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Fecteau: An Embargo Against North Korea

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Otto Warmbier

The United States should impose an embargo against North Korea similar to the one against Cuba. While I oppose the embargo against Cuba, an embargo against North Korea would be much different. The United States has successfully restricted most American travel to the Caribbean island for decades; unfortunately, it failed to trigger regime change or influence its behavior — the original intent. The intention of the embargo I am proposing against North Korea would be to stem the tide of Americans traveling to the hermit country, not regime change. 

This is especially relevant after the tragic death of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier formerly held in North Korean custody. Mr. Warmbier’s alleged crimes were infinitesimal, but he paid a cruel price. In a kangaroo court, the North Korean government convicted Mr. Warmbier of “hostile acts” when he tore down a propaganda poster and condemned him to 15 years of hard labor. He was held in North Korea for 17 months falling into a coma before the government finally released him on humanitarian grounds. Sadly, he recently died on American soil as a result of the harsh treatment in North Korea. 

This cannot keep happening as this is one of many cases where the North Korean government simply detains American citizens for its own demented agenda. Each year, hundreds of Americans travel to the East Asian country in search of adventure, putting American national-security interests in peril. Currently, the Kim Jong-Un-led North Korean government has three Americans in long-term detention for miscellaneous, inordinate charges. 

North Korea

The North Korean government generally detains Americans on excessive charges. It holds them in subhuman conditions for months or even years, often isolated in labor camps with few breaks, little food, and water. This normally requires the intervention of a high-level American government official such as President Bill Clinton to obtain their release. 

The United States has a duty to keep itself out of an untenable position, especially with nuclear weapons involved. The North Korean government wants any leverage possible in its nuclear confrontation with the United States, particularly American citizens, to use them as pawns. 

American travelers need to be deterred from going to North Korea, and any American found in violation of the respective embargo I am proposing should face a stiff financial penalty or even prison time. This isn’t just about their safety; this is also to ensure North Korea doesn’t attempt to extort the United States by holding our citizens as hostages or as human shields. 

We cannot allow Americans to keep traveling to North Korea un-penalized. They are not only gambling with their lives; they are also becoming bargaining chips in a potential nuclear confrontation.   

Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) is a former White House national security intern and Iraq War veteran. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewFecteau


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