New law aims to destabilize North Korea

President Bush recently signed the “North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004” (NKHRA), which earmarks over $23 million dollars a year for what many see as interference in the internal affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Critics and supporters alike say it is aimed not at human rights, but at destabilizing and even overthrowing the DPRK government.

The new law puts the United States at odds with other members of the six-party talks on the Korean nuclear issue, including a U.S. ally, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), as well as others who would like to see a return to peaceful negotiations between the North and South and a fair resolution to the nuclear issue.

The bill, the opening section of which reads like Cold-War-era propaganda, will give millions of dollars over each of the next four years to nongovernmental organizations working within North Korea to promote “human rights, democracy, rule of law, and the development of a market economy.”

Critics charge that despite the flowery words, the real agenda of the new law is to promote regime change. For example, funding is earmarked for the smuggling of radio receivers into the nation to receive broadcasts of Radio Free Asia, an anticommunist, U.S.-controlled station. RFA will also receive new funding under the act.

Both critics and supporters of the act, including Michael Horowitz, one of the architects of the NKHRA, openly state that the aim of the new law is to break with previous strategy and more actively work to destabilize the North Korean government.

In an interview with Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine, Horowitz describes the act as a “miracle,” and gives a glimpse of the motives behind it: “This ran directly contrary to the views of people who want to resuscitate the so-called ‘framework agreement’ that the Clinton administration had,” Horowitz said. “And it ran directly contrary to the Sunshine Policy, so called, of the South Korean government, which had repeatedly said, had literally said, that a high policy priority the South Korean government, indeed its highest policy priority, was to keep the Pyongyang regime in business because the economic consequences to South Korea of the collapse of the North would be too troublesome, too grave.”

The (north) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reacted angrily to the NKHRA, saying the act shows the falsity of the Bush administration’s claims that the U.S. has no intention of overthrowing or invading the North. “The U.S. has left the dialogue and negotiation for the solution to the nuclear issue meaningless by freely adopting the ‘north Korean human rights act’ and legally making the ‘destruction’ and ‘overthrow’ of the system of the DPRK its policy,” the KCNA said Oct. 18.

The NKHRA comes at a time when there is marked increase in desire in South Korea from both the people and the ruling Uri Party for friendly dialogue with their compatriots in the DPRK.

According to the Dec. 6 issue of Korea Times, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, who came to power on the basis of peace with the North and promises of better labor policies, said the South does not support a regime change in the North. He told JoongAng Daily, another South Korean paper, “The United States and some Western countries harbor the idea that the North Korean system should collapse; that is why Pyongyang is nervous and in crisis mode. … Unlike those Western countries, China and South Korea do not want to see North Korea collapse.”

Another sign of the South Korea’s hopes for peace with the North came when the leading Uri Party and the Democratic Labor Party introduced on Dec. 6 a bill for the abolition of the National Security Law, one of the last vestiges of the old military dictatorship that ended in the 1980s. The old law criminalizes a wide variety of actions, including acts of friendship with the north, as “aiding the enemy.” At press time, the South Korean parliament was engaged in a heated debate over the bill.

The author can be reached at dmargolis@cpusa.org.