Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Conference Report: Exploring Theories of Change Implicit in Policy Approaches to North Korea August 2015

This workshop took place in September of 2014.


I participated in this workshop a year ago.  I think you can probably guess some of my contributions in the excerpts below.  I could not shape the discussion to focus sufficiently on unification (as it was not the focus but I tried to emphasize its importance whenever I could) as the majority of participants were of the opinion that we can engage the regime to change its behavior, particularly about the nuclear program.



One participant argued that U.S. laws should be consistently enforced, regardless of the state of diplomatic negotiations, and that the U.S. should send the message to North Korea that the way to prevent new sanctions is simply to cease illicit behavior. Others responded that while it was incumbent for some sanctions efforts to be ongoing regardless of the diplomatic context – such as efforts to interdict proliferation activities – efforts to crack down on second-tier concerns such as counterfeiting could be applied more selectively. Another participant, however, questioned whether North Korea would differentiate between ongoing or discretionary sanctions efforts, and would interpret either as a sign of American hostility.

One participant argued that efforts in line with what scholar Andrei Lankov has called “subversive engagement” – which aim to change North Korea by exposing its people to new ideas and information – could be implemented in tandem with both an engagement and a pressure track. As these are inherently long-term efforts, they could be undertaken without regard to changes in the status of negotiations or U.S.-DPRK relations.

The participants agreed that proper implementation of both pressure and engagement measures requires greater domestic and international policy coherence. Several pointed to the need for the President to empower a high-ranking official to take charge of all aspects of U.S. policy toward North Korea, directing and coordinating diplomacy, sanctions, and military actions. Other participants, however, pointed out that there does not seem to be the political will in either the White House or Congress for such an effort, and furthermore that the separate role of a Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights is required by statute. 

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