Acton Institute Powerblog

Missiles, threats and sanctions: How should the United States respond to North Korea?

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The North Korean people are not the same as the North Korean regime. Photo: “Pyongyang, North Korea” by (stephan) (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Today the United Nations Security Council will meet and vote on a resolution to impose new restrictions on North Korea.  This resolution is a direct response to recent North Korean missile activity and threats from Kim Jong Un. On July 4, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile and claimed it could hit any nation on Earth and just last month, North Korea launched a Hwasong-12 missile over Japan. CNN reports that the nation has already fired 21 missiles in 2017. Kim Jong Un threatened the United States (which drafted the resolution) that it would pay a “due price” if such sanctions pass.

Earlier this year I interviewed Suzanne Scholte for a Religion & Liberty cover story on human rights abuses in totalitarian regimes. After North Korea’s most recent missile launch, I checked in with Scholte to get her reaction. She is the president of the Defense Forum Foundation and an expert on North Korea and its human rights violations You can read the entire exchange below.

Acton: When policy analysts and news commentators talk about a possible outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula, they talk about a catastrophic human tragedy. They talk about a mass migration of North Koreans into China. What are they risk, from your point of view, for a people who have already suffered greatly? 

[Scholte:] There are no good options on the table right now except the one that is being ignored: a dedicated outreach to the people of North Korea.  I believe that Kim Jong Un will push and threaten to the extreme but will not do anything that could provoke a military response from either the USA or the Republic of Korea (South Korea).  Here’s why: He simply wants to maintain power and he will not do anything that could risk the loss of his dictatorship.  His ultimate goal is reunification and taking over the South.  Everything he is doing is working towards that goal — testing the ROK-US alliance which is the single greatest obstacle in his way.  His strategy is playing out beautifully as pro-Kim Jong Un leftists protest the THAAD deployment and the ROK-USA alliance.

And we fall into the trap because we are not remembering the people of North Korea.  We should be doing everything we can to broadcast to them that the USA is their friend, not their enemy, and it is that very friendship that we have had with South Korea that helped propel them to being one of the world’s most advanced countries in the world.  That is the same vision we have for North Korea and we have to articulate that strongly to the people of North Korea, who are brainwashed from childhood to hate us and believe all sorts of lies about us.  Just to illustrate that point, during North Korea Freedom Week in April 2017, the defector delegation kept telling us: the truth will set them free.  The real tragedy here is that when we focus on Kim’s threats to bomb Guam and not reiterated strongly our concerns for the people of North Korea we play right into Kim Jong Un’s strategy: that America’s only is the harm Kim can do to us, not the horrific harm he has done to his own people.  We help feed into the lie that Kim uses to justify his nuclear ambitions.

 Would the current North Korean regime, if it survives, become even more reactionary and oppressive? 

YES, it must to maintain power and what is happening to the refugees trying to escape is just one small example of that.  Right now, 80 percent of North Koreans who attempt escape carry poison as they would rather die than face repatriation back to North Korea.   Just recently, a family of five committed suicide after their anguished appeals to the Chinese security went ignored and they were transported to the China-North Korea border to be turned over to North Korean authorities.  Last month Kim Jong Un declared that he wanted eight defectors assassinated: the top two on the list were Kim Seong Min, who broadcasts the daily Free North Korea Radio, and Park Sang Hak, who organizes the balloon launches.  Others on the list were defectors involved with getting information in and out of North Korea.

 What is the most helpful thing President Trump and the United States could do right now?  

First, Save refugees trying to escape by focusing on the horrific, inhumane, barbaric, and ILLEGAL repatriation policy of China and highlighting what China is doing;

Second, Vigorously enforce sanctions;

Third, Call for the international community to end the forced slave labor of North Koreans which brings in cold cash to the regime and;

And finally—and most importantly—support the work of the defectors NGOs — they get no support from the ROK or USA governments and yet they are the most effective advocates for bringing about the end of the regime peacefully by bringing about pressure internally.  For example, those who served in the military are reaching out to military leaders in North Korea and telling them about what happened in Rumania and Egypt: side with the people against the dictator!


China has a choice: continued support for Kim regime which will lead to death for more North Koreans, continued instability and uncertainty and worst of all for China, a nuclear arms race in Asia OR work with the international community and South Korea and the USA and end support for the Kim dictatorship this is in China’s economic interests which until this current crisis with DPRK enjoyed a robust and strong economic relationship with the ROK

 South Korea?

Moon needs to remember who his friends are.  I heard him speak at CSIS in June and he said nothing about the suffering people of North Korea. He talked about “we just want peace, we do not want regime change” and he talks about engagement and financial support for the North — the sunshine policy of the past was a complete failure and resulted in the deaths of millions of North Koreans.  The “moonshine” policy will only bring the same.  When Moon made that speech what flashed through my mind was the scene from Independence Day when the US president asks the alien: “can we have peace between us?”  The alien replies: “No peace.”  The President asks: “What do you want form us?”  The alien replies: “Die.”

Kim Jong Un does not want peace, he wants to carry the same death and darkness to the entire Korean peninsula and reunify Korea as a totalitarian dictatorship.  My Korean American friends cannot sleep at night, because they know this truth. [emphasis added]

Anything else you’d like to add? 

We ordered bulk copies of the book The Accusation — and are offering them for $20.50 — the only book written by a dissident in North Korea — its powerful — you can see more at

You can read the original interview with Scholte here, a Powerblog preview of the interview here, a collection of anecdotes from survivors of totalitarian regimes, and some information on what Americans can do to help the people of North Korea.

Featured Image: “North Korea Victory Day 139” by Stefan Krasowski (CC BY 2.0) 

Associated Links

  • Activists
  • Suzanne Scholte
  • Sarah Stanley


    • Steve Vinzinski

      Very nice blog I guess the answer is and I must say the thoughts were those of Five Star General General Mac.I am referring to The second Mac.since his father was also a five star General.The General once said you have to be out of your mind to fight a war in SE Asia and stupid to fight one in the middle east.Of course now things have changed.In the WW11 and Korea along with Vietnam the enemy only had conventional weapons.Today these North Koreans have non conventional weapons.The game has changed.In reality these hoards in the words of the great Marine General Lewis B.Puller better known as Chesty,you have to destroy the issue in two hours.We would and can do that with conventional attributes.Our active manpower is very low with the USMC having under 180,000 men and the ARMY excluding reserves about 450,000.He said the GOP are dirt bags they start the wars and forget to fight them.Since Korea 1950 down to the present the men dying are titled towards the poor whites and minorities.We all have to be realistic and resolve this dictator from the air and sea.They are vicious fighters.Just look at the 2nd.Marine Division in the Korean War.They really out man us thus all we will be doing is picking up body parts.Look at Khe Sanh,Hue and don Noc in the so called American War of 1965-1975.

    • Steve Vinzinski

      To respond to Ms. Stanley is fairly simple.Do not make the the issue complex.Yes the regime does not care about the citizens of North Korea.One must realize sanctions are worthless they have no value.Never should the United States be backed into a non-Conventional war with this so called leader.Keep the matter conventional.We can bomb using naval and air-force power destroying his seven sites without doing any or little damage to the civilian population.NEVER use man power we only have 169,000 regular USMC and 450,000 ARMY the ARMY has significant reserves.Our major problem on our end is our President.He has no knowledge of the military or the law.I am confident he has no idea what a full platoon is.He received five exemptions.I was given several units of blood and sent back for flying debris hitting my pot and liner.I did receive a mesh to the head.You do not use stupid name calling to this man because if he had the fire power he would destroy this country.One must Remember June 25,1950 and the three years there after like it it or not this country HATES us just follow from Inchon on forward.Read and study why they despise us it is simple.Viet Nam calls the war between us America’s war.Well they have mellowed.Many of our problems in the words of President Eisenhower in his visit to Korea in June 1953 and sounded similarly by General Puller,LeMay and Mac pitch and familiar tune.There is a way out you never tweet like this so called President does you move silently and when ready with caustic speed.I wish you all a nice day God bless this great country ask him for help we have in the past.Do not keep playing games as we have in the last eight months.OH by the way you can call the Lord directly and ask him for help.In fact I admit I pray many times a day I am going to increase that.