There Is No Need to Ban Travel to North Korea


Otto Warmbier, at trial

Why does everything need to be banned? Whenever there is a problem, however big or small, the immediate thought is to ban it. Even libertarians joke about how X or Y activity or thing should be banned. With the recent death of Otto Warmbier, an American who was kidnapped and thrown in a cage for a 15 year term starting last year in North Korea, there is growing talk of the US government restricting travel to North Korea. Is there such a pressing number of Americans going over there that the government needs to spend time stopping people from putting themselves in harms way? The results of travel to North Korea seem to speak for themselves. While its only been a few people, the proportion of tourists being kidnapped in North Korea seems to be the highest in the world. The only places more dangerous might be Afghanistan or Daesh Islamic State.

Indeed, the problem has become so great after Otto fell into a coma and died upon return to the US, that the tour company that had booked him already has taken the initiative to no longer accept Americans. The risk for them seems too high, and the company might get a bad reputation for putting people in harms way. Of course, if the adjectives are changed, this could be seen as discrimination, but it would be ok if the government did it, and by force.

The numbers of Americans who travel to North Korea appear to be in the hundreds and likely have declined in recent years as the regime has gotten more erratic than usual. With this heartwrenching human interest story, that number is likely to drop further. While I once considered one of these trips for the exotica, I am less inclined to do so now. The forbidden fruit still draws, but I would not go to Daesh controlled areas either. Even with a Freudian devotion to the Kim family on display to show that I am not questioning or anything, the regime seems too unpredictable to risk.

One wonders what can be done about this regime. Certainly the answer is not forcible removal of the regime, at least not by the United States. Korea itself might feel inclined to do so, and I think if Canada were like North Korea, I would feel pressure to support engaging it. Perhaps one reason Korea and others in the region have yet to do so is because they have grown comfortable under American protection. If the US troops left, yes it puts Korea and other countries at risk (including China), but they would suddenly have to actually deal with the problem. In a sense, North Korea would also lose protection if the US leaves. Korea, Japan, China, and Russia would have to work together to find a solution quickly because the US is no longer there to hold their hands.

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