The Continued Cruelty of ‘Maximum Pressure’

The Trump administration continues using humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip in talks with North Korea. The result is the spread of preventable and treatable diseases:

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is restricting some international relief agencies from delivering humanitarian assistance to needy North Koreans, in the latest effort to compel Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear arms program.

In recent months, U.S. diplomats have delayed the export of surgical equipment and supplies for fighting tuberculosis and malaria to North Korea, and held up the delivery from Canada of 300 stainless steel soy-milk cans for day care centers and orphanages there, according to several diplomatic sources and internal United Nations documents.

The measures, which the United States is channeling through the U.N. Security Council committee responsible for monitoring sanctions on North Korea, appears to be part of Washington’s maximum pressure campaign against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime.

Delaying humanitarian assistance to sick and hungry people is a cruel and unworthy tactic. Worse still, it is being cruel for no good reason. As I said in October when this pressure tactic was first being reported, the North Korean government is not going to be suddenly moved to give up its nuclear weapons because our government interferes with the delivery of aid. If the North Korean government were greatly concerned about the health and welfare of these people, there would not be such a need for outside aid in the first place. Note that the aid efforts that the administration is interfering with are charitable works being done for the sake of helping North Korea’s poor and sick. Our government is getting in the way because it wants to turn that aid into an incentive that it can use in its fruitless negotiations with Pyongyang.

Impeding the delivery of aid to sick and starving people has become a recurring theme in Trump administration policies. In each case, it doesn’t achieve anything except to impose greater hardship on already suffering people. There is some opposition from Congress to this pointless cruelty:

In a November 7 letter to President Trump, Edward Markey, the Democratic U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, said he was “deeply troubled” by the American restrictions.

Markey said that the U.S. Treasury Department requirements are so onerous that simple tasks now take months to complete and often require help from attorneys.

“The humanitarian situation in North Korea is far too dire for these draconian policies. The United Nations estimates that 60,000 kids are at risk of starvation, and cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis—if left untreated—threaten to spread with devastating effect throughout the country and potentially into neighboring states,” he said.

This is simply a case of punishing the weakest and most vulnerable people in North Korea in a vain bid to revive a “maximum pressure” policy that has already failed. It’s unnecessary, unjust, and serves no American interests.

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Author: Daniel Larison


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