Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large of National Review Online, has an interesting editorial this week. He writes in part: “If North Koreans were pandas, would we have let them suffer so?” He goes on to invoke Edward Luttak’s 1993 essay comparing Bosnian Muslims to bottlenosed dolphins. That essay was in part responsible for spurring international action against the genocidal actions of the Croats and Serbs in what used to be Yugoslavia.
Goldberg asks why international powers haven’t done something for the impoverished and insular citizens of North Korea. He says “… North Korea’s plight is not news. It’s been the status quo for two generations. Everyone knows that it is an anachronistic, totalitarian police state, and yet the spirit of “never again” finds little purchase in the Western conscience.”
The question that comes to my mind is “What can we do?” There was little organized military force in the region when the US and NATO took action around Sarajevo in 1993-94. North Korea has a little over 6 million troops available according to 2008 figures at GlobalFirePower. The US has about 3.2 million troops in theory, but a few of them are otherwise committed right now. Then there’s the whole issue of North Korea’s northern neighbor, who probably wouldn’t take kindly to any major military effort in the region. NATO got involved in the Balkans because of the location and the historical images that came to mind. There was also a credible local threat: instability in the Balkans could drag more countries into the conflict.
Goldberg exhorts the world to “Do something,” but given the situation, there’s not much we can do right now. Some of the Wikileaks documents suggest China may be tiring of the Dear Leader’s antics, and that may allow more action to be taken, but for now? It may be best to continue to wait and see.