On February 7, 2016, North Korea drew heavy criticism from the United Nations by launching the Taepo Dong 3, a long-ranged missile.(1) North Korea’s defense to the launch was that this was not a sign of aggression but, rather, a peaceful satellite test.(2) This was not the first time that North Korea launched a missile test. North Korea launched seven separate missile tests ever 1993, three of which occurred in the past four years.(3) Although the first series of missile tests were unsuccessful, North Korea their success rate increases with every launch. The missile test prior to the Taepo Dong 3 had the capability of reaching 10,000km, with the potential to target over 38% of the United States.(4) With Taepo Dong 3, the coverage extended to 13,000km, allowing North Korea to target as far as New York City and Washington D.C. (5)
The international community needs to take North Korea’s recent missile launch as a serious threat. North Korea has consistently spewed hostile rhetoric of annihilating the United States, as well as the “puppets” of the United States, South Korea. (6) Further indication that the Taepo Dong 3 missile test was far from innocent is North Korea’s past acts of aggression towards South Korea. Even though the two Koreas signed an armistice agreement in 1953, they are still technically at war.(7) In 2002, North Korea launched a surprise attack on a South Korean vessel, resulting in the death of six South Korean sailors. (8) In 2010, North Korea sunk the Cheonan, a South Korean naval vessel, in the Yellow Sea.(9) Over 46 sailors were killed in this belligerent attack from the North.(10) Despite North Korea’s denial of these attacks, South Korea had proof that North Korea was responsible.(11) Almost eight months after the sinking of the Cheonan, North Korea unleashed an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, destroying over 70 buildings and killing two South Korean soldiers as well as two civilians.(12)
Although the United Nations Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea’s long-range missile test, this condemnation along with their proposed economic sanctions will not change North Korea’s attitude.(13) Past economic sanctions on luxury items were unsuccessful because the North Korean regime managed to smuggle luxury items in through their biggest ally, China.(14) Even though China’s relationship with North Korea has significantly deteriorated in the past few years, they still consider each other as important allies. This is evident in the amount of trading that goes on between the two countries: 57% of North Korea’s imports and 42% of their exports are with China.(15) It is unlikely that China will follow in the steps of the international community since China will have a lot to lose if they agree to the economic sanctions. To convince China will take a lot more than simple persuasion and the change will not occur overnight. For now, the most immediate step the international community can take is to convince South Korea to shut down the Kaesong Industrial Park indefinitely and to continue blasting anti-North Korean messages on their DMZ loudspeakers.
The Kaesong Industrial Park (“Kaesong”) is a joint economic collaboration between North and South Korea. Kaesong is located in North Korea, approximately six miles north from the Demilitarized Zone.(16) Over a hundred South Korean companies set up factories in Kaesong to employ over 50,000 North Korean workers.(17) These North Korean workers work for a significantly cheaper wage than their Southern counterparts, so this is a profitable venture for the South Korean companies.(18) Even though the South Korean companies pay wages directly to the North Korean workers, these workers are forced by the North Korean government to give the majority of their pay to the government.(19) As a result, the North Korean government sees this region as a very important source of income. There have been proposals in the past to have watchdogs ensure that wages stay with the Kaesong employees; however, the Kaesong employees were picked by the regime for their loyalty.(20) It does not matter how many measures South Korea takes to ensure the wages go where they belong, it will eventually end up financing the very programs that South Korea is adamantly against. Although South Korea has pulled out of the Kaesong complex because of Taepo Dong 3 missile test, this is most likely a temporary decision. Kaesong has been prone to shut downs and re-openings depending on the fluctuating tensions on the Korean peninsula.(21) As soon as North Korea “apologizes” in regards to the missile test, it is almost certain that South Korea will restart operations at Kaesong. Since these South Korean companies are indirectly financing the North Korean regime’s missile and nuclear tests, the South Korean government should step in and force these companies to shut down their operations in Kaesong indefinitely. Even though the indefinite shut down of Kaesong will dampen the relations on the Korean peninsula, North Korea will realize that their neighbors down South are done playing games.
While shutting down Kaesong indefinitely is one solution, restarting the DMZ loudspeakers would be an even better move. In 2015, two South Korean soldiers were injured by landmines while patrolling the DMZ.(22) These bombs were planted by North Korean soldiers with the intent to harm South Korean soldiers. Once again, North Korea denied any involvement and refused to apologize.(23) In response, the South Korean government reactivated their loudspeakers on the DMZ border.(24) These loudspeakers can be heard up to 7.5 miles past the DMZ during the day and almost 15 miles past the DMZ at night.(25) The loudspeakers are a source of concern for the North Korean government since news is broadcasted that the regime has attempted to keep from its citizens.(26) These broadcasts, often, highlight the reality of the terrible conditions in North Korea. At other times, the loudspeakers blast news stories from daily lives in the South or K-Pop music.(27) North Korea has constantly threatened to fire at these loudspeakers, but were warned by the South that any attacks would be reciprocated.(28) In order to have the South Korean government turn off the speakers, North Korea begrudgingly agreed to claim their sorrow at the South Korean soldiers’ injuries.(29) Even though this wasn’t the best apology one could have hoped for, it was nevertheless an apology from a country that rarely acknowledges their mistakes. If these loudspeakers made North Korea agree to take responsibility for the planted bombs, perhaps the continuation of these loudspeakers could make the North fess up to their “peaceful” missile tests and to take action against any future tests.
Whether or not China agrees to apply economic sanctions to North Korea, the first step for the international community is to urge South Korea to take immediate action against the North. Once South Korea has implemented the previously suggested measures, the next step should be for the entire international community to place harsh economic sanctions on North Korea. Aside from medical and food sanctions, the international community should place a ban on any trade of non-essential goods. The North Korean regime relies on the idea of self-reliance (“Juche”). If the citizens of North Korea realize that the government is no longer self-sufficient, the North Korean regime’s façade of a successful country will deteriorate. When this realization occurs, the regime will have no choice but to listen to the demands of the international community.
Christian Kim is a 2L at the University of Baltimore School of Law and graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. He currently serves as the President of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association as well as the 2L Rep for the Student Bar Association. His interests are East Asian politics, international conflicts, and human rights. Before Law School, Christian has worked for the Korean Ministry of Education as a TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea) Scholar and Coordinator for two years. He is currently a legal intern at the Hermina Law Group and a law clerk for the Law Office ofHayley Tamburello.