The blogger and economist Charles Steele, whom I read regularly – glad to see him back in action after a period of illness – has this to say about a US national sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour for the sin of preaching the Christian gospel. Mr Steele is not happy at the mealy-mouthed approach of, among others, the New York Times:
Sometimes the apparent helplessness and lack of courage of the “progressives” is hard to fathom. North Korea has us “in a bind?” My first reaction at seeing how NYT is framing this was to think of the following response the U.S. could give. Barack Obama could announce, publicly, that the United States is giving Kim Jong-un 24 hours to release Mr. Bae. Otherwise, starting 24 hours from now, each day the North Koreans keep Bae in custody, the United States will sink a North Korean merchant vessel on the high seas or in North Korean waters. And if the North Koreans kill or otherwise harm him, we will sink every North Korean merchant vessel on the high seas or in North Korean waters, and if they ever get a new one we’ll sink it, too. We don’t care what Jong-un says, if he likes he can denounce Bae and the U.S. in the strongest terms and claim it is from his from magnanimity that Bae is released — but release him or else.
A question is how far can or should a state go in dealing with such cases. Very recently, two UK nationals were jailed after being convicted for drugs offences in Dubai. They could have faced the death penalty. No doubt there are plenty of other cases, such as when foreigners fall afoul of Singapore’s tough approach to petty crime, and so on.
I take the view that it would be foolish to endanger more lives – including those of our own military – to enforce a harsh penalty on a nation such as North Korea unless – a big if – it could be shown that North Korea’s actions presented a direct and credible threat to ourselves…. which is the reason given, say, for toppling Saddam. Also, it would need to be shown that such action, given the risks, would be effective in establishing a clear principle that says governments cannot treat foreigners without regard to any norms of civilised behaviour. That doesn’t mean passively shrugging shoulders at its barbarism and if means can be found to make life even more unpleasant for the cretins who rule North Korea, well good.
It is not being weak, however, to point out that anyone who goes to this totalitarian state and who chooses to promote, say, Christianity, or classical liberalism, or anything else that is on the shit-list of the folk in North Korea, is taking an enormous risk. It is rather like a person choosing to climb Mount Everest without decent clothing and footwear.
North Korea is, judging by its behaviour in recent weeks, a country run by lunatics. Anyone who goes there without understanding this is acting at great danger to himself or herself. By all means turn the screws on this vile nation as hard as possible, but bear in mind that military action poses considerable risks that need to be considered. It is not being evasive or mealy mouthed I think to point that out.