North Korea: Keeping the Peace

Deterring the wretched regime requires clear, tough, automatic, and non-negotiable sticks, but also clear, automatic, and somewhat negotiable carrots. Most of all, however, it needs a promise not to act against the regime as long as it does not endanger anyone else.

You might be forgiven for thinking the North Korean regime was stark-raving mad. After all, why does it keep acting so belligerently when things could be so much better for North Korea? No one can be entirely sure, but fear of losing control of the country it's kept so well under its thumb for decades is one strong possibility. The regime clearly doesn't care much about the survival or lot of its people, so this suggests it cares mostly about itself.

This is why there need to be clear, automatic, and non-negotiable sanctions levied against it for nasty behavior. The problem is, though, there's not much more that can be done to the country without using force. This, perhaps, is the reason for the rush to nukes and missiles, and it's perhaps the regime's biggest fear.

That, in turn, is why there must be clear rewards. It is impossible to take more away, so positive reinforcement looks more promising. In addition, giving rewards creates a stake in keeping them--there would be something to take away later.

North Korea has made use of this before, making promises in exchange for aid, only to renege on those promises as soon as the aid was received. This is why any rewards given ought to affect the regime directly and ought to be designed so as they can be taken away automatically. Strategists are not stupid, and this has already been tried and will be again. But it almost doesn't matter: The door should always be left open, with it up to North Korea whether it wishes to walk through or to leave again. This can allow North Korea to trust the US over time.

A final ingredient is a promise--the FINAL promise: Not to invade or otherwise attempt to effect regime change in North Korea as long as it does not attack the South, Japan, Taiwan, China, or US bases or the mainland, etc. If fear of losing control is the big driving factor, which I am guessing it is, this is an important ingredient. All this gives North Korea the security to decide to come around. It can also quietly climb down from its war horse, saving face. The US, China, and all those who wish the North to remain peaceful are strong and credible enough to make "concessions" from that strength. If Kim Jong-Un thinks the US wishes to topple him regardless of what he does, he will have no incentive to be moderate. This is the missing piece of the puzzle. It should be put in place. John Kerry's professed willingness to talk to North Korea directly is thus to be applauded, if done right.


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