Academic journal article North Korean Review

Addressing North Korean Security Challenges through Non- State-Centric International Economic Engagement

Academic journal article North Korean Review

Addressing North Korean Security Challenges through Non- State-Centric International Economic Engagement

Article excerpt

Introduction

Resolving the security threats between North Korea and its regional neighbors remains key to building a viable Northeast Asian security regime. Relationships with the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are marked by episodes of urgency and high tensions in an otherwise predictable operating environment in which all actors seem resigned to the continuation of the status quo.1 Since the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) revealed its nuclear ambitions in 2002, withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) the following year, the U.S.-ROK Alliance has held the resolution of the nuclear crisis as a precondition for normalizing diplomatic ties. This hardline stance, arguably, has contributed to the present diplomatic impasse and there appears to be little impetus for progress under the prevailing rigid policies.2

The current stalemate warrants exploration of a second front in engaging North Korea-one not mired by the politics of denuclearization. The carrot-and-stick approach, offering incentives for good behavior and punishing bad, has contributed little toward normalizing North Korea's relations with the international community, and has failed to coerce obedience towards international norms.3 The contemporary U.S. policy of "strategic patience"4 hints at fatigue and lack of direction. When combined with economic sanctions, "strategic patience" affords North Korea more time to develop a credible nuclear delivery capability while simultaneously building resentment. This article contends that continuation of this combination will (1) harden the positions and rhetoric of relevant political actors, increasing the political cost, internationally and domestically, of reversing stances5; (2) increase the likelihood of unintentional military clashes and escalation6; and (3) increase the internal insecurity of the North Korean regime.

Appreciation of the North Korean regime's insecurity dilemma7 is essential to deciphering its motivations and designing a more effective North Korea policy. Under current conditions, Pyongyang arguably faces greater existential threats from internal forces than external ones. The elimination or collapse of the current regime in North Korea in the short- to mid-term, given the resulting unpredictable fallout, is not in the interests of any of the strategically engaged regional powers. North Korea therefore likely faces external existential threats only in the event of uncontainable internal insecurity spillover, or a humanitarian crisis of such magnitude that it shocks the conscience of humankind, compelling outside actors to intervene. Internally, however, waves of domestic change, including "marketization from below"8 and external knowledge proliferation, have already started to undermine the state's absolute control over the economy and information. In the current internal environment, the North Korean regime lacks desirable alternative options; the regime must eventually pursue reforms to survive, but those same reforms will likely sow the seeds of its collapse. In order to change the regime's calculus of policy options vis-à-vis economic reform, the ruling elite's insecurity must first be addressed.

This article introduces a new concept, Non-State-Centric International Economic Engagement (NSCIEE), to be used as a non-exclusive approach to ameliorating Pyongyang's insecurity. NSCIEE would create an environment for non-state international actors, such as private enterprises and international financial institutions, to interact with North Korea in economic engagements based on the principles of market forces rather than national interest. NSCIEE is fundamentally different from economic engagement policies of the past in that the economic benefits to the North Korean regime and its ruling elites through economic engagement would not be a negative externality of the policy or a "cost of doing business" with the regime, but rather one of the explicit goals of the policy. …

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