July 16, 2010 | Forbes

Kick North Korea Out Of The U.N.

“Amputations without anesthesia” is the headline some news outlets have culled this week from a new Amnesty International report on “The Crumbling State of Health Care in North Korea.” That title is a generous description of a North Korean system in which–apart from perks for Kim Jong Il and his cronies–whatever is now crumbling has been from the get-go consigned by state policy to the stone age.

Only in such specialties as weapons production, currency counterfeiting and adept manipulation of Western diplomats has North Korea under Kim even come close to the modern age. North Korea masquerades as a sovereign state, with its United Nations membership, diplomatic perquisites and outsized presence on the radar of threats to the free world. But its workings more closely resemble a racketeering and murderous fiefdom, a huge slave enclave where 23 million people live in thrall to Kim and his grotesque personality cult.

The Amnesty International report joins the enormous stack of damning books, testimony, articles and other reports that have come out during the 16 years since Kim Jong Il inherited rule of North Korea's totalitarian state from his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994. The world has heard in ample, extensive, credible and horrifying detail, repeatedly, about the stunted, hungry children; the North Korean gulag; the famine which, as a direct result of catastrophically cruel and self-serving state policy, led to the deaths of an estimated 1 million or more North Koreans.

Add to that such matters as North Korea's testing and proliferation to other rogue states of missiles and nuclear weapons; state-organized narcotics peddling and counterfeiting of U.S. banknotes; abetting of terrorist groups such as Iranian-backed Hezbollah; and a staggering worldwide web of U.N. sanctions-busting front companies, money-laundering operations and cash conduits that help sustain Kim and his inner circle.

To this regime, President Barack Obama is now sending envoys hoping to revive the failed Six-Party Talks, or some variation on the umpteen rounds of nuclear haggling with which Kim since 1994 has bilked both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Kim's regime has milked this routine for a mantle of legitimacy at the bargaining table, as well as billions worth of free food, fuel, other aid and diplomatic concessions–including removal in 2008 from the U.S. list of terror-sponsoring states.

The real answer is not to give this North Korean racket another chance, but to get rid of Kim's regime once and for all. Instead of making moves that shore up Kim, Washington should be looking for ways to knock the props out from under him.

An excellent start would be to give Kim the official illegitimacy he deserves by kicking North Korea out of the United Nations. Clearly that is an idea so far outside the bounds of today's global etiquette that among the 192 members of today's U.N., it's not even on the table.

But it should be. There is no rule that says North Korea must have a seat, and there are some very basic U.N. rules that indicate it shouldn't. Just 20 years ago neither North nor South Korea was a member of the U.N. It was only in 1991 that both were admitted, on the same day, Sept. 17. In receiving this prize of a place at the erstwhile parliament of nations, North Korea's totalitarian regime piggy-backed on the economic progress and political liberalization of South Korea– which was at that stage evolving quickly from an impoverished dictatorship into a thriving democracy.

The hope in 1991, at least at the U.N., was that North Korea–despite its far more despotic starting point–would follow a similar path toward redemption. North Korea's longtime patron, the Soviet Union, was collapsing. In China the despots of the Communist Party were at least loosening the state choke hold on the economy. North Korea's regime was making noises–as it does periodically and misleadingly when convenient–about opening up. And so, despite North Korean terrorist agents having blown up a South Korean airliner over the Andaman Sea just four years earlier, killing all 115 aboard, North Korea was admitted along with South Korea to the U.N.

How does that compute? The 1945 U.N. charter stipulates that membership is open to “peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter.” These include the aim of “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms.”

The U.N. Charter's Chapter II, Article 6, states that “A member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”

North Korea did not meet the criteria for membership then, it never has since, and it certainly does not now. One of its latest violations was the torpedo attack in March that sank a South Korean navy ship, the Cheonan. Forty-six South Korean sailors drowned. A South Korean investigation found clear evidence that North Korea did the deed.

But at the U.N., where member states tend to avoid embarrassing one another, lest they be embarrassed in turn, procedure trumped the realities of this unprovoked act of war. With China running interference for North Korea, the Security Council did not even issue a resolution condemning North Korea. Instead the Council wheezed up a “presidential statement,” in which it condemned the attack, but as far as the actual attacker–North Korea–the only direct mention, buried halfway through, was a wrist-slap of “deep concern.” With solemn deference to North Korea, the statement highlighted that the Security Council “Takes Note of Neighbour's Response Denying Responsibility for Sinking”–the “Neighbour” being North Korea.

In the fastidious world of U.N. procedure, the Security Council parades as even-handed by engaging in this sort of farce. But if the U.N. is to be such a stickler for even-handed application of its own rules, there's a wide-open invitation there for the U.S.–host and chief sugar-daddy of the U.N.–to insist on the world body honoring its own charter, starting with the richly deserved ejection of North Korea. If Security Council members such as China wish to resist that, it would still be more salutary to have an open debate about North Korea's full array of gross violations than to stoop yet again to nuclear haggling with the thugs of Pyongyang.

Claudia Rosett, a journalist in residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes a weekly column on foreign affairs for Forbes.

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