No, This Isn’t Satire. North Korea Is Chairing the UN’s Disarmament Conference.
This week, North Korea was handed the gavel to the United Nations’ Conference on Disarmament while the rogue nation is itself under sanctions by the UN Security Council for developing nuclear weapons. This comes on the heels of its launch of a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile and two shorter-range weapons. North Korea’s chairmanship is more than ironic — it discredits the body whose purpose includes such goals as the cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament.
Launched from a location near Pyeongyang, the latest missile tests occurred as North Korea struggles through a COVID-19 crisis that is overwhelming its crumbling health care system. Meanwhile, food shortages plague the country. But as usual, projecting a powerful image via its weapons program is more important to the North Korean regime than the welfare of its people. While civilians suffer, North Korea “continues to improve, expand and diversify its conventional and nuclear missile capabilities” according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, John Plumb.
In May, Family Research Council joined 39 other non-governmental organizations (NGO) in a statement urging UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and democratic countries to protest North Korea’s chairmanship by instructing their ambassadors to walk out from conference proceedings during the rogue regime’s four-week term. Similar boycotts have occurred when Iran, Syria, and Venezuela acted as chairs of the Conference. North Korea’s leadership of the Conference warrants nothing less.
The NGO letter reads, “Kim Jong-un has carried out a dozen ballistic missile tests since the beginning of the year, threatens to carry out more, and, according to intelligence assessments, may be ready to resume underground nuclear testing. If the UN seeks to be an institution with a moral compass, it cannot allow the likes of North Korea to direct arms control agencies.”
This Conference presidency is largely ceremonial and rotates between countries based on alphabetical order. Nevertheless, it served to legitimate North Korea’s international status. Furthermore, North Korea’s chairmanship diminishes the credibility of the United Nations.
Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, observed, “This is a country that threatens to attack other UN member states with missiles, and that commits atrocities against its own people. Torture and starvation are routine in North Korean political prison camps where an estimated 100,000 people are held in what is one of the world’s most dire human-rights situations.”
North Korea demonstrates how human rights correlates with matters of national security. Countries that endanger their own people often endanger other countries as well. For example, North Korea stands out as perhaps the worst violator of human rights in the world. Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians, currently estimates that between 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in North Korea’s notorious labor camps and prisons.
Assessing 20th century conflicts, Dr. William Imboden writes “entities engaging in religious persecution — both states and nonstates — are more likely to pose a security threat to the U.S.” That truth is exemplified by North Korea. At home, the regime terrorizes its people by threatening them with imprisonment in labor camps, torture, starvation, and execution. Internationally, the regime reinforces its grip on the country through non-abating aggression toward its neighbors embodied by the threat of missile attacks. Human rights is a security issue despite foreign policy establishment skepticism.
For these reasons, North Korea has no business leading any United Nations forum.
Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."