Recently the usual war of words between Pyongyang and Washington has escalated, with threats to destroy American warships and statements that preemptive strikes by the U.S. on North Korea are being considered.
These times of high volatility ought to refocus our attention on how to permanently resolve the North Korean issue, and the question that needs to be considered is which actions directed toward Pyongyang work and which do not?
TALKS ABOUT TALKS
Over the past decades, the U.S. and its regional allies – primarily Japan and South Korea—have engaged mostly in negotiations, military posturing and the threat of preemptive strikes, and sanctions.
A review of history clearly shows that the objective of changing the behavior of North Korea has not been accomplished by any of these tools, either alone or in combination with one another.
On the one hand, there is talk of getting the U.S. to engage North Korea in negotiations. One recent report from a respected think-tank still believes that it is somehow possible for Washington and Pyongyang alone to reach an agreement in which North Korea “makes reasonable concessions” on its nuclear weapons and the two countries formally end the Korean War with a peace treaty.
Most observers of Pyongyang have realized by now that its nuclear weapons program is the one thing that is non-negotiable to North Korea.
Negotiations about nuclear weapons have not worked for the three decades during which they have been tried: there is no credible evidence to support a belief that the solution to the problem presented by Pyongyang lies in such talks.
However, having said that, there would be nothing wrong with entering into discussions about lesser matters such as family reunions, general medical assistance, nutritional aid, pre- and post-natal care, and similar humanitarian issues. Success in such affairs could lead to other rewarding opportunities.
Its nuclear weapons program is the one thing that is non-negotiable to North Korea
Even so, talks and negotiations have produced nothing of lasting value, despite claims of so-called temporary progress. The proof is in the state of affairs that undeniably exists: North Korea has nuclear weapons.
THE MILITARY OPTION?
A strong military presence and an adequate defensive posture – not necessarily a threatening one, but enough to deter – ought to be a given: the one thing that Pyongyang respects, or at least fears, is power.
But having a modern task force of destruction right off the Korean coast isn’t really useful if the U.S. has no intention of launching some sort of attack, surgical or otherwise. Further, such a fleet could convince Kim Jong Un that he needs to strike first in a macabre twist of “Do unto others – only do it first!”
Talks and negotiations have produced nothing of lasting value
Even so, with a new South Korean president, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system hurriedly installed by the U.S. may be ordered out in response to heavy public criticism.
If South Koreans do not want it, THAAD would likely do a better job in protecting American interests if it were placed in Hawaii, where one could argue it ought to have been positioned in the first place.
Regardless, carrier strike forces off the coast of Korea and fly-bys of nuclear-capable bombers have not deterred Kim Jong Un from his intrepid pursuit of nuclear arms and long-distance delivery methods.
SANCTIONS AND THEIR DISCONTENTS
Saying that unilateral sanctions are unfair or even illegal is nothing more than a flimsy facade to facilitate continuing bad behavior by Pyongyang. Regardless of their effectiveness – or lack of it – they are indeed of value, for they establish a legal basis and impart great moral leverage to those enacting and enforcing them.
This can be of particular utility when countries that have agreed to sanctions are caught circumventing or outright ignoring them. International public shame is a powerful tool, especially for countries with overdeveloped senses of righteousness and superiority.
Even partially-enforced sanctions make things difficult for Kim Jong Un and thus provide worthwhile outcomes in and of themselves.
As for China, that legal foundation and moral high ground will come in handy when negotiating with Beijing for assistance in dealing with North Korea. The most effective use of such leverage would be in back-channel communications to enlist Beijing’s cooperation so that the issue of public “face” is not compromised.
Saying that unilateral sanctions are unfair or even illegal is nothing more than a flimsy facade
Nonetheless, sanctions in and of themselves have not altered Pyongyang’s determined path to becoming nuclear power nor its steadfast march toward long-range ballistic delivery systems.
THE RIGHT STUFF
These tools discussed above are not the most powerful ones in the West’s kit, even though they are the ones most often employed.
Two others have demonstrated results and have far more potential than any of the usual approaches to solving North Korea. Those tools are: (1) referrals of North Korean elites – and Kim Jong Un specifically – to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, and (2) the introduction of information about the outside world directly to the average North Korean.
As but one example regarding charges of crimes against humanity, a recent analysis of the Yodok prison (Camp 15) indicates that it has been reduced in size.
Pyongyang fears prosecution for its human rights violations
But it is unclear whether that means (1) some prisoners have been transferred to other prison camps, (2) concentrated at Yodok into more cramped quarters, or (3) released altogether. The analysis points out that a new prison camp has been built next to the closed Camp 18. Could this be a shell game in response to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea?
It will be interesting to learn what the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur for the rights of people with disabilities has discovered during her visit to Pyongyang earlier this month.
It has long been thought that disabled and disfigured people have been banned from Pyongyang. There are reports about atrocities such as castrating the undesirables or subjecting them to “experiments,” enough to refer this to the International Criminal Court.
Clearly, Pyongyang fears prosecution for its human rights violations – rightfully so – and it likely worries the elites greatly regarding what might be discovered during any subsequent United Nations Committee on Human Rights visits or investigations.
Another tool that is not much discussed is the injection of information into North Korea, either by radio (which admittedly can be blocked) or more surreptitiously by CDs, DVDs, and thumb drives.
Reports from last Fall and again last month show that enough North Korean residents are standing up to agents of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) attempting without warrants to search homes, to the point that Kim Jong Un has reportedly ordered MSS agents to not conduct warrantless searches due to fear of alienating people from the Party.
It is noteworthy that the residents felt empowered to resist such household invasions, possibly from learning of about individual rights by watching outlawed South Korean TV shows and bootlegged movies. Now that is power to the people!
We have tried the business as usual approach for too long
We need to massively increase the injection of such information about South Korea and the rest of the free world.
To start, vernacular renditions on South Korean democracy, evocative descriptions everyday life in their neighbor to the south, and other aspects of living in the free world will do much to arm North Korean citizens with the ability to recognize their basic human rights – and just perhaps facilitate further protests against the regime.
We have tried the business as usual approach for too long. Displays of military might, talks or negotiations, and sanctions have not modified Pyongyang’s behavior very much.
The West and its allies should use what we already know works. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. Now is the time.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 1376 words of this article.