Liquidating Kim Dynasty of North Korea

There is a growing international consensus that the key to dealing with North Korea is regime change in the country, which is justifiable both in terms of legality and legitimacy. The fact that North Korea is the most sanctioned country in the world is sufficient to establish legality. Among the 19 countries hit by the UN Security Council sanctions in recent years, North Korea faced the most crippling sanctions. While the Security Council has passed four sanctions resolutions on Iran for its suspected nuclear development, it has adopted as many as 10 sanctions resolutions on North Korea for its nuclear program. Furthermore, the degree of sanctions imposed on Pyongyang is regarded as the strongest ever. After the adoption of Resolution 2270 on North Korea following the country’s fourth nuclear test in February 2016, Samantha PowerSamantha PowerHow Trump broke the system that offers protection to Afghan allies Aid airlift underway to earthquake-striken Haiti With Haiti in chaos, we must rewrite the script on disaster aid MORE, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, described it as “the strongest set of sanctions”. Resolution 2321 adopted in response to Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear test predictably contains harsher sanctions measures.     

Legitimacy is conferred depending on the value of a state, and humanitarianism is globally accepted as representing the value. A state is obliged to ensure at least the minimum humanitarian values of its citizens, regardless of its identity of political ideology. The international community has stressed that the humanitarian condition should take precedence over political sovereignty of a state. In 2005, for instance, the UN General Assembly endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) as a new principle, which was inscribed in its resolution (A/RES/60/1).


The principle serves as the basis for a state to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  In 2009, the General Assembly issued a report titled “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect” to encourage each state to exercise their responsibility and urge all UN members to take collective action in a timely and decisive manner if a state fails to do so.

Although the implementation has yet to gain momentum as the principle’s code of conduct conflicts with national sovereignty, the awareness and willingness to protect people from deaths and sufferings caused by civil wars, disasters and dictatorship is gradually increasing.  

North Korea has practically lost its value as a state, as evidenced in the General Assembly’s decisions of the past 12 years. In 2016, the Third Committee of the General Assembly, which handles humanitarian affairs in the UN, unanimously adopted yet another resolution, calling for sending North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights violations in North Korea. The ICC has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. If the supreme leader of Pyongyang is sent to the ICC, he would face charges of crimes against humanity.

The General Assembly acknowledged that North Korea is subject to most of the provisions regarding crimes against humanity stipulated in Article 7(1) of the Rome Statute of the ICC and added state-induced starvation of its citizens to the list of accusations. According to annual reports of the World Food Programme, North Korea is one of the four countries that suffer the worst chronic food shortages in the world. In 1990, about 5 million people suffered hunger in the country.

The number has constantly increased to 8.5 million in 2005 and 11 million today. The majority of the North Korean people, or about 70% of the entire population after excluding about 3 million elite citizens residing in the capital city of Pyongyang, are suffering starvation or malnutrition. 

The Kim Jong Un regime is accused of charges that derive from three ‘original sins’, which have been inherited since his grandfather Kim Il Sung founded the country, and two ‘acquired sins’ committed by himself. The original sins are as follows: executions and purges of political prisoners by revolutionary communist partisans who privatized power after the Korean War; economic collapse, mass starvation and widespread famine as the results of the leadership’s obsession with nuclear development; and, treatment of citizens as subjects and slaves, contributing to massive refugees. 

Now that five years have passed since Kim Jong Un took power, he is considered as even more tyrannical and vicious than the previous leaders. The acquired sins created by Kim himself are as follows: inhumane purges and tortures, including the killing of his uncle Jang Song Thaek and top military officers with anti-aircraft guns; and, aggressive and intensive threats and provocations, including the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island of South Korea, nuclear tests and missile launches. While it took seven years for Pyongyang to conduct its third nuclear test, Kim carried out the fourth and fifth nuclear tests in 2016 following the third nuclear test in 2013. Missiles have been launched almost relentlessly. There have been 37 missile tests since Kim came to power, which is far more frequent than those during the reigns of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.  

It would not be too much to say that North Korea has already collapsed and is no longer qualified as a member of the international community. Experts are having meaningless debates about when the country would cease to exist. Rather, the international community should talk about regime change in Pyongyang, as UN sanctions resolutions on North Korea have already provided the justification and rationalization. It is imperative for us to concentrate our capabilities on strategies for regime change in the country. 

The international community has suggested some measures for regime change, which include: active humanitarian intervention (RtoP); sending Kim Jong Un to the ICC; a preemptive, surgical strike to remove nuclear facilities and Kim in the North; taking actions for the decapitation of Kim; and, a naval blockade of the country. Such measures are a step forward from UN sanctions which have raised doubts about the effectiveness. Any measures, however, should satisfy at least two conditions in order to prove effectiveness. The first condition is the minimization of the suffering and damage inflicted on the North Korean people. The second condition is the suppression of the risks of an all-out war on the Korean peninsula. In this light, humanitarian intervention and the ICC referral seem to be the two most appropriate measures at present.

Ideally, humanitarian intervention by the international community should be implemented based on the Security Council resolutions. This strategy, however, can be put into action only if a country is in the state of civil war. The UN authorized military interventions in Somalia, East Timor and Rwanda. There are cases, however, where humanitarian intervention took place even without endorsement of the UN. During the 1991 Gulf War, an intervention force was involved to protect the Kurds. NATO forces intervened in the Kosovo conflict to protect civilians. The implementation of this strategy requires agreement by the U.S. and China, which seems unlikely to happen for now.  

Sending Kim Jong Un to the ICC is considered as a more moderate measure than humanitarian intervention, but it would also bring destructive effects. The referral has been agreed in the General Assembly for several years now, but it has failed to gain approval from the Security Council. The opposition from China and Russia has practically hindered the passage. There still is a little chance, however. If the U.S. and Europe jointly take a strong stance by arguing for a naval blockade, a preemptive strike or their withdrawal from the UN, the Security Council might agree to send Kim to the ICC.

As an old Korean saying goes, ‘Wealth does not pass three generations’, meaning the wealth of a family can rarely last for three generations. This holds true for an authority. The political lifespan of a tyrannical autocrat would be much shorter. Arnold. J. Toynbee, a British historian, said that the downfall of a state is attributable to internal conflicts associated with despotic rule, not to external threats. Kim Il Sung was a communist ‘cult’ leader, and his son and successor Kim Jong Il showed regressive leadership.

Kim Jong Un, the third generation of the Kim family, has become a typical example of a tyrant driving a nail in his political coffin. North Korea was established as a socialist state, but it soon turned into the Kim dynasty that has since exercised tyranny at home and abroad. The North Korean regime, which is disturbing the world while ignoring the worst famine and human rights violations on earth, should be justifiably brought to an end. For this, the international community should make active efforts for regime change in the country. 

Lee Min-Yong is a professor at Sookmyung Women's Univ. and the chief advisor of the Sookmyung Research Institute of Global Governance at Seoul, Korea. He also served as the Dean of Academic board at the Korea Military Academy. 

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.