On Tuesday, President Obama signed an executive order imposing even more sanctions against the DPRK for its continued violations of the six-party talks. In response to these and UN sanctions, Kim Jong-Un ordered nuclear missile tests to come in the near future.
Today, North Korea also announced that American Otto Warmbier has been sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor.
Warmbier, a student at UVA, was arrested in January at the end of his holiday trip to the DPRK for “perpetrating a hostile act.” He was accused of “anti-Republic activities” in attempting to steal a propaganda sign from his hotel.
On February 29th, Warmbier was paraded in front of North Korean media, where he delivered a tearful “confession.” He admitted to his crimes, the malicious intent of his actions, and begged the North Korean nation for forgiveness.
Sources in the North Korean government have said they believe he was coerced by the Friendship United Methodist Church in his hometown of Wyoming, Ohio. They also believe that the “Z society” at UVA (an alleged CIA front) was also responsible for his recruitment. He was allegedly offered a $10,000 used car if he could successfully bring home the propaganda poster.
Warmbier is not the first American citizen to be detained and sentenced to hard labor in North Korea, and will likely not be the last. Sixty-two year-old Kim Dong Chul, a naturalized American Citizen, is still being held in North Korea for “spying for conservative elements.” While there are many others on the list, few have been held for significant periods of time, or subjected to such harsh punishment.
So what is the real story here? North Korea continues to “act out” against international norms and condemnation with minimal consequences. Kim Jong-Un understands that, so long as Seoul remains within range of North Korean artillery (and now nuclear weaponry), the DPRK is relatively free to do whatever it wants. Furthermore, they will continue to do so.
Based on precedent, it is more likely than not that Otto Warmbier will eventually return to the United States before his fifteen years are up. However, based on precedent another American citizen will likely take his place. One thing is for certain: this is not the last episode in the North Korean saga.