The Malaysian health authorities confirmed on February 25 that Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was killed with a chemical weapon known as VX nerve agent. The dreadful news shocked the whole world. The murder occurred in Malaysia, where North Korea used to earn foreign currency, staying away from the sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council. Not only Malaysia, but other nations that have been friendly to North Korea are also moving to reexamining their relations with Pyongyang. It appears that the already isolated regime has the entire world against it now. Here’s Yang Wook, senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, to explain.
It is simply inconceivable that a normal state would kill a person in such a shocking way by using a chemical weapon in another country, especially at the nation’s gateway airport. But we should not look at North Korea from a common-sense standpoint. In North Korea, to protect the nation’s top leader Kim Jong-un, who is like a god, is to defend the nation itself. For that purpose, the country will do anything. We must understand North Korea’s action in this vein. It is becoming increasingly clear that the North Korean government was systematically involved in the killing, with relevant evidence revealed. As a result, anti-North Korea sentiment is spreading in Malaysia, which may end up severing diplomatic relations with North Korea. Still, from Pyongyang’s point of view, it is far more important to sustain the Kim Jong-un regime. That’s why it committed such a reckless and brutal act of terror.
VX is a highly toxic chemical substance that can kill humans in just a few minutes even in tiny amounts. The international community bans the production and possession, not to mention the use, of the fatal nerve agent. In 1991, the U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 classified it as a weapon of mass destruction. The Chemical Weapons Convention that came into effect in 1997 prohibits 190 members from developing, producing and using the deadly substance and also encourages them to scrap the already existing weapons in phases.
VX is considered one of the most lethal chemical weapons and is known to kill people by disrupting the body’s nervous system. Compared to nerve agents that were used during World War I or World War II such as sarin, VX is about 100 times deadlier than sarin. Symptoms of VX exposure include nasal discharge, difficulty in breathing and muscle cramps. The victims are unable to use their muscles and cannot breathe. This eventually leads to their death. VX in the form of liquid with some viscosity can be sprayed through missiles, long-range artillery or planes flying at low altitudes, such as the An-2 aircraft. Once released into a certain region, the gas may remain for days or weeks to kill people who are exposed to it.
Experts are saying that chemical weapons could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons since they might be used in secret and it is easy to destroy the traces of using them. North Korea is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and it is known to have the world’s third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons, following the U.S. and Russia. A U.S.-based NGO called the Nuclear Threat Initiative estimates that North Korea is capable of producing up to 12-thousand tons of chemical weapons.
North Korea is known to have chemical weapons amounting to 2,500 tons to 5,000 tons. It is estimated that the nation is able to produce 4,800 to 5,000 tons of such weapons a year and up to 12-thousand tons in a time of war. It is possible to manufacture chemical weapons by using equipment at factories producing fertilizer or nylon. So, I imagine North Korea can make the weapons relatively easily. Biochemical weapons are described as a poor nation’s nuclear weapon since it is a lot easier to produce them, compared to atomic weapons. It is said that the U.S. has 20-thousand tons of chemical weapons, while Russia has around 10-thousand tons. But the two countries are in the process of disposing of them, as the members of the Chemical Weapons Convention as well as the Biological Weapons Convention. So, in a sense, North Korea could be viewed as the world’s largest possessor of biochemical weapons.
North Korea has been under growing international criticism, following its ballistic missile provocation, the Pyongyang government’s alleged involvement in the murder of Kim Jong-nam and the use of a chemical warfare agent banned by the U.N. U.S. President Donald Trump has recently defined North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats as being “a very dangerous situation.” During the meeting of chief nuclear envoys from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan in Washington D.C. on Monday, the U.S. said that it would consider putting North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea was blacklisted in 1988, following its bombing of a Korean Air passenger plane the previous year. But it was removed from the list in 2008 when it destroyed the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and agreed to disclose information about its nuclear weapons stockpile. But if North Korea is re-designated as a state sponsor of terrorism after the killing of Kim Jong-nam, relations between North Korea and the U.S. will likely worsen even further.
North Korea is already subject to tough economic sanctions. But the re-listing of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism will prompt most other nations to slap even stronger sanctions on the North in a more effective way. Pyongyang test-launched a ballistic missile on February 12 and killed Kim Jong-nam with VX nerve agent the very next day. Relations between North Korea and the U.S. will inevitably deteriorate for now. In March, the South Korea-U.S. combined military drills will take place. I imagine the strongest-ever military force will be mobilized for the drills. It is highly possible that North Korea will take issue with that and hurl scathing criticism at Seoul and Washington, even pushing ahead with provocations, big or small. North Korea-U.S. relations will likely see confrontation and pressure rather than dialogue or compromise.
Placing North Korea back on the terrorism list will not only worsen Pyongyang-Washington relations but also deepen North Korea’s international isolation further. South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se mentioned the recent murder involving the use of VX nerve agent in his keynote speech at the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on Monday, calling for a firm response from the U.S. and the international community. It seems necessary to devise a more systematic and flexible strategy in order to counter North Korea’s nuclear AND chemical weapons threats.
North Korea is expected to stoke tension as much as it can and exploit conflict between the U.S. and China to seek its own benefits. In this situation, it is important for South Korea to boost its three defense systems aimed at countering North Korean threats, namely, the Kill Chain preemptive strike system, the Korean Air and Missile Defense and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation plan. South Korea needs to come up with ways to respond to chemical weapons that might be delivered through long-range artillery or aircraft flying at low altitudes. Basically, however, it is essential to use Washington’s nuclear umbrella when dealing with weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear and chemical weapons. After all, it is important to see how effectively South Korea may elicit security cooperation from the U.S.
North Korea is losing its place in the international community as it was revealed that a banned toxic chemical was used in the murder of Kim Jong-nam. Attention turns to North Korea’s next move.
[Interview] Self-Support Group for N. Korean Women Defectors
There is a self-support group in the Sosa region in Bucheon, west of Seoul. In this group named “Future Hope Sumiin,” women defectors from North Korea are learning needlework or sewing in the hopes of standing on their own two feet. Let’s hear from the official of the group, Yun Gyeong.
The word “Sumiin” means “person with beautiful hands.” In their home country, North Korean women did almost everything by hand. In most cases, their hands are rough from years of hard work. And here in South Korea, they can create various things by hand. For that reason, we can say their hands are beautiful. That’s why we added the word “Sumiin” to the name of the group. Here, the group members make handicrafts. Many North Korean women can make their own garments and mend clothes themselves, although it is unimaginable for the younger generation in South Korea. They are skilled with their hands. So we decided to help them do handicrafts.
It is a self-support center under the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The group was selected by the Korea Hana Foundation in 2015 as one of the support projects for North Korean defectors. The ministry and the foundation provide the group with subsidies for three years to help the members get technical training for needlework. After completing the training, those who want to start their own businesses will also receive help in opening clothing repair shops or laundries.
The Korea Hana Foundation provided us with basic facilities, including the embroidering machine worth 10 million won, the built-in closet and the sewing table.
At present, four North Korean women work at the group. They all received rehabilitation training at the resettlement center of Hanawon at the same time.
I’ve made gloves and mended clothes with a sewing machine because I had the machine at home. So, I’m not entirely unfamiliar with needlework. I attended a private institute to learn home fashion. Now, I’m learning dressmaking. I’m thinking of getting a certificate as well.
I’m still in the training process, so I have yet to make anything. It’s been less than a month since I entered here. I’m learning basic skills, such as using a sewing machine, cutting threads and doing the ironing.
It has only been a year since the group was launched. But the members have already developed various creative items, and their designs and finishing touches are so good that it is hard to believe they are still the beginners in this field. Their products were highly recognized in terms of quality and creativity at the K-Handmade Fair, while some of the products won a silver prize at a local handicraft competition. In fact, the handmade goods produced by the group members have shown steady sales. Here again is Ms. Yun and one group member.
Diverse products made by the group members have been sold at many different events, festivals and fairs. The products include bath towels used to remove the grime by scrubbing your skin, sleep shades, coasters, pouches and eco-friendly bags. We’re preparing these cute items.
This is a bath towel. I’m making this by cutting the cloth and sewing it. It is one of the most popular products. The towel made of artificial silk is good for babies or those with sensitive skin like atopic skin. This item tops the production list.
The group is preparing to teach marketing and sales strategies, which are relatively unfamiliar to women defectors, and is also planning on selling things online in a bid to boost overall sales. The members are willing to join the training programs to sharpen their skills. In doing so, they are moving toward their dreams step by step.
My daughter studied design in North Korea. Actually, I’m not very interested in business since I’m in my 60s now. But I believe my daughter can do her own business in this field, and I hope I can help her. That’s why I decided to learn the necessary skills here.
My plan is to learn many skills and study hard so I can confidently do something useful in society later. Here, I’m in the process of preparing for that.
The members’ training and activities at the group will hopefully serve as a steppingstone to their successful business and resettlement in South Korea.