Strategic Clarity on North Korea

DENVER – Nowadays, all eyes are on North Korea’s alleged newfound cyber capabilities. If the recent attack on Sony Pictures’ computers really did originate there, as United States officials charge, was it an act of sabotage, vandalism, terrorism, or, to use neo-conservatives’ favorite word (especially during the holiday season), war?

Whatever the merits of the US allegation (about which there is some skepticism), North Korea’s human-rights record has also come under renewed – and well-deserved – scrutiny. Whether this development leads anywhere – namely, to North Korea’s referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) – will depend on decisions taken by the United Nations Security Council. 

Given that China and Russia – veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council – oppose action in such matters, the discussion will probably not get that far. But, at a minimum, the debate, in the words of US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, “shines a light” on North Korea’s “abysmal human-rights record,” and the need for some accounting of that record.

Countries throughout the world get away with bad human-rights records. Some get away with cross-border cyber attacks. A few even get away with maintaining nuclear programs. But rarely does a country pursue all of them, as North Korea evidently is.