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Sierra Leone News: North Korea & Burkina Faso

Threats from North Korea reached a fever pitch yesterday. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) obsession with nuclear arms development has likely proved successful, producing a nuclear missile that could reach major cities in America. As their technology and destructive reach increases, the situation grows more dire and the consequences more severe.
U.S. President Donald Trump responded to this tinderbox issue with particularly inflammatory language, even by his standards. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The DPRK responded by threatening to attack U.S. military bases in the Pacific Ocean and so on and so forth the pressure ratchets up. Now why am I talking about U.S.-North Korea relations in a Sierra Leonean newspaper? Well according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, one of the DPRK’s top trading partners isn’t too far from here. Burkina Faso bought $33 million USD worth of goods from North Korea in 2015, the vast majority of which was refined petroleum. They are the fourth largest importer of North Korean products, behind China, India, and Pakistan in that order. China is by far the largest trading partner with North Korea, making up more than 80% of their exports and imports. The international community is hoping that pressuring China to cut off trading ties with North Korea could weaken their weapons program and help bring them to the negotiating table. Cutting off trade with the DPRK could be the only way to resolve this growing threat peacefully.
But it’s not just China that trades with the DPRK, they have partners on every single continent. Sierra Leone imported $500,000 USD of goods from North Korea in 2015, France imported about $9 million USD, and even Mexico, America’s neighbor to the south, imported about $14 million USD worth of goods in 2015. Countries around the world continue to trade with the DPRK, despite the increasing threat they pose to global peace.
Honestly, the more I thought about it the more sense it made. Burkina Faso has nothing to lose by buying petroleum from North Korea and everything to gain. The nuclear ire of the DPRK’s weapons program is focused on only a handful of countries, so why should Burkina Faso or France or Mexico or even China be worried? If North Korea is offering cheap goods like petroleum, machinery, and textiles, then nations around the world are more than willing to buy. While trading with the DPRK might make economic sense, it’s only fueling potential military and humanitarian crises in the future.
I know hearing Americans chastise North Korea for developing nuclear weapons can seem a bit hypocritical – we have arguably the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world and are the only country to actually have used them in war – but it is vitally important to stop their weapons program from further threatening the region. It’s not yet clear how advanced their technology is but reports from US intelligence agencies say they have long-range missiles that could reach India, Russia, Europe, and the United States. It’s unlikely their missiles could reach Sub-Saharan Africa and they haven’t expressed any intent to do so. People have been half-sarcastically joking about the coming of World War III but I don’t think the world has been this close to that reality since the Cold War.
Nobody seems to have the answers to the growing problem of North Korea – I definitely don’t – but it’s clear that widespread economic sanctions are one of the best tools we have right now. The North Korean citizens don’t deserve to be led into a violent, losing war by their autocratic leader, so a trade war might be the best alternative. So I humbly ask: Burkina Faso, could you buy your petroleum somewhere else? France, isn’t there another country selling the industrial equipment you need? India, could you just buy silver from South Korea instead? They’ve got a lot of it. And China, please for the sake of life as we know it, take the North Korean economy off life support and bring Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un to the negotiation table.
Timothy’s Take
Friday August 11, 2016.

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