In the face of injustices inflicted by the North Korean government, new sanctions ordered by President Barack Obama's administration offer increased potential for peace talks between American and North Korean leaders.
On July 6, a report issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control revealed that sanctions had been placed on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and 14 other government officials who are responsible for severe human rights violations. According to the report, the sanctioned individuals are responsible for keeping approximately 100,000 citizens in prison camps where “torture, execution, sexual assault, starvation, slave labor, and other cruel extrajudicial punishment” take place.
The sanctions serve as necessary punishment for the cruelties that these 15 individuals have inflicted on their own people, as well as their refusal to discontinue their precarious nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs.
In January and February, North Korea conducted tests of nuclear weapons. The tests were in direct violation of existing United Nation policies and prompted Obama to order sanctions on the North Korean government.
The nuclear weapons and missiles are thought to have the power to reach intercontinental distances. When North Korea refused to comply with U.S. orders to discontinue tests of the weapons, the United States placed restrictions on trade of natural resources, small arms, and other goods in North Korea.
The sanctions, placed in March, were an attempt made by the U.S. government to initiate talks and settlements with the North Korean government. The sanctions, however, did not prove strong enough to kick start negotiations.
Stronger actions needed to be taken.
Now, as Kim moves forward with his nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Obama has put stronger actions into play by freezing all of his assets in America and prohibiting communication with any American citizen.
Placing sanctions directly on Kim and specific government officials is the right move. The powerful members of this group are responsible for the vicious regulation of approximately 25 million people. If the United States has any hope of initiating peace talks with the North Korean government, leaders must capture the attention of those with the most power.
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the United States is “ready and prepared” to engage in settlement talks with North Korea. Until the talks become absolutely essential for North Korean leaders, however, the United States will remain in waiting.
The new sanctions, which directly affect the political and economic interests of 15 very influential North Koreans, may be enough to force conversations about nuclear weapons to occur.
New sanctions have the potential to illicit extremely negative responses in North Korea. In an interview with The New York Times, Victor Cha, Korean chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recalled the North Korean response to the movie “The Interview.”
The release of the fictional movie that ends with the assassination of North Korea’s leader led to threats of violence and computer hacking in Sony Entertainment’s systems. Cha commented, “That’s just fiction; this is real life, and they may react very negatively to the designating of basically their god.”
The possibility of future negative repercussions should not deter American leaders from enforcing sanctions on North Korea.
We must remember why these sanctions have been put in place. Sanctions on Kim and other North Korean officials are meant to represent punishment for an extensive list of impermissible human rights abuses. The matter is not exclusively an economic and political conflict between the United States and North Korea. At their core, the sanctions signify something much more important.
By holding sanctions in place, America boldly tells Koreans and the rest of the world that we will not stand for such injustices. As world leaders and United Nation members, American leaders have to be prepared for backlash.
Ultimately, defending the rights of human beings and the good that likely will follow from placing sanctions on Kim should outweigh any hesitations that Americans have moving forward with Obama’s decision.