Changing North Korea

UPDATE:  Here is a longer version of this article in Foreign Affairs.

ORIGINAL POST: Andrei Lankov offers policy prescriptions for changing North Korea in today’s New York Times. Below are some excerpts from the article which is worth reading in full:

…Since outside pressure is ineffective, change will have to come from the North Koreans themselves. The United States and its allies can best help them by exposing them to the very attractive alternatives to their current way of life.

…To crack Pyongyang’s control over information and bring about pressure for change from within, truth and information should be introduced into North Korean society. As the Cold War demonstrated, cultural exchanges can be effective in transferring forbidden knowledge and fostering critical thinking. Exchanges can also bring young members of the North Korean intelligentsia into contact with the outside world. Away from police surveillance (and close to Internet-equipped computers), they would learn much about the true workings of the world.

Of course, the regime might be disinclined to support any initiative with subversive potential. But since the immediate-term beneficiaries of such initiatives would be self-interested members, relatives and clients of the ruling class, they would likely support opportunities for exchange and professional training even if they posed longer-term risks to the system.

The importance of encouraging North Korean rulers to support exchanges is one reason why talks with the regime are important, whether through the six-party structure or not. Although talks will not solve the nuclear issue, they can reduce the likelihood of confrontations and support an environment conducive to exchange and interaction.

…There are other ways to weaken the regime through the spread of information. As during the Cold War, radio broadcasts remain a reliable method of disseminating information, and an increasing number of tunable radios are being smuggled into North Korea. Videos and DVDs smuggled from South Korea are watched widely. It makes sense, then, to support the production of documentaries that inform North Koreans about daily social and economic life in South Korea, contemporary history and political matters such as reunification. And instead of continuing its current harmful ban in the sale of Pentium-class personal computers, the United States should encourage their spread inside North Korea.

Broadly, the U.S. government can take part in cultivating a political opposition and alternative elite that could one day replace the current regime. Due to many factors, those few North Koreans who are politically aware hardly constitute a community of dissenting intellectuals. An increasing number of North Koreans have doubts about the system, but they remain isolated and terrified. Washington should focus, therefore, on aiding the dissident community in South Korea, where some 16,000 North Korean defectors live.

Combining engagement, information dissemination and support for émigrés is the only way to promote change. This approach, however, might be a hard sell to most Americans. It is likely to bring about only incremental change — at least until the situation reaches a breaking point, which could be years away.

But Americans should recognize that there are no quick fixes. For two decades, Washington has searched for solutions, sometimes by way of concessions, sometimes by way of threats. Both approaches have failed and — given the goals of the North Korean regime — would fail again and again. Only low-profile and persistent efforts aimed at promoting change from within will make a difference.

Read the full article below:
Changing North Korea
New York Times
Andrei Lankov


One Response to “Changing North Korea”

  1. Gag Halfrunt says:

    I’m reluctant to argue with Dr Lankov, but it seems unlikely that lifting the US “ban in the sale of Pentium-class personal computers” to North Korea would make any difference, assuming that the ban doesn’t have any effect on the availability of computer from China or elsewhere.