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Is the West Soft on North Korea?

I noticed over the weekend that the Economist is indignant that the West doesn't focus more on human rights atrocities in North Korea:

At some point the West will need to address its shame of not facing up to the abuse sooner and more viscerally. In the meantime President Barack Obama hardly sent the right message by taking eight months to appoint his special representative for human rights in North Korea. Still, the question is what to do about the place. Regime change is out of the question. Moreover, China, which has the greatest leverage over its neighbour, prizes the regime’s stability above even denuclearisation. South Korea officially espouses unification, but most citizens see the North as not just another country but another planet, one best left in its orbit.

Some of the techniques that helped undermine the Soviet Union could help in North Korea. More could be spent on radio broadcasts that offer another reality to the state-manufactured one. Loyalty to the regime could be undermined in subtler ways, such as offering apparatchiks and the elite education abroad. But the grim reality is that the nuclear dance preoccupies American chiefs, precluding an overdue appraisal of the horrors the North Korean state metes out to its people.

But note the Economist's own admission: "[T]he question is what to do about the place," followed by several reasons why there's not much we can do about the place. A special representative for human rights would be great. But there's not much reason to think that appointment will have any dramatic effect. Beyond that the editorial recommends spending "more" on radio broadcasts and a vague education-abroad program that the regime is unlikely to accept.

It's completely proper to focus on the vile nature of DPRK society. But it's wrong to pretend the West is being half-assed about it. Sometimes there's just nothing to be done.