North Korean officials say they hope to conduct one or two more nuclear tests this year in an effort to force the United States into diplomatic talks.
But the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un and his predecessors is notoriously unable to come to any negotiating table: North Korea is built on unblinking loyalty, even worship, of the ruling Kim family combined with the fervently held doctrine of juche, or self-reliance. Juche holds that man “is the master of everything and decides everything,” according to the government’s website. And it demands that any departure from official dictates be severely punished. That’s why North Korea has the fourth-largest army in the world—and why military prowess advances while ordinary citizens suffer.
Others agree that without the nuclear threat Pyongyang cannot get Washington’s attention. “A North Korea without nuclear weapons,” writes Sohn Gwang Joo, director of Daily NK, “is just a regime burdened by economic woes, inflicting human rights abuses on its people. … Only with nuclear weapons are they able to maintain their regime, hidden away from the world. This is how they keep their people in chains: through military tension.”
One week after the test, two survivors of North Korea’s state gulag testified before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Shin Dong-hyuk and Kang Chol-hwan say the state’s political prison system is incarcerating 200,000 “criminals”—many of them Christians—in Holocaust-like camps: “Fundamentally, it is the same as Hitler’s Auschwitz,” testified Kang.
“People think the Holocaust is in the past, but it is still very much a reality. It is still going on in North Korea,” Shin told reporters on the sidelines of the human-rights summit. He is the only known surviving escapee from a “total control zone” camp—where three generations of his family had been held until he broke free seven years ago at age 23. When at 22 Shin met a new prisoner, he was unaware of any alternative reality existing outside the camps.