Those Who the Gods Wish to Destroy

Chosun Ilbo reports that Jimmy Carter is urging the US to supply food to North Korea immediately, adding that a failure to do so would be a violation of North Korea’s human rights.


Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Thursday urged the West not to interfere over human rights in North Korea and immediately resume food aid to the renegade nation. …

Asked if he mentioned human rights to North Korean officials, Carter said he believes there are some human rights concerns about the North Korean regime’s policies but that they cannot be changed by outsiders.

He said that one of the most important human rights is “to have food to eat and for South Korea and Americans, and others to deliberately withhold food aid for North Korean people… is indeed a human rights violation.” Critics in South Korea were stunned that Carter appeared to ignore the Kim Jong-il regime’s responsibility for egregious violation of human rights including the operation of concentration camps, public executions and torture but accused Seoul of violating North Korean rights.

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Let us try a thought experiment. What would Samantha Power do in this situation? Wikipedia describes the R2P doctrine as:

The responsibility to protect (RtoP or R2P) is a norm or set of principles based on the idea that sovereignty is not a privilege, but a responsibility. RtoP focuses on preventing and halting four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.[1] The responsibility to protect can be thought of as having three parts.

1. A State has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing (mass atrocities).
2. If the State is unable to protect its population on its own, the international community has a responsibility to assist the state by building its capacity. This can mean building early-warning capabilities, mediating conflicts between political parties, strengthening the security sector, mobilizing standby forces, and many other actions.
3. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures are not working, the international community has the responsibility to intervene at first diplomatically, then more coercively, and as a last resort, with military force.


Assuming that the US fails to heed Jimmy Carter’s advice and is indeed guilty of a human rights violation, which of the following courses of action are indicated?

  1. Right thinking states should apply to the Security Council to impose sanctions on the United States to force food aid to be delivered to Pyongyang;
  2. If no response is forthcoming, the UN should authorize the US Armed Forces to bomb Washington to protect the North  Koreans.

Suppose on the other hand you feel the North Koreans are primarily responsible for the starvation and indeed, cannibalism reported in that unlucky country. Should the UN:

  1. Bomb North Korea, but not to achieve regime change.
  2. Bomb only to cover the delivery of humanitarian aid to the North Koreans.


  1. Bomb everybody.

Finally, assume that we had a Time Machine and could travel back to January, 1945.  The German population is starving and beset by a Cycle of Violence involving the Soviet Army and the Western Allies. Should the UN send back a 21st century strike force to:

  1. Bomb the allies to protect the German population from Patton, Zhukov, Koniev, Montgomery, etc?
  2. Deliver food aid immediately to Berlin;
  3. Bomb the concentration camps to put an explosive curtain between the SS and the inmates, taking care not to deploy “boots on the ground”?

If any of the above is absurd:

  1. Why is it absurd?
  2. Is it any less absurd than Jimmy Carter’s proposal?

The problem with the R2P model is that it presumes the existence of an absolute viewpoint while simultaneously maintaining that perspectives are relative.  Thus, nobody is “right” in the R2P world so no regime change is allowed, but at the same time some viewpoints were imperative.  “Morality” gave you a license to act in an absolutist fashion, yet morality itself was relative. To maintain otherwise would be racist or culturally triumphalistic.  It was fatally inconsistent. The problems with implementing R2P are the consequence of the inconsistencies in its own logical structure.

The worst fault in any database is to be able to get two different answers from the same query. The problem with R2P is that you can get as many answers as you like from the same query.  In the world of sovereign nation states competing perspectives could exist. When they could not be resolved by diplomacy, they were resolved by belligerence.  In the R2P world perspectives could not compete, but one perspective would be chosen anyway. R2P has managed to abolish the notion of “war”, “defeat” or “victory” but only at the cost of creating the same phenomena under different names.

It’s a con. Nothing has changed except that in the old days it required Congress to declare war and the Senate to ratify a treaty. Today any old adviser can start a “kinetic military event” and even Jimmy Carter can pretend to speak from a commanding moral platform.


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