeonpyeong was shelled by North Korea in 2010 resulting in the death of South Korean military personnel and civilians. A response to such an incident could have been resuming the Korean War. Such an outcome did not occur. Simply put,North Korea and its continued belligerence is not an issue which will nor should be solved overnight. Resuming a war would not only result in the loss of more lives, but also create issues in the area which remain after the signing of peace.
One method which the United States should employ is using this as another exercise in cooperation with China. In the recent years China has slowly come to terms regarding the position North Korea is in. Though increasingly belligerent, North Korea is still reliant upon Chinese trade. The issue of North Korean nuclear weapons, something of a cause of trepidation even for both China and the United States provides more reason for the two great powers to cooperate with each other on the peninsula. In the end, any sort of harsh action against North Korea outside of sanctions would anger the Chinese regardless of their growing acceptance of the diminishing role of their buffer against the United States. The resulting tension would be detrimental to America. Cooperation leaves many doors open for both China and America in reigning in the Hermit Kingdom. It gives China the wiggle room it needs in figuring out its role in the world.
American citizens must also stay weary of where they travel. It is simple to think that the “outside” world would emulate Western values or even logic. Yet a majority of the world is not free (by the American standard) and poses a danger to those lacking the proper level of street smart of such an environment. North Korea offers a sort of mystic to it which is alluring to an adventurous type, providing an eye into an early 1950’s Korea. This can be seen as especially so to a student such as Warmbier. Reality reflects a country however which is very hostile to America and its people. This is also a country which will go as far as to fabricate claims which would justify locking up an American in a Soviet style gulag. North Korea is not a country which “plays by the rules” and certainly prides itself in that. In a sense, Americans must exercise a global street smarts when planning travel. By doing this North Korea is given less fuel to use in its acts of belligerence against the United States.
Regardless of whether or not North Korea has gone too far, the United States must exercise caution in dealing with the Hermit Kingdom. In a peninsula which holds the interests of many countries and can likely be a flash point between the reigning superpower and a rising one.
Though the inquisitive mind should not be barred, reason and proper judgement should always be exercised. This is especially crucial in a world phased which issues such as terrorism and rogue states; issues which in the long history of the world are new to man and his many commonwealths.