North Korea has been called “the land of bad options.” It has been a long-held belief of the United States government that we have only three options to rein in the country’s nuclear initiatives: impose sanctions with the intention of depriving them of the resources necessary to function as a nation, a forcible regime change and a military intervention, which would trigger a North Korean military response (North Korea has the fourth largest army in the world). The Nautilus Institute projected civilian casualties from a retaliatory response of up to 60,000 Asian civilians – on the first day – and could be unthinkably worse if North Korea develops nuclear weapons.
As North Korea inches closer to having a nuclear-capable ICBM with a range great enough to target the U.S. and our allies, the international response has been to to tread water and persist in our belief that in time, the sanctions we have imposed will fulfill their purpose and strangle the Kim regime into submission. President Trump even indicated that he is considering stricter sanctions on our biggest trading partner, China, for their continued, yet dwindling, support for the nation, a move that would be sure to trigger retaliation from the Chinese.
The sanctions we have imposed are immensely strict. According to the Treasury Department, U.S. citizens or companies are not allowed to export any “goods, services and technology” to the hermit kingdom. Other countries around the world have adopted similar sanctions. But as North Korea has continues to progress with their nuclear program over the last decade in the face of ever-increasing international opposition, the U.S. fails to take meaningful action and hold steadfast in our faith that sanctions will work.
Kim Jong-un believes that his possessing nuclear weapons is an crucial to the very existence of his country; to him, it is the only thing that will deter outsiders from meddling in their country as well as the only . What is it then that Kim wants for North Korea? He wants to continue to be his nation’s leader. Though he repeatedly threatens other nations’, he wants security. He wants to be diplomatically recognized, to be invited for state visits and have a seat at the global table.
Here lies the third, unexplored option for dealing with North Korea: appease them.
Allow him to assume he has the world’s ear. Allow him to believe he is the omnipotent leader he thinks he is, when in reality he will be nothing more than a pawn to be manipulated.
Our sanctions don’t hurt the government of North Korea; the plump Kim Jong-un is most certainly continuing to live a life of lavish luxury in spite of them. Who the sanctions really affect is the regular folks, who only support the wild regime because they have been trained from birth to do so. The ordinary citizens are who we should really be caring about.
Not only would we be coming to the aid of millions of North Koreans and preventing the deaths of untold numbers of South Korean, Japanese and U.S. citizens, but we would simultaneously be fostering a better economic relationship with our Chinese neighbors across the Pacific; with the world’s largest military and them being our most important trading partner, civility should never be overlooked.
If we could get North Korea to subscribe to a series of demands that allows for a better quality of life for its citizens in exchange for diplomatic recognition, we would not only rid the world of an unstable nuclear threat, but also be provided the opportunity to demonstrate America’s compassion. Once the gravest of enemies, North Korea and its people could become allies to us, and all other nations who are presently threatened by them.
While the North Korean military works to perfect a reliable thermonuclear weapon, the 25.1 million North Korean citizens are starved, brainwashed and tortured in labor camps for the pettiest acts of political treachery. It goes without saying that the U.S. or any of its allies cannot simply allow a nation with such a deplorable human rights record a seat at the table of global power. But, we could use our ability to diplomatically recognize North Korea as a bargaining chip to improve conditions in the country. Encourage them to allow for a free press, abolish state torture practices and change the criminal code to allow for criticism of the state. Let us make it so that the first word in “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” is no longer some kind of sarcastic mockery of Democracy and coerce the country into some semblance of a true one.