North Korea – what’s going on?!

It’s hard to work out exactly what’s happening in North Korea sometimes. It seems  it takes an advanced degree in psychology to figure out what wild schemes the leadership will think up next. From randomly sinking ships to shelling an island, for no apparent reason, the North Korean Central Military Commission, headed by Kim Jong-Il have only one predictable trait: complete unpredictability.

Right, hands up who thinks they know what’s going on? Anyone? No. I didn’t think so. The actions of the North Korean state lack a central theme, something we’re so used to when looking at the behaviour of a country. Their actions lack rationales, their words seem to be unrelated to anything they’re doing. It’s very confusing. We just put our heads in our hands and moan ‘oh what next?’. We can’t rely on them not to do it again or even raise the stakes and go nuclear. There is nothing stopping them, they’ve everything to gain and seem blissfully unaware of everything they have to lose – that one day they might cross a line and the USA and S.Korea will have had enough, and this time China won’t be there to save them.

I’m going to use this post to do a little analysis of the situation in N.Korea, bust some myths and perhaps set up people’s critical eye for when this inevitably happens again.

Before that, let’s have some background, some people are still surprised when they learn about the conditions the North Koreans live under.

North Korea is the most oppressive state on earth. It’s inhabitants are barely aware the outside world exists. They are dimly cogniscent of South Korea (the enemy) America (definitely the enemy) Japan (also the enemy) China (sometimes a friend) and Russia (unpredictable, just like us!). It is also one of the poorest. The people live in desperate poverty. However the regime has a magic trick up it’s sleeve. Because it is in complete control of all media and communications and has blacked out the outside world, it is able to convince the population that in fact they are gloriously wealthy. It has told the North Koreans that their standard of living is far superior to that of the Americans and that they are lucky to live the way they do. Clever eh?

So, the last few days:

Why have they been shelling each other? What is going on?

There a number of factors at play here. Most important is the succession going on in North Korea. Kim Jong-Il is sick, we think he’s had a stroke, and he’s dying and there isn’t really anyone to take his place. He’s got a few sons but he’s a bit of a lunatic so he isn’t sure he trusts them. He’s decided to select the most pliable of his progeny, Kim Jong-un, to succeed him. This Jong-un chap is quite young, maybe 30 at most (we don’t even know how old he is, that’s the sort of secrecy we’re dealing with) and he’s had no experience of running a horrible socialist autocracy. Jong-Il wants him to take over and command the respect of the army who are huge and powerful and quite likely run the place. So what do they do? They want to it to appear that the recent decision to shell South Korea came from Jong-un, to make it seem like he is in control, knows what he is doing and has some military successes under his belt (bizarre I know, bear with me).

But… it’s not that simple. North Korea is a centrally run state, when I say centrally run I mean that, it’s all run by one person, or a small group of people. So when the person running the state has a stroke, what do you do? Nothing! Panic! But luckily for the North Koreans the army was there to assume more control. The army are even less bright than the leadership, they don’t have the limited international relations savvy that Jong-Il has. They are either unaware or do not care what impact their actions have. It is more than possible that the shelling was simply because they were bored!

A final reason they may have started shelling this island is because North Korea is a spoilt child. It has been given money and food and guns for the best part of half a century. Not just by China, it’s friend, but by America and South Korea, in an effort to change it’s behaviour. Since the negotiations to end it’s nuclear programme broke down a few years ago this stream of luxuries and money has been cut off by and large. The North Korean state is now throwing it’s toys out of the pram and having a tantrum. Why? To get attention. They want to appear scary so that people will want to tame them and bring them to the negotiating table. They think if they cause a fuss they will zip to the top of everyone’s agendas and that might mean they can lie and fib until the aid tap gets turned back on.

So that’s a brief(ish) analysis of the situation. This post was precipitated by the frightening goings on around the Korean border, I think it’s very important to challenge preconceptions about situations. It’s also important to make things a little clearer from our perspective, there are no countries in the world we know less about and the little we do know about North Korea should be talked about, if only because it means we can’t be frightened by them into aiding and abetting the criminal negligence of their people or demented military plans.


Extradition review – my thoughts on UK arrangements

Here’s my contribution to the Home Secretary’s review of the UK’s extradition treaties. I’m really glad I got the chance to do this, you can too at Now please remember I am not a legal expert and I have only the most basic understanding of the law. I am however reasonably well versed in International Relations and the like! I do make some subjective judgements about the quality of other countries’ judiciaries and for that I am unapologetic. Justice is universal, it isn’t subject to cultural relativism and I do consider our judicial system to be one of the best in the world – *Glows with patriotic pride*.

So, here we go:

Dear Home Office,

I’m pleased you’ve given members of the public an opportunity to contribute to the debate on extradition. I am a student of Peace Studies and International Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University and I’ve also taken a semester of International Human Rights Law at the University of California Berkeley.

Before I address each point of your list on the website I wanted to lay out my first two initial thoughts on the matter.

1) any agreement should be based on the concept of reciprocity, the UK should not sign any agreement that is unfairly weighted in its favour or to its detriment.

2) that signing agreements with countries whose judicial systems are underdeveloped or based on principles other than freedom and the rule of law has the potential to undermine our system at home. To elaborate on this I do not necessarily think we should cancel agreements with countries whose laws are based on, for example, religion, just that we should consider our system as a more developed example and should make agreements on British judicial development and support with those countries, alongside any extradition agreement.


To address each point in turn:


– the Home Secretary’s powers to stop extradition

The Home Secretary is a political actor and a representative of the people. She is not a legal professional (it occasionally may occur that the Home Secretary is indeed a legal professional but this cannot be relied upon) and in making decisions on extradition she is not part of the legal framework which constitutes our judicial system. It strikes me as unusual to give a politician such a power in our judicial system and there is potential for the Home Secretary to act in accordance with public demand. This would be extremely ill-advised. The public should not be able to overrule judicial decisions. Our judiciary is here to protect the minority against the majority so it should be the Supreme Court as the only domestic body that can stop an extradition.


– the operation of the European Arrest Warrant, which deals with extradition requests between European countries

The concept of reciprocity comes into play. I agree that Britain should cooperate with other European countries in the area of justice and security however when so many other European countries decide not to cooperate with us this becomes tainted. There should be a threshold, a percentage of compliers to any agreement of this sort, before it becomes active. We should also not agree to cooperate with countries who have not enacted and made use of the EAW.


– where a crime is mainly committed in the UK, whether the person should be tried here

This would depend on the nature of the crime and the nature of the punishment. We should also not be afraid to deem our methods of justice superior in this case. When a crime committed here is considered minor then we should strive to protect that person against the disproportionate response they might receive in their country of origin. I understand this is already in place in some circumstances, such as where we refuse to extradite in cases of torture or the death penalty. In furtherance of this I believe, to stay true to our ideological stance, we should refuse to extradite to countries that practice these methods at all.


– whether the US-UK Extradition Treaty is unbalanced

This is a cause for extreme concern. Although I state previously that the Home Secretary should not interfere in the extradition process this is an example of an extremely one sided treaty with little or no benefit to the UK other than in diplomacy with the US, I would encourage her to review this as a matter of urgency. I can also reliably state that any recalibration of this law to a more balanced version would meet with strong public support. This treaty defeats many of the objects of British justice. It allows for British people to be tried for acts, performed in Britain and legal in Britain, in the United States, effectively granting the US universal criminal jurisdiction over British subjects. This severely undermines the supremacy of the British and European judiciaries which the British people and Government are accountable to.


– whether requesting countries should be required to provide sufficient evidence to prove an allegation

Prima facie should remain as the central object around which any extradition case is based. This is partly the problem with the US-UK treaty as it removes this, with no reciprocity. Although in the case of the EAW there is less cause for concern as the highest authorities for all European citizens are the same institutions.


Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute, I would be very interested to see what role these contributions make in the process of debate and at what points they are considered. Any guidance on that would be very much appreciated.

I do hope they get back to me on how the submissions are used, wouldn’t it be cool if Teresa May read it and was like, “Right on Will!”