News Flash: When the rich and mighty meet next week at the World Economic Forum’s annual pow-wow, Jan 20-23, in the ski resort of Davos, Switzerland, North Korea will have no envoy among them. If that sounds intuitively obvious, think again. It was only this Wednesday, following North Korea’s Jan. 6 nuclear test, that the WEF organizers of the Davos conference told the press they had disinvited North Korea’s delegation.
Well done. Except this leaves us with the question of why the World Economic Forum decided to invite North Korea in the first place.
Until Kim Jong Un’s regime carried out its Jan. 6 underground nuclear test, with the added frill of advertising it — true or not — as a hydrogen bomb, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong and his entourage were comfortably ensconced on the WEF guest list for Davos. At this international pajama party for the global elite, they were going to be welcomed to rub shoulders with such luminaries as Bono, Leonardo DiCaprio, Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden, more than 40 heads of state and government, 1,500 business leaders and the heads of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
They were going to be included in the Forum’s 2016 effort, as described in the WEF mission statement, “to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance.”
Clearly the Davos gatekeepers allow some slack between their mission statement and the realities of their guest list. It’s not as if North Korea’s regime prior to last week’s seismic event had established itself as a paragon of enlightened leadership (unless you count a certain entrepreneurial flair for devising ways to sustain a dynastic totalitarian state).
So how much slack did it take, to include North Korea, until this week, on the guest list? What was the record of North Korea during the interval when the Davos global leaders deemed its delegates acceptable company?
It was hardly pristine. At that stage, North Korea — a known proliferator, notably to the Middle East — had already carried out three previous rogue nuclear tests (in 2006, 2009 and 2013), as well as an extravaganza of ballistic missile tests (to carry the bombs). North Korea was brazenly busy with its illicit programs of enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium to provide bomb fuel for a growing nuclear arsenal. This was all in violation of a stack of United Nations Security Council sanctions resolutions, on top of a series of failed nuclear deals dating back to 1994 — on which North Korea cheated and walked away.
Current dictator Kim Jong Un had already advertised his interest in developing submarine-launched missiles. His envoys were already bragging that their country had mastered the ability to make and deliver nuclear missiles. Kim himself had mentioned in early December that his country had developed both the atomic and the far more powerful hydrogen bomb (even if North Korea does not have the H-bomb, its tyrant is pleased to utter such threats). Lest anyone miss the point, young Kim’s tyranny was already deeply invested in the family tradition of threatening to annihilate South Korea with seas of fire, and celebrated its 2013 nuclear test with threats of nuclear missile strikes on the United States.
And then, though this is hardly in keeping with the luxury politesse of Davos, there is North Korea’s horrific record of human rights abuses, which are central to the survival of its relentlessly brutal regime. In early 2014, exploring horrors already richly documented for years, a UN-appointed panel of inquiry released a report accusing North Korea’s regime of “unspeakable atrocities,” including potential “crimes against humanity,” including torture, targeted starvation, abductions, and a system of prison and labor camps in which the horrors rival those of Stalin’s Soviet gulag. The atrocities are far too many and varied to list here in full, but it is safe to say that there is nothing — absolutely nothing — about North Korea’s regime that could be classified as consistent with the “Moral and intellectual integrity” which the World Economic Forum says, in its mission statement, “is at the heart of everything it does.”
To be fair to the World Economic Forum, North Korea had not attended a meeting since 1998. Next week’s conclave was to be the first time since then for North Korea to join the shindig. In explaining the WEF’s reasons for first inviting and then disinviting the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, WEF officials, according to the Associated Press, said they had initially believed there were “convincing, encouraging signals out of DPRK that there maybe is an opportunity for international global dialogue.” Then, after the Jan. 6 nuclear test, the Forum decided no, there was no opportunity.
To be fair to reality and common sense, there was never any opportunity for the kind of world-enhancing “dialogue” with North Korea implied by these statements. The only real opportunity was for North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri to seek out contacts useful to the totalitarian regime he serves and dignify its atrocities by consorting with various worthies.
It was also an opportunity for Ri to revisit Switzerland, where in his previous incarnation as long-serving ambassador of Kim’s deceased father, Kim Jong Il, Ri helped oversee the rearing at a Swiss boarding school of young Kim Jong Un. There is no sign that this experience did anything to temper the brutality of young Kim, who since inheriting the totalitarian throne of North Korea in late 2011 has been consolidating power by way of murderous purges (including the execution of his own uncle), while enhancing his abilities, globally, to threaten, blackmail and destroy –whether with such stuff as cyber warfare, or nuclear weapons.
So, what was it, really, that made all the difference between the North Korea that just a few weeks ago was welcome to attend Davos, and the North Korea that the WEF has now disinvited? What is the real red line? The signal event was the Jan. 6 nuclear test, which North Korea described as a hydrogen bomb — though that has not been confirmed. So, was the real sticking point that three rogue nuclear tests are OK, but not a fourth? Was it all right for North Korea, while chronically committing unspeakable human rights atrocities, to carry on as well with its rogue nuclear tests — but not within the same month as attending Davos? Or is it simply unwise, if you desire a welcome at Davos, to describe your latest rogue nuclear test as an H-bomb?
Maybe all those entrepreneurial world leaders, when they meet next week amid the luxury chalets and ski slopes of Switzerland to oversee the planet’s “public interest,” can enlighten us?