For almost a year and a half, Kim Jong Un’s regime in North Korea held American college student Otto Warmbier in captivity. Unfortunately, Otto’s story just came to a tragic end when he passed away from severe brain damage only a week after being returned home.
Sometimes the world seems simpler when we forget that regimes like Kim Jong Un’s exist. In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush included the North Korean regime in his now infamous Axis of Evil. And yet, for the past eight years under President Obama, his administration found little reason to discuss North Korea.
Just as it would be naive to think that the mere election of President Obama somehow inspired North Korea to reform its ways, the recent election of President Trump did not cause North Korea to suddenly go rogue. In reality, President Trump’s election more likely represents someone suddenly switching on a light in a dark room, reminding us of a rogue and dangerous regime that has always existed.
Just as Otto’s story went largely unnoticed for the past year and a half, the recently past administration largely ignored the threat of North Korea. While Americans are again awakening to the dangers North Korea poses to America and her allies, the inactivity of much of the free world allowed North Korea to get to where it is today. The same regime whose brutality ultimately killed Otto now pursues a delivery system for its nuclear weapons. Success in its pursuit would enable this depraved regime to project nuclear disaster upon all of Asia, and in time, neighboring continents.
During much of the twentieth century, the prevailing political wisdom preached that détente, the intentional easing of the political tensions, between the free West and the Soviet East would bring about a sustainable peaceful coexistence. Instead, it prolonged the Soviet’s ability to dominate much of Eastern Europe and project fear of nuclear devastation on the West. Only when the Soviet Union was directly confronted by President Reagan did the West, and the rest of the world, find the peace it ultimately sought.
Americans too often project our own motivations and desires onto regimes like North Korea. Believing these regimes’ motives to be similar to ours, we hope to negotiate with them. Otto’s imprisonment and death remind us that the current North Korean regime does not share our values or beliefs. Rather than seeking peace and prosperity for its people, it is hell-bent on developing the tools necessary to impose its dictatorial will onto others. Reality can be harsh, however, continued denial of the dangers this regime poses to the world may bring even harsher truths if we allow it to continue its progress unchecked.