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North Korea’s Brazen Act

Martin Cígler

In a previous era, the death of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old American student, at the hands of the regime in North Korea likely would have been considered an act of war. On January 2, 2016, Warmbier was detained by regime officials, allegedly for attempting to steal a propaganda poster. Convicted of a “hostile act” against the state, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Upon his release into U.S. custody last week, regime officials said that he had been in a coma for nearly 15 months, and blamed a case of botulism. In reality, Warmbier was almost certainly tortured to death by the regime.

What happened to Otto Warmbier is what has been happening to North Korean citizens for more than 70 years, since Kim Il-sung transformed the new country into what it is today: a hermetically sealed prison state operated by a hereditary dictatorship that some scholars estimate has murdered around 1.5 million people in its network of concentration camps. Those not executed by the regime have fared little better: The country is beset by malnourishment and starvation (a famine in the mid 1990s killed half a million people); its GDP per capita is somewhere south of $1,000, putting North Korea behind Rwanda, Haiti, and Sierra Leone globally; and its shoddy infrastructure causes fires that can be seen from space.

None of these issues has ever been of much concern to the Kim regime, now in its third generation. Kim Jong-un, like his father and grandfather, is dedicated to building up North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Pyongyang has been alarmingly successful in pursuing that end. The regime has missiles that can reach Japan, and reportedly is not far from being able to strike the continental U.S. North Korea is also already exporting terror in less explosive ways. The regime is responsible for several devastating cyber attacks (recently, North Korean hackers paralyzed the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, as well as industries in 150 other countries), and Kim Jong-un successfully had an estranged member of the family assassinated in Kuala Lumpur in February, in broad daylight. Meanwhile, Pyongyang maintains friendly, mutually beneficial relationships with other terror-loving regimes, including Iran and Cuba.

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