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

We should also seek to encourage escapees. Along with news stories being transmitted via radio into the country, we should air the stories of former citizens of the DPRK who have since escaped to freedom; a powerful message of hope and encouragement to would-be escapees. Since the NKHRA made it easier for North Korean refugees to seek asylum status two years ago, there have only been six individuals who have fled to the USand taken advantage of this protection.[xxii] We can do better. Indeed, Lefkowitz testified that we should go further by making it clear, “to our friends and allies in the region that we are prepared to accept North Korean refugees for resettlement here.”[xxiii]  Lefkowitz is right, but we should go even further and declare directly to the North Korean people over the airwaves that we encourage and will accept all the refugees that are able to escape. A mass exodus will only encourage more to flee, causing panic in Pyongyang and slowly de-legitimizing their authority. If the people show they are no longer afraid of their government, and are willing to risk death to flee their homeland, this will be a serious blow to the government.

China and South Korea: The Indefinites

For the inputs/outputs strategy to work, the help of both China and South Korea is necessary. In the past, gaining the cooperation of both countries has proven challenging. For them, stability on the Korean peninsula is the ultimate goal. Their increased aid over the last fifteen years is a direct result of a desire for the stability that is created through the continuation of the current DPRK leadership.

Although it is possible for the United States to wage the information (ouputs) campaign without the help of China and South Korea, their assistance would play a vital role in cutting of Pyongyang’s finances. In order to convince them to abandon their stability project and engage in our long-term destabilizing project, a number of things must occur.

First, both countries must be convinced that the continuation of the DPRK is more threatening then its inevitably messy downfall. There were brief moments during the past decade when Pyongyang overstepped its boundaries and China/South Korea have pulled in the reins and pressured the DPRK to back down. However, these actions are usually calculated decision made by the DPRK and meant only to frighten the West into more concession payments. After taking these aggressive actions they then backed down and declared a return to normalcy. The July 4th missile tests appear to be a similar maneuver. This action, taken in defiance of the international community, does present a unique opportunity to place maximum pressure on the Chinese and South Koreans to cease assistance payments. Such an opportunity should be taken, even if it only provides a temporary financial setback to the regime. For a prolonged commitment of financial isolation by China and South Korea, the DPRK would have to either test a nuclear weapon or carry out some type of overt aggression in the region. Only at this point would the international pressure be great enough to force China and South Korea to comply to the extent needed.

Second, South Korea must understand that their security is their priority and not solely the responsibility of the US. The decision to begin redeploying US troops in South Korea, thereby significantly downsizing our force there, is a correct one in this regard. If the Korean security issue is looked at as one of “ownership”, then the fewer US troops in the region, the more Korean troops must fill the gap, and the more the issue becomes a South Korean one. If the Koreans can no longer rely on the United States, and are made to address the issue, they will be more willing to seek a long term solution other then one that accepts the persistence of the DPRK threat.

Finally, China must continually be reminded that so long as the DPRK issue remains, the US will take any precaution necessary to defend the region and maintain the peace. It is well known that China is already a regional hegemon and has ambitions of becoming a global hegemon. The Chinese understand that so long as the DPRK issue affects the US and her regional allies, a US military presence will be maintained in the region, running counter to their long-term regional ambitions. The US should make it clear to China, and the world, that it is willing to use absolute force, including nuclear, to aggressively remove the North Korean threat. While this may have no added effect, by continually reiterating our commitment to thwart the totalitarian state’s ambitions, we will be constantly reminding the Chinese of the tumultuous issue that lies on their southern border. Continued pressure in this form must be taken to force the Chinese to compare the cost of the current regime, with the costs of destabilizing regime change.

How Regime Change May Occur

This paper’s goal was to present a set of policy recommendations centered on a strategy by which long-term regime change could be fostered. It did not attempt to offer a defined way through which to force regime change on our terms, but rather how best to create the necessary conditions to do this in the long term. Weakening the state’s financial structure and slowly increasing the external flow of information into the country, thereby enlightening the people of their truly feeble situation, could slowly meet these conditions. This leaves us with the question of how regime change may ultimately occur. There are several possible scenarios, all of which appear messy and expensive, but offer a chance for a positive alternative other than that of the current totalitarian state.