Contain and Transcend: A Strategy for Regime Change in North Korea

Furthermore, by continuing to engage in such negotiations with the totalitarian regime we are not only prolonging its existence, but also committing an act of immorality. By agreeing to negotiate, we are granting further legitimacy upon the leadership in Pyongyang. Such actions effectively tell the people of the country we prefer our security to their freedom. As Ronald Reagan accurately pointed out in his famous “Goldwater Speech” in reference to the Soviet Union:

We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now enslaved behind the Iron Curtain, ‘Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skins, we’re willing to make a deal with your slave master.’[viii]

We as a country cannot buy our security from the DPRK, turning our backs on the North Korean people, in a selfless attempt to preserve our own security. Ronald Reagan provided what he called a “simple” approach in 1964; we should continue to embrace it today.

Every effort should be made to cut off additional assistance as well. Another lifeline for the regime comes in the form of oil and food supplements provided by Chinaand South Korea. These two items are essential to the DPRK’s survival. According to the Index of Economic Freedom put out each year by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation, North Korea has no viable economy.[ix] As a result, it is essential that it has continued access to food in order to feed both party members and military personnel, as well as oil to heat officials homes and sustain the countries mechanized military forces.

From China, the DPRK receives an estimated $300-$500 million a year in aid. This aid is received largely in the form of oil, 300,000-1,000,000 tons of which is provided by China.[x] It has also been reported that Chinese officials meet monthly with North Korean officials to ensure the country has an adequate supply of food. Since 1996, China has sent the DPRK some 2 million metric tons in food assistance.  This high level of assistance has been ongoing since the mid 1980s. Such assistance will continue, as Beijing believes it is in its best interests to maintain stability on the Korean peninsula. This philosophy goes back half a decade to the Korean War when China decided to intervene and prevent the Western powers from winning total victory on the peninsula. As an example of just how important Chinese food assistance is, during the mid 1990s, China cut of its food aid by as much as 80-90%. Shortly thereafter, a devastating famine commenced in the DPRK which only let up when China restored its aid in 1996 and 1997.[xi] Had this assistance not flown back in, the DPRK most surely would have collapsed.

South Korea offers another source for which to secure food assistance. Since 2000 Seoul has sent 2 million metric tons of food aid and, since 1994, about 1.5 million metric tons of fertilizer.[xii] The South Koreans offered this aid as part of the continuation of former President Kim Dae Jung’s “Sunshine Policy”, which for all of the payments of goodwill South Korea has offered the North, has yet to produce tangible results. Furthermore, an estimated three quarters of South Korean aid is sent directly to the DPRK government, bypassing any type of South Korean oversight regarding its distribution.

Humanitarian food aid for the DPRK is an entirely different issue. While our aim is to bring down the North Korean government, we would do well to ensure that this occurs with minimal suffering for the North Korean people. Several international organizations, including the United Nations World Food Program, have been at the forefront of this project for the last decade. A recent agreement with the DPRK will allow about two dozen members of the World Food Program (WFP) to enter the country and distribute food to about 1.9 million people, consisting mostly of pregnant women and children.[xiii] However, while it is important to look out for the suffering Korean people, it is equally important to ensure such food programs do not serve the interests of the government. This means only providing aid when members of the WFP can monitor its distribution. Simply passing large amounts of food aid to the government will mean that it will end up in the hands of government and military officials, instead of the people who desperately need it. To their credit, Western democracies have been careful to ensure direct aid to needy North Koreans is carried out. Unfortunately, this is not the case with food aid sent by China and South Korea where it is handed over with little regard for its final destination.[xiv]