April 12th, 2012
09:15 PM ET

Why North Korea gets away with it

Editor's Note: Jennifer Lind is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. This was originally published in Foreign Affairs.

By Jennifer Lind, Foreign Affairs

U.S.–North Korea relations recently enjoyed 16 optimistic days: between February 29, when Pyongyang signed the “Leap Day” arms control agreement with the United States, and March 16, when it announced plans to conduct the very kind of rocket launch that it had just forsworn. Reacting to the announcement of the satellite launch, which is intended to commemorate the centenary of founding father Kim Il Sung’s birth, U.S. President Barack Obama warned North Korea about the consequences of provocation and called on China to stop “turning a blind eye” to the North Korean nuclear program.

The denunciations Obama and others have been making sound like a familiar refrain. “Rules must be binding, violations must be punished, words must mean something,” Obama said in his now-famous Prague speech, in which he condemned North Korea’s April 2009 rocket launch. But the rules aren’t binding, North Korea’s violations aren’t meaningfully punished, words are mostly just words, and China does little.

North Korea’s saber rattling today represents only the most recent episode in a long history of unpunished provocation. In 1968, North Korean forces seized a U.S. Navy ship and its crew, and in 1976, they killed with an axe two U.S. servicemen who were trying to trim an overhanging tree in the demilitarized zone. (The Americans responded to the latter incident by dispatching the most heavily armed landscaping operation in world history, with tree-trimmers in the DMZ accompanied by jets flying overhead.) Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the regime repeatedly attempted to assassinate the South Korean president; in 1974, South Korea’s first lady was killed when a suspected agent from the North tried to shoot President Park Chung Hee.

Read: Kim Jong Un Takes the World’s Worst Job.

In another presidential assassination attempt, in 1983, North Korean operatives planted a bomb in Rangoon that killed several South Korean cabinet members and other government officials. Four years later, agents bombed a civilian airplane, killing all 115 aboard. More recently, the North Korean military torpedoed the South Korean frigate Cheonan and shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. In every instance, the joint U.S.-South Korean command, Combined Forces Command (CFC), has let North Korea get away with its misbehavior. One sanctions regime after another has not deterred aggression.

Restraint in the face of such provocation is unusual, in particular for the United States, which has not been shy about using military force when it or its allies are attacked. For example, Manuel Noriega’s military forces harassed Americans in Panama and killed a U.S. marine; the United States invaded and deposed Noriega. In 1986, Libya bombed a West Berlin disco frequented by U.S. servicemen; the U.S. military launched air strikes in Libya, killing Muammar al-Qaddafi’s daughter.

Read on here.

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Topics: North Korea

soundoff (134 Responses)
  1. TOMG

    HUMAN FORM ARE GETTING TO SO GENIUS IN THIS ERA OF TIMING , WE THE HUMAN FORM CAN INVENTED THE MOTHER OF ALL BOMB JUST TO DESTROYING ITSELF HUMAN FORM HELL WORLD IN THIS STUPID CIVILIZATION ERA EVER , AMEN .

    April 15, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  2. TOMG

    KILLING IS NOT THE SOLUTION TO SOLVE THIS HELL FORM WORLD FOR THE PASS MORE THAN FIVE THOUSAND YEARS ALREADY , STILL AIN'T AWAKENING UP TO THE HELL WORLD YET , AMEN .

    April 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  3. TOMG

    THIS PLANET EARTH SOLAR SYSTEM ARE MORE THAN FIVE BILLIONS YEARS OLD , AMEN

    April 15, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  4. TOMG

    WE ALL JUST WAITING FOR THE MOTHER OF ALL EARTHQUAKE 13.O AND HIGHER TO SOLVING THIS HELL KARMA HUMAN FORM , AMEN

    April 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  5. TOMG

    HUMAN FORM ARE AFRAID OF TWO THINGS , THE FIRST THING IS AFRAID OF DEAD AND THE SECOND THING IS AFRAID OF SUFFERING , AMEN

    April 15, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  6. TOMG

    LIFE FORM IS FROM THE KARMA OF IT ACTION , THE THINKING , THE THOUGHT OF , AMEN

    April 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  7. TOMG

    KEEP ON DRILL BABY DRILL THE EARTHQUAKE ARE COMING TO ALL TOWN AROUND THIS HELL KARMA WORLD , IS LIKE KEEP ON HAVING OUR HUMAN STOMACH FROM GETTING OPERATION AFTER OPERATION AND SURGERY ON , THAT WHAT WE ALL HUMAN FORM WILL GET THE GOD PUNISHING BACK WITH THE MOTHER OF ALL EARTHQUAKE 13.O AND HIGHER AND THE MOTHER OF ALL SUENAME WILL ALSO FOLLOW , AMEN

    April 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Reply
  8. TOMG

    I LOVE ALBERT EINSTEIN HAVE BEEN MENTIONING ON IS ONLY THE BUDDHISTISM TO HELP THIS HELL HUMAN MIND TO HAVE MORE PEACE IN THIS ANIMAL HUMAN MIND WORLD , AMEN

    April 15, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  9. TOMG

    WHAT CAN THE HUMAN CONSUME IN ARE JUST THE FOOD AND NOT THE METAL TYPE AND METALLIC MATERIAL WORLD , AMEN

    April 15, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  10. pmcdonald

    Another reason would be that "It doesn't matter".

    North Korea is a small poxy state of 25m people only. Whatever it does will not have a lasting effect on the world. The US is still fighting the cold war. Still trying to stop the spread of communism. Listen up! Communism isn't going to spread. North Korea is irrelevant and with each passing year becomes more so. US policy needs to change to one of engagement. Bring North Korea in from the cold. It is a weak and poxy country that needs to be pitied not frightened of.

    April 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Reply
  11. Saber

    Countries like North Korea continue to get away with things likw this because we don't have any tough politicians who are willing to take a true stand. The last one that took a stand was Truman. Nuff Said!

    April 16, 2012 at 1:42 am | Reply
  12. krm1007

    The same reason India is getting away from it. Bully. Look around both neighborhoods.......heavily militarized, huge armed forces and tons of tension.

    April 16, 2012 at 9:38 am | Reply
  13. jay

    Is Korth Norea going to test a Nuke next??? Talk about a problem taking care of itself... LOL

    April 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Reply
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