By Rayhan Murad
In a recent speech to the United Nations, President Donald Trump called on the world to take decisive action against North Korea’s belligerent leader, Kim Jong Un. Calling the dictator “rocket man”, President Trump warned against appeasing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. While the nicknames given to North Korea’s dictator may be humorous, the threat that North Korea poses to the international community is no laughing matter.
North Korea has long had a deadly arsenal of short and long range weapons that could cause major devastation to neighboring countries of Japan, South Korea, and the US territory of Guam. The Kim dynasty, led currently by dictator Kim Jong Un and previously by Kim Jong Il, has not hesitated to threaten countries with deadly force in an attempt to stave off any type of interference in their country by external forces.
North Korea’s rapid development of nuclear weapons, however, is especially alarming, as it allows a belligerent “rogue” state to have the capability to kill millions of people at once. If North Korea succeeds in perfecting its nuclear technology, it would turn the country into an instant military superpower in the Asia-pacific, as the government could use its military threat as leverage to gain favorable economic and diplomatic ties, thus uprooting the fragile balance of power that currently exists.
Three consecutive US presidents have tried to curb North Korea’s aggression and slow its nuclear development, mostly through the United Nations. The United Nation’s primary tool to stop countries from acting against international law (developing nuclear weapons, in North Korea’s case), has been the use of economic sanctions. Economic sanctions include trade barriers, tariffs, and restrictions on finances of countries acting out of line, in the hopes of forcing them to stop acting out. By using the collective economic strength of the world’s governing body, the United Nations can, in theory, stop countries like North Korea from breaking the law by tightening their wallets.
With North Korea however, this has not been the case. Sanctions placed on North Korea are often avoided through loopholes and black market dealings. For example, when the United Nations places retaliatory sanctions on North Korea for testing alleged hydrogen bombs (a highly deadly type of bomb that North Korea should not have) on its coal and agricultural exports, North Korea makes up the income through illicit drug and arms trades in the black market, where international governmental organizations have less power. Essentially, when one source of income is cut off for North Korea, the government will just find another one. North Korea has also been able to keep their economy afloat for the past half century (albeit barely) by trading with countries that disregard the economic barriers that have been placed on the country, such as Syria and Somalia. Obscure states aren’t the only ones guilty of aiding the North Korean economy and undermining sanctions, however; world powers such as China are also guilty of providing North Korea economic aid and financial safety nets. Afraid of the North Korean government toppling and causing instability in their southern border, the Chinese government, along with private entities within China, has long been trading with and doing business with the North Koreans. Unfortunately, as the scope of sanctions is increased to target more and more of North Korea’s key economic pillars, the scope of evasion increases as well.
Sanctions on North Korea also bring up a human rights dilemma for the United Nations. In the past, North Korea has cut down rations for its people in order to keep the country’s military government functioning properly, causing millions to starve and many to die. Economic sanctions on North Korean exports of food may hurt the North Korean government, but they can devastate already famished North Korean citizens, who are powerless to speak out against the dictatorship.
As North Korea undoubtedly tests more nuclear weapons and threatens more of its neighbors around the world, it is likely that the United Nations will pass more sanctions on the rogue state, especially more drastic economic sanctions in hopes of finally containing the deadly threat posed by the Kim regime. Sanctions on additional North Korean banks and businesses, specific financial sanctions on monetary assets of North Korea’s leaders, and increased repercussions for helping North Korea are all likely to be on the table in future UN talks. Whether these sanctions will be more effective than the ones in place today is unclear.
For decades, the United Nations has tried to wield the power of economic sanctions to deter North Korea’s military aggression. This policy of economic sanctions may have slowed down its progress, but since North Korea sees a successful nuclear program as key to the survival and security of its state, the government has proven that it is willing to do anything to acquire nuclear weapons. As North Korea moves closer and closer to completing their ultimate goal of perfecting nuclear technology capable of hitting the United States and other world powers, the window of opportunity for the United Nations to act is closing ever so quickly.
The United Nations was created in the wake of a war spurred on by an authoritarian leader whose aim was to gain ultimate power at any cost necessary. It is fitting then, that the one of the gravest conflicts the UN faces today is with a leader with the similar goals. The president of the most powerful country in the world calling North Korea’s determined leader “rocket man” may have captured the headlines last month, but if the United Nation’s economic sanctions continue to fail, the headlines may look just a little less amusing.
By: Rayhan murad
Perhaps no crisis can better embody the complexity, death, and suffering that has pervaded the Middle East for the past 50 years than the Syrian Civil War. It has already claimed the lives of 500,000 people, displaced millions, and torn apart one of the most historically rich countries in the Middle East. It would have been near impossible to predict the extreme stances and actions each side had gravitated towards; with Bashar-Al Assad using chemical weapons on his own people, and some Syrian rebels aligning themselves with the Islamic State. At the surface of the conflict lies a deep rooted sectarian divide between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and an inability to trust the government. Deeper however, lies a power struggle between the Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, and a series of dangerous provocations between the Russians and the Americans.
Despite the conflict in Syria seeming like a mostly regional conflict, it has turned into a chessboard for global superpowers to exert their power. The United States and other Gulf countries back rebel groups across Syria; Russia backs Bashar Al-Assad, who remains one of Russia’s only allies in the Middle East; and virtually no one supports the Islamic State. In addition to all of these sides, Kurdish rebel forces who seek to create an independent Kurdistan and other different minority groups have also taken up arms against both the Islamic State and the current Syrian government. The plethora of different sides in the Syrian conflict drives home the need for further cooperation between the biggest global players- the United States and Russia.
Russia’s role in the conflict in the Middle East cannot be understated, as they remain one of the primary reasons Bashar Al-Assad remains in power. Russia’s motives to help Bashar Al Assad against the wishes of most of the international community come down to a deep distrust with western powers such as the United States and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). As the Economist explained in September of last year, Russia’s backing of Assad is representative of the Kremlin’s intentions to increase their influence inside the Middle East, and their desire to inhibit the West’s ability to instill pro-American democracies in the region. Furthermore, Russia has blocked and vetoed any attempts by the United Nations to impose harsh sanctions on Bashar Al-Assad's government, despite the various war crimes his government is responsible for. In addition to blocking effective sanctions, Russia is also guilty of preventing partial ceasefires across the country, indicating their willingness to allow the war to continue for longer. And while the United States can take some of the blame for not compromising with Russia on a host of issues for the good of the Syrian people, it is Vladimir Putin’s administration that has dragged the war on for these 5 years.The diplomatic fight of Russia in Syria is just as important as the military one, and has unfortunately resulted in some very real deaths.
Among Russia’s other incentives to keep an oppressive Shia president in a country with a majority Sunni muslims is Russia’s other regional power in the area, Iran. As the Wall Street Journal furthered in October of 2016, Russia has been given the ability to use Iranian bases to fly jets in and out of the Middle East, in return for Russian backing of Assad inside Syria. Perhaps the only reason that Bashar Al-Assad’s government has been able to stay in power is because of Russian military strength. As the Telegraph explained in October of 2016, Russia has sent various fighter jets and aircraft into Syria, in hopes of destroying and pushing back rebel groups. While Russia publicly claims to be focusing the brunt of their attacks on the Islamic State, much of the international community realizes that the fight against terror is just a front for Russia to fight rebel groups. As Russia continues to prop up not one but two dangerous, oppressive governments inside the Middle East, it overlooks the international consequences it’s actions have.
Perhaps the people that Russia poses the greatest threat to is the people of Syria themselves. In addition to have killed nearly 4,000 civilians since the beginning of 2016, Russia’s military and diplomatic stance has helped spark a global refugee crisis. With their innumerable civilian casualties, compared with the fraction of ISIS deaths, Russia seems to overlook the humanitarian consequences of their actions. This exacerbates the numbers of refugees that are flowing into Europe and fearing for their lives. Despite international efforts to help curb the amount of deaths inside the country, Russia has only taken steps to destroy even more of the vital aid and infrastructure the citizens need to survive. As the New York Times found in September, Russia has even attacked United Nations aid convoys attempting to deliver vital food and medication to the thousands of undernourished children inside the country. Having already suffered five years of a bloody war, the Syrian people have long been hungry for peace, but with Russia unwilling to compromise with the Western world, it is clear that peace will continue to evade their plates.