4) The Problem is the Regime. The tortured history of negotiations with the DPRK suggests strongly that unless and until a way can be found to transform the nature of the North Korean regime and its priorities, denuclearization of the DPRK is unlikely. The regime in Pyongyang shows no sign of serious interest in denuclearization, and in fact has declared its intention to strengthen its nuclear capabilities.The collapse of the current regime and the onset of new leadership would open up prospects for a new relationship between North Korea and the international community and bring with it the possibility of a denuclearized North Korea. But a U.S. policy of forcible regime change is both dangerous and unlikely. The U.S. track record in seeking regime change is not a good one, and America’s South Korean ally is unlikely to concur in a policy that would risk chaos on the Korean Peninsula.But if the problem is the regime, the current array of sanctions and other pressures is unlikely to alter the regime’s course in the near or medium term. And the ongoing development of the North’s nuclear weapons and missile capabilities suggests that the serious threat posed by these capabilities will become a reality during this same timeframe. Time is not on our side.Of particular concern is the ability of the North Korean regime to evade or reduce the impact of current sanctions. This suggests the need to do a better job enforcing and strengthening the current sanctions regime. A particular goal should be to undermine the relationship between the regime and its “base”—the elites who are largely resident in Pyongyang. To an important degree, the regime’s stability depends on its ability to maintain elite support. Thus far, the regime has managed to keep the flow of goods and privileges flowing to this group. Staunching that flow should be an even greater priority for the current sanctions regime.New mechanisms should be explored to increase and fine-tune pressure on North Korea. The DPRK’s banking system remains an important target, and additional steps by the international community to sanction North Korean banks and business entities would threaten the regime’s viability, sending an important message to the leadership in Pyongyang. The United States has by no means exhausted the array of sanctions-related tools that could be used to increase pressure on Pyongyang, including measures that have been used to good effect on Iran. The DPRK’s continued refusal to give up its nuclear program, its future success in developing that program, and the fears that this success will generate among its neighbors and the international community are likely to ease the United States’ task in building support for such new measures. The goal of U.S. sanctions-related policy should be to present North Korea with a stark choice between nuclear weapons and economic survival, with the hope that Pyongyang will choose the latter.
Paper | October 2013