The Cruelty of ‘Maximum Pressure’

The Trump administration’s habit of inflicting punishment on the civilian population when it doesn’t get what it wants has come to North Korea:

U.S. officials are preventing American aid workers from making humanitarian trips to North Korea, according to people familiar with the matter, inhibiting the flow of food and medical assistance to the isolated country ahead of a new round of diplomacy over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The decision was made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two of these people said, part of an attempt to tighten the screws on North Korea in response to perceived foot-dragging on dismantling its nuclear program.

Preventing aid workers from helping sick and hungry North Koreans is not going to affect the regime’s negotiating position, but it will be another shameful example of seeking to exploit and exacerbate the suffering of civilians in the pursuit of unrealistic, maximalist demands. Depriving charitable and non-profit organizations from providing assistance to malnourished and ill people isn’t going to pressure the North Korean government into giving up any nuclear weapons, but it could cause unnecessary loss of life.

If Pompeo is willing to block aid to North Korea during negotiations, that doesn’t bode well for the supposed humanitarian exemptions to Iran sanctions. The article quotes one of the doctors whose application was rejected:

Kee Park, a Harvard Medical School scholar and director of the North Korea program at the Korean American Medical Association who has traveled to North Korea to perform humanitarian surgery work, said Thursday that his application was denied in August.

Mr. Park called the State Department’s decision “arbitrary” and “inconsistent with the intent of exempting critical humanitarian assistance within the broader maximum pressure policy against DPRK.”

Whether it is cutting aid that supplies food and medical care to Palestinians or it is trying to strangle the Iranian economy, the Trump administration consistently opts for cruelly punishing people that aren’t responsible for the actions of foreign leaders that they don’t like. Now it is barring humanitarian assistance to North Koreans in the bizarre expectation that this will change the regime’s attachment to its nuclear arsenal. It isn’t going to “work,” and it is an awful tactic to use even if it might.

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Author: Daniel Larison


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