Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

North Korea already won

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
April 15, 2013 -- Updated 0933 GMT (1733 HKT)
A North Korean soldier uses binoculars on Thursday, February 6, to look at South Korea from the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War. A new <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/17/world/asia/north-korea-un-report/index.html'>United Nations report</a> describes a brutal North Korean state "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world." A North Korean soldier uses binoculars on Thursday, February 6, to look at South Korea from the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War. A new United Nations report describes a brutal North Korean state "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world."
HIDE CAPTION
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: North Korean weapons programs have spread to the Middle East
  • Ghitis: North Korea's messages encourage tyrants to seek nuclear weapons
  • She says with nuclear arsenal, powerful countries are afraid to make a regime angry
  • Ghitis: This standoff is not over, but Pyongyang has already won

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns.

(CNN) -- World leaders are moving carefully and anxiously, trying to prevent a disaster in the Korean Peninsula. This increasingly unpredictable round of saber-rattling is far from over, but so far the winner is the North Korean regime and the losers are the brutally oppressed North Korean people, joined by much of the rest of the world.

While we watch the drama from far away, it's worth noting just how far North Korean weapons programs -- not just the weapons themselves -- can reach.

U.S. intelligence officials differ on their estimates of the range and accuracy of North Korean missiles, nuclear-tipped or not. But the country's nuclear and missile technology has already found its way to the Middle East.

North Korea helped Syria develop a nuclear reactor. It has sold missile technology and weapons to anyone willing to pay, and it has developed close cooperation with Iran.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

If the crisis ended right now -- with every piece of military hardware back to where it stood a few months ago and everyone taking a vow of silence on the matter so that we get no more threats and no more demands -- the confrontation would have already sent clear and damaging messages across the globe, encouraging tyrants and regimes seeking or considering the idea of developing nuclear weapons.

Opinion: North Korea endgame - 3 scenarios

North Korea's message seems to be: If you have nuclear capabilities, it doesn't matter how outrageously you behave; it doesn't matter how horribly you mistreat your people; it doesn't matter how flimsy your economy is.

When you have a nuclear arsenal, countries that could topple your regime with a tiny fraction of their power suddenly become afraid of making you angry.

This is a pernicious reality with tragic and hazardous consequences.

Nuclear development makes it easier for the totalitarian regime to condemn the North Korean people to grinding poverty and imprisonment in nightmarish gulags. Several generations of the same family can live and die in captivity.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



While the North Korean people go hungry, the regime diverts scarce resources to its nuclear and missile programs while its top leader, the youthful Kim Jong Un, adds insult to injury with his visibly expanding girth.

As the latest crisis unfolded and as North Korea threatened a "preemptive nuclear attack" on the United States, a "final destruction" of South Korea, and a "nuclear attack" on Tokyo, world powers held a new round of talks with the Iranian regime over its nuclear program. Coincidence or not, the talks with Iran produced nothing, not even the customary agreement to hold more talks.

Iran, one can only imagine, must be paying close attention to the dance macabre between Pyongyang and the rest of the world. North Korea, whose entire economy is worth about $40 billion -- less than a small-sized American city and a tiny fraction of prosperous South Korea and its trillion-dollar economy -- has ordered the whole world to attention.

Kerry wants real talks on North Korea
North Koreans brainwashed by government
Is North Korea bluffing?

Experts are scratching their heads, trying to figure out what exactly Kim Jong Un wants and how far he will go. There's general consensus that he wants, like all dictators, to strengthen his hold on power and to secure the support of the military.

But he is accomplishing more than that. North Korea is giving its crucial weapons industry a huge boost of publicity. Every headline is a Super Bowl-size ad for the country's destructive wares.

Opinion: Why I fled North Korea

Current and future clients may have noticed that its arsenal has allowed North Korea to get away with creating these crises, which fortify the regime and sometimes even bring generous international aid. Without its dangerous arsenal, it's unlikely Pyongyang would have gotten away with the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong island, when it killed two South Korean marines and three civilians, sent the population fleeing in panic and set homes and forests on fire.

Despite South Korea's vow of "enormous retaliation," the regime is still in place.

Not only is it still standing, it is spreading its deadly know-how.

North Korea has long been one of the world's top proliferators of missiles and other weapons systems. U.S. officials say Iran recently received North Korean missiles capable of reaching Western European capitals. Last September, Tehran and Pyongyang signed a scientific cooperation agreement, which experts say is almost identical to the one North Korea signed with Syria a decade ago.

That agreement with Damascus brought North Korean technicians to help the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad build a nuclear reactor that Israeli warplanes destroyed in 2007. And the North, incidentally, is still sending weapons to Damascus.

Back home, when North Korea carried out its third nuclear test earlier this year, news reports in the region said Iranian scientists were there to observe.

This standoff is not over, but Pyongyang has already won. From the moment the North obtained nuclear weapons, however rudimentary, the game changed. From that moment, the chances that the North Korean people will rejoin the world and have a chance at a better life diminished greatly. From that moment, the South and the West's room to maneuver became much more limited.

The challenge now is to prevent a greater disaster, while keeping the regime from scoring an even greater victory, as it has in the past, by walking away from this confrontation with new rewards.

Beyond that, the world must seek a creative way to help free the North Korean people, while bearing in mind the disastrous consequences of allowing dangerous regimes to obtain nuclear weapons.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT