In the decade and a half since its Soviet patron collapsed, Pyongyang's leaders have striven to make the international community regard North Korean collapse as a frightening—even unthinkable—risk to the region and to the world. Against all odds, Kim Jong Il's starving police state has been remarkably successful in this
Download Audio as MP3 campaign. Today, numerous arguments against regime change in North Korea are routinely offered in Western foreign policy circles. These arguments include the incalculable economic costs of reconstructing northern Korea, the unpredictable mass exodus of refugees that might be triggered, the grave military and proliferation uncertainties entailed in any political transition from North Korea's current nuclear-armed dictatorship, and the geostrategic tensions that could be provoked between Great Powers in an area that historically has been prone to Great Power conflicts.
But is the world really better off with “the devil we know”? Should consideration of regime change or regime collapse in North Korea really be “off limits” for the public, human rights activists, and policymakers? In conjunction with North Korea Freedom Week, AEI will convene a discussion of these thorny and important issues. Please join a panel of leading specialists and practitioners of human rights, development policy, international security, and nonproliferation as they grapple with some all-too-often neglected questions.
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Danielle Pletka, AEI
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Robert Joseph, former under secretary of state for arms control and international security
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|Bruce E. Bechtol, Marine Corps Command and Staff College|
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Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI
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Sang-chul Kim, Future Korea Weekly
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Christopher Griffin, AEI
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In the decade and a half since its Soviet patron collapsed, Pyongyang's leaders have striven to make the international community regard North Korean collapse as a frightening--even unthinkable--risk to the region and to the world. Against all odds, Kim Jong Il's starving police state has been remarkably successful in this campaign. Today, numerous arguments against regime change in North Korea are routinely offered in Western foreign policy circles. These arguments include the incalculable economic costs of reconstructing northern Korea, the unpredictable mass exodus of refugees that might be triggered, the grave military and proliferation uncertainties entailed in any political transition from North Korea's current nuclear-armed dictatorship, and the geo-strategic tensions that could be provoked between Great Powers in an area that historically has been prone to Great Power conflicts.
But is the world really better off with "the devil we know"? Should consideration of regime change or regime collapse in North Korea really be "off limits" for the public, human rights activists, and policymakers? In conjunction with North Korea Freedom Week, AEI convened a discussion of these thorny and important issues. A panel of leading specialists and practitioners of human rights, development policy, international security, and nonproliferation grappled with some all-too-often neglected questions at an April 24 panel discussion at AEI.
The Honorable Robert Joseph
Former under secretary of state for arms control and international security
It is essential to do everything possible to ensure that North Korea's nuclear weapons programs end diplomatically. Negotiations should not be based on hope, but on what we know to be true about North Korea. The regime is the world's leading proliferator, and it is a direct threat to the United States and its allies. North Korea expands its military capabilities at the cost of its people. The regime operates illegally by counterfeiting, kidnapping, smuggling drugs, and violating treaty obligations.
Previous negotiations have only prolonged the North Korean regime. Negotiations have allowed the country to pretend that it is meeting agreed-upon standards, but in reality, North Korea has violated every treaty thus far, refusing to abandon its weapons programs permanently. Future efforts must force Pyongyang to choose between continuing its nuclear programs or receiving international assistance. Negotiations can be successful in attaining denuclearization only if a comprehensive approach is taken.
The influence of North Korea's neighbors is important in denuclearization discussions. The six parties from the recent talks must insist that North Korea meet its September 2005 commitments. All parties must withhold any benefits to North Korea until compliance is both enforced and verified. United Nations Resolution 1718 must be continued with full implementation. Furthermore, the United States and its allies must interdict missile shipments and deploy radiation detection devices in regional seaports, land ports, and airfields.
If a comprehensive approach to the North Korean situation is taken, agreements must be both complete and verifiable. The security alliance in the region must also be strengthened. The United States and other involved parties must also end North Korea's illusion that this issue is only a disagreement between the two countries. A comprehensive position will involve a diplomatic, multilateral approach that seeks permanent solutions to ongoing threats from North Korea.
Future Korea Weekly
North Korea is a rogue regime that does not function as a normal country. It relies on drug trafficking, counterfeiting, threats, looting, and support from the outside world to survive. From 1995 to 2006, North Korea received $8.5 billion in assistance but still allowed more than 3 million citizens to die of hunger.
There are three prospects for the Korean peninsula. First, the Kim Jong Il regime may keep power. Under this scenario, China's support for North Korea would augment China's regional influence at the cost of U.S. legitimacy. Under the second possibility, the peninsula will be united as a "Korean confederation." This prospect risks the communization of South Korea and the subsequent collapse of economic and political order on the peninsula. Under the third prospect, the Korean peninsula could emerge as a united, free democracy. The power of Kim's family would diminish, and commerce and industry would be revived.
All Koreans should wish for a free and unified Korea. The North Korean residents aspire to the same level of freedom and prosperity as in South Korea. The termination of the Kim regime is crucial to the stability of East Asia and world peace, as well as the survival and well-being of all Koreans.
South Korean coexistence with North Korea is unjust and unconscionable. South Korea must dedicate itself to the destruction of the North Korean regime. Its policies should include international sanctions, a blockade, an immediate halt to all forms of various economic assistance, a blackout on North Korean broadcasts and other propaganda, and support for internal North Korean resistance.
Bruce E. Bechtol
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Kim Jong Il has an interest in ensuring a smooth transition to his successor. This transition is also significant to every nation in the region. The succession process in North Korea is important--the grooming process for a successor takes several years. There is currently no indication that an heir-apparent exists.
There has been much speculation on who will succeed Kim Jong Il. There have also been signs of infighting and power struggles within the Kim family. Little is known about the family because their affairs are shrouded in mystery. It is possible that a member of the family other than Kim Jong Il's two sons may be his successor.
Given that no heir apparent exists, there are four possible scenarios that are possible if Kim Jong Il were to die relatively soon. First, there could be a violent power struggle that causes the remaining members North Korean regime to seek the assistance of the military. Second, the military could actively seek power after Kim's death. Third, individual members of the military could seize power and then sue for unification with South Korea. Fourth, no leader might successfully succeed Kim, plunging North Korea into civil war.
The first challenge for the North Korean regime is to prevent any turbulence between the administrations of Kim Jong Il and his future successor, namely through a grooming process. Second, the regime must legitimize its successor through propaganda. Third, competition between members of the Kim family must not undermine the future successor. It is in the interest of the United States and other countries to prevent a power-grab in North Korea. America's biggest concern should be what happens to North Korea's nuclear arsenal without any clear successor for the regime.
In assessing the implications of regime collapse in North Korea, it is important to address the question of economics. The economic implications of regime collapse always have been and always will be troubling. In 1993, people in Northeast Asia--and in South Korea in particular--were fearful of the economic costs of unification between the two Koreas.
Since 1993, the challenges and costs of reintegration have only magnified. Over the last fourteen years, South Korea has increased its per-capita output by 75 percent. During this same period, the Bank of Korea estimates that the North Korean gross national income and gross national product growth has, at best, been 0 percent per-capita. North Korea's ability to compete economically in world trade has also diminished. North Korean exports in 1993 comprised 0.03 percent of total world exports. Today, its exports represent 0.01 percent of the total exports in the world economy. There is no reason to think that North Korea will not continue to fall further behind the rest of the world and South Korea in particular in terms of economic trade.
The key to understanding the economics of unification is rates of return. If a reunited Korea can establish a climate conducive to high rates of return, the costs of reunification will take care of themselves. Thus, people in South Korea today should be eliminating inefficiencies, structural impediments, and barriers to growth. They should also be thinking about the contingency of reintegration of the peninsula, because that day could turn out to be closer than originally thought.
AEI intern Gregory Trum Jr. prepared this summary.