“Constructive Enragement” versus “Constructive Engagement” in North Korea

By Greg Scarlatoiu

Executive Director
Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK)


As Dr. James Chin-kyung Kim, a tireless advocate and practitioner of academic engagement with North Korea participated in the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on February 6, spiritual and thought leaders from all over the world likely prayed for his success. Dr. Kim is the president and founder of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). Funded by Evangelical Christians and based on faith and hope in emancipation through exposure to English speaking foreign professors, North Korea’s only private university professes to be grooming the next generation of leaders. The university’s foreign staff and faculty have no control over the admission process or post-graduation job placement.

A recent BBC Panorama documentary offered an unprecedented inside view of PUST. All 500 PUST students are men, said to be the sons of the elites. The only women on campus are the watchful and ubiquitous uniformed guards. All students appear to be in their early 20s. In North Korea, all men age 17 must join the military for at least 10 years. Have these young men been exempted from military duty for being North Korea’s best and brightest? Do they have to join the military after graduation? Do the years they spend at PUST count toward their military service?

Why would highly militarized North Korea relieve hundreds of bright, healthy, loyal sons of the elites from their obligation to serve in the military? The skills they acquire, especially English, computer engineering, international finance and management present the potential of dual use in North Korea’s cyber warfare operations or international illicit activities needed to sustain the regime. While all of North Korea’s universities are heavily regimented, PUST students certainly march, sing, talk, walk, and act like dutiful soldiers of the Kim regime.

Are PUST students those young men likely to lead the country in a positive direction, or those most likely to perpetuate the Kim regime? Dr. James Chin-kyung Kim claims: “Inside there, we truly have freedom.” According to a recent Voice of America interview with Sandralee and Robert Moynihan, former PUST professors, the couple was denied visa renewals, possibly because Mrs. Moynihan brought into the classroom a copy of the North Korean Constitution, asking students to determine whether it was adequately observed.

Proponents of engaging North Korea through academic exchanges, in the hope of creating agents of positive change, have put forth the precedent of the first Soviet students brought to the United States. Changing hearts and minds through training those hand-picked by totalitarian regimes is problematic, at least over the short to medium term. Twenty years after spending a year at Columbia University, then KGB General Oleg Kalugin masterminded the infamous 1978 “umbrella murder” of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London.

The long-term benefits may come in due course: Oleg Kalugin helped counter the Soviet coup attempt in 1991, before resettling in the United States in 1995. The dark chapters of U.S.-trained Leopoldo Galtieri in Argentina and Manuel Noriega in Panama suggest that long-term benefits of exposure to freedom and democracy may never come. Jang Sung-taek, the former number 2 of North Korea, executed in December 2013, would likely attest that his nephew’s Swiss education may have enhanced his love of ski resorts, water parks, landscaping, and NBA hall of famers, but has not been conducive to allowing North Koreans the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.

In the 1980s, the late Congressman Stephen Solarz called for “constructive enragement” of economic sanctions as a moral imperative to end apartheid in South Africa. His appeal rebuked “constructive engagement,” which implied refraining from criticism of Pretoria. Congressman Solarz would favor “enragement” over “engagement” to change North Korea today. After meeting with Kim Il-sung in 1980 and 1991, a disenchanted Stephen Solarz declared: “My own experience in North Korea suggests that its commitments have about the same value as Tsarist war bonds.”

Today, North Korea is a post-communist, post-industrial, totalitarian kleptocracy that continues to control access to food, opportunity, and education based on loyalty to the regime. As its people suffer from food shortages, the North Korean regime presses on with the development of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. For more than a decade, the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), an organization once co-chaired by Stephen Solarz, has researched and reported on developments inside North Korea’s political prison camps, where 120,000 prisoners are held, often together with members of three generations of the detainee’s family.

On February 17, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, aiming to determine if crimes against humanity have been committed in that country, will make its findings and recommendations public, a month ahead of the formal report submission to the UN Human Rights Council. The likelihood of “constructive enragement” over North Korea’s egregious human rights violations will be higher than ever before.

1 comments:

Sandralee Moynihan said...

As a professor teaching human resource management within North Korea, the laws within most western countrIes have developed with respect to their constitution. Consequently, the constitution of North Korea is highly relevant for students within DPRK to make decisions as to what is appropriate for their country. The economy of a country is enhanced and transactions occur more quickly when there is trust. Students were encouraged to think about how to solve human resource problems in a way that is consistent with their constitution. Someone in power must have decided to support the DPRK constitution as written. It would seem dangerous for an individual to make decisions that defy the constitution, since World courts have agreed that "following orders" is not an excuse for illegal behavior. Encouraging students to think about their human resource decisions within a larger context raises questions that if the constitution is not to be followed , why isn't it changed? If those in authority have established the constitution, perhaps those who give orders that run counter to their own constitution should be exposed. Students within DPRK love their country and teaching them to examine how the rights that are espoused in their constitution can improve their economy if followed, by increasing trust and trade will contribute towards better problem solving. Human rights issues in western countries have been enhanced by human resource considerations. Treating humans as valuable resources leads to human rights being exercied . As a professor, I taught the economic value of human resource management. If the DPRK seeks sustainablity they will make decisions that are economically wise and that is the essence of juche. The DPRK already have chosen a constitution that will enhance their objectives, but they only need to follow it to see economic and international benefits.