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Human Rights, Nuclear Weapons, and North Korea

Just before President Trump met with Kim Jong-un in Singapore over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, I posted the following on Facebook: “If Trump decouples human rights and national security issues, the North Korea summit will be a failure.” The reactions were interesting—and by interesting I mean disappointing.

“That’s subjective,” one friend replied, speaking for others. “We may have to give up one thing to get another.” When I referred to the hundreds of thousands of prisoners—including 50,000 Christians—being held in the North Korean gulag, she replied, “Nation-building is not the road that we need to go down. … We want to end the threat of nukes, which benefits the world, including the North Koreans.”

Speaking up in the face of great evil is hardly “nation-building.” It’s basic human decency. It’s standing for something as a nation, beyond naked self-preservation. It’s something our country used to do, and not all that long ago.

When Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Baroness Thatcher stood up to and ultimately defeated the Soviet Union, which Reagan famously called the “evil empire,” their approach was as much moral as it was military. Reagan frequently spoke up for Soviet dissidents such as Natan Sharansky and Yelena Bonner, shaming their Soviet jailers and undermining the communist regime’s legitimacy.

In April 1987, standing before the Brandenburg Gate, the president, while working to reduce or even eliminate the fearsome nuclear arsenals of America and the Soviet bloc, kept the moral dimensions of the conflict clearly in focus, saying:

As long as this gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. . . .

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate.

Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

And somehow, a scant two and a half years later, Reagan got both—the strategic (the heretofore unimaginable demise of the Soviet Union) and the moral (a renewed opportunity for political and religious freedom across the East). Reagan knew what today’s political pragmatists seemingly have forgotten. The moral and strategic issues are intertwined. We must not put moral issues on the back burner in our quest to “get a deal,” however important that deal is.

While the United States cannot be the world’s policeman, can we not at least be its conscience? I’m not advocating a specific negotiating strategy or tactic. That is a matter of prudential judgment for the experts. But I am hoping that we will not jettison our peculiar, though certainly flawed, status among the nations—Abraham Lincoln called America the “last best hope of earth”—in the service of craven expediency. If we ignore the horrendous plight of the suffering, we cannot expect God’s continued blessing. As the Bible says:

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?

Proverbs 24:11-12

Yes, eliminating the nuclear threat from this rogue state is vital to the safety of our nation, and the world. According to one estimate, Pyongyang could kill as many as 1.5 million people in a matter of minutes by firing just one of its estimated 40 to 60 nuclear warheads. Abolishing the North’s nuclear weapons program is a moral issue of the highest order, and the president is to be applauded for his efforts.

But it is not the only moral issue. The tyrants in charge of North Korea already have the blood of millions on their hands. As many as 3 million people died in the horrible famine between 1995 and 1998. Many citizens, unable to flee, were forced to eat the bark off of the trees to survive.

The country remains an economic basket case. While South Korea’s robust, high-tech economy rolls along with a per-capita GDP of $39,400, the slave state that is the North scrapes by on a per-capita GDP of just $1,700—only 4.3 percent of its far more prosperous neighbor. A satellite image at night contrasts the economic vitality (or lack thereof) of the two Koreas, bringing to mind the Apostle Paul’s question, “What fellowship has light with darkness?”

Much of the carnage has been deliberately produced. In the days after Kim Il-Sung and the Korean War, some “70,000 Christians were killed, sent to labor camps, or banished to remote areas.” Their brutal treatment continues. According to Open Doors USA, the communist, atheistic regime has been the worst persecuting nation of Christians for 16 years in a row.

And yet, in the wake of the Singapore summit, our President said effusively of Kim Jong-un, “Really, he’s got a great personality. He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart, he’s a great negotiator. He loves his people, not that I’m surprised by that, but he loves his people.”

The well-fed Kim loves his people the way a glutton loves a sirloin steak. Kim, you may recall, is the same man who executed his defense minister with an anti-aircraft gun in 2015. Such fulsome praise—however vital the nuclear talks may be—was indecent, and way over the moral line for Jay Nordlinger of National Review Online.

“There are all sorts of things you have to do in foreign policy, to get along in the world. To lessen tensions and prevent war. You have to hold your nose and deal with beasts. But you don’t have to tell outrageous and insulting lies, and you don’t have to break faith with American values, and human values. If you’re president, the whole world hears you — and that can include the boys in the camps.”

America’s moral authority and its national security are both on the line. While it’s early yet, Trump’s pandering to North Korea’s murderous dictator is being heard loud and clear. And not just on Facebook.

As Christians, let us continue praying for peace and supporting our persecuted brethren in the North, remembering our Lord, who said encouragingly, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). And let us not forget to entrust ourselves and our security into the omnipotent care of our loving heavenly Father, who is giving us a kingdom that cannot be shaken, no matter what happens in this fallen world.

Stan Guthrie, a licensed minister, is an editor at large for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Stan is the author of A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy: 60 Predictions Everyone Should Know.

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 if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.

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