OPINION | A Pathway to Peace : New Thinking on a Strategy for Unification of the Korean Peninsula
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OPINION | A Pathway to Peace : New Thinking on a Strategy for Unification of the Korean Peninsula

By Brian R. Moore
Research Intern, Center for Strategic and International Studies

OPINION | A Pathway to Peace : New Thinking on a Strategy for Unification of the Korean Peninsula


The continued status quo and unspoken acceptance of the North Korean regime is no longer tolerable in the international community. The United States and its allies in South Korea and Japan must view China as an obstacle rather than the key to change. This article provides a four-pronged approach for the US-ROK-Japan alliance to prepare and move towards regime change and unification.

Keywords: North Korea, United States, Japan, South Korea, Unification, Denuclearization

It’s been ten years since North Korea’s first nuclear launch, and the U.S. failure to bring the DPRK towards denuclearization has been a dark cloud that has continued to linger. As we approach the fourth American administration that will have to deal with this issue, two things are evidently clear: North Korea has no interest in giving up nuclear weapons—something it sees as its only negotiating tool in the international arena and key to its survival—and that China can not be expected to act responsibly in enforcing sanctions or pressuring the regime to denuclearize. Beijing and Washington view the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) through two very different lenses, and Washington must face the sobering reality that a soft-line approach that looks to China to control its belligerent neighbor is out of touch with reality. China is not and has not ever been the answer to solving the North Korea problem, but rather a significant roadblock. Instead, the U.S., along with South Korea and Japan, must begin their own efforts and preparations for regime change in the North. This article presents a four-pronged approach: the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD); increased US-ROK-Japan joint-military exercises; sanctions targeting financial institutions and attached to human rights abuses; and a well-funded and government-led strategy of information penetration.

The North Korean regime under Kim Jung-un has evolved into a regime that can no longer be tolerated by the international community. While the rogue state has been an issue since the beginning of its nuclear program in the 1990s, recent actions are evidence of the need for change. So far this year we have witnessed a hydrogen bomb test, an inter-continental ballistic missile test (ICBM) in the guise of a satellite launch, progress towards the miniaturization of a nuclear warhead and an ICBM that could reach the U.S. mainland, and preparations for terrorist attacks on Seoul. In the past, the international community has grudgingly accepted the status quo and North Korea’s existence, but this climate under Kim Jung-un suggests that this status quo is dangerously close to traversing into what would have been an avoidable disaster.

There are multiple effective options that the United States and its allies can take to move towards and plan for regime change. The deployment of THAAD is crucial in providing missile defense security to USFK forces and the people of South Korea and Japan. This missile defense system provides the defense necessary to intercept airborne missiles. The possibility of a hard landing in North Korea is increasingly likely, and when a regime like the one in North Korea feels threatened, we should expect it to not go quietly or peacefully.

Planning for a regime change with a country that has a reported 700,000 active frontline personnel and an arsenal of ballistic missiles will require extensive military cooperation. There is already a high amount of bilateral and trilateral military exercises, but these are mostly defensive in nature. More exercises are required that are focused on a collapsing North Korea and an interim occupation period during state building. Additionally, a strategic and coordinate approach in locating and securing nuclear and non-nuclear weapons is required. Furthermore, Seoul and Tokyo need to place animosity aside and engage in more bilateral exercises that include intelligence sharing and wartime strategy. Their recent reconciliation in December 2015 is a step in the right direction.

In addition to military readiness, measures must be taken to weaken the Kim regime. According to Victor Cha and Robert Gallucci, negotiators during the six-party talks and the “agreed framework” respectively, there were two times the government in Pyongyang seemed truly caught off guard: in September 2005 when the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions led to the freezing of Banco Delta Asia’s holdings of DPRK assets; and in February 2014 when a UN commission called for the Security Council to refer the regime to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Sanctions that target financial institutions known to engage with the DPRK need to be furthered, including (and especially) institutions in China. Sanctions tied to human rights need to be put forward as well, which we do now see occurring. The DPRK relies almost exclusively on outside sources of funding, and targeted sanctions can effectively cut off this supply.

The North Korean regime is incredibly fragile, and its legitimacy and the infallibility of the Kim dynasty is dependent on information control. Therefore, the effect of information penetration would greatly assist regime change in the closed society. Due to heavy government restrictions on what information enters the country, the average North Korean has a very limited worldview and remains largely unaware of world affairs. Multiple NGOs work towards getting information of all types into the closed-off society, from South Korean soup operas to the latest Hollywood films. This information penetration is incredibly effective in educating the people on the reality of their situation, but more must be done. A large-scale South Korean government strategy that is comprehensive and well funded is needed. There are signs that this information penetration is worth pursuing. On August 20, 2015 the DPRK military shot at South Korean loudspeakers that were aimed at the North and playing pop music, resulting in a North Korean declaration of a “quasi-state of war.” The reaction to the loudspeakers is understandable. When speaking on the psychology of information penetration, South Korean President Park Geun-hye noted that it has been the reason former DPRK soldiers have defected to the South. It is critical that the North Korean public moves against their government during collapse or regime change, and information penetration will be a necessary condition in this effort.

Lastly, the United States and its allies need to seriously and publicly begin discussions on preparations for a regime change or collapse in the North, as well as the resulting unification. This requires a strategy of setting up an interim government by South Korea that also includes the interests of the North Koreans, feeding and housing displaced persons, securing the borders, locating and securing nuclear weapons, missiles and other arms, trauma centers for psychological care, and medical treatment for the many cases of tuberculosis in the country.

Planning for a regime change in North Korea will be a long, expensive, and politically challenging and sensitive endeavor. The implementation of the four-pronged approach will give the U.S. and its allies a structured approach for moving forward. Unification is no longer a question of “if,” but “when,” and this result is worth realizing. It has been forecasted that South Korea could benefit economically from accessing the North’s relatively younger labor market, raw materials, and trade channels to China’s northern provinces. The security climate will stabilize, with nuclear threats and rogue missile tests a thing of the past and existing stockpiles placed under the control of the U.S. and its allies. Furthermore, The United States, South Korea, and Japan will gain a significant diplomatic victory. But most importantly, 25 million human beings will be freed from a regime whose physical and mental bonds have tormented their country for sixty-five years.

About The Author:

Brian R. Moore (TR RID: D-3464-2016) is an M.A. candidate at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service Asian Studies program. He is also a research intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Cite This Article:

R. Moore ,Brian "OPINION | A Pathway to Peace : New Thinking on a Strategy for Unification of the Korean Peninsula" IndraStra Global 002, No:02 (2016), 0079 http://www.indrastra.com/2016/02/OPINION-Pathway-to-Peace-New-Thinking-on-a-Strategy-Unification-of-Korean-Peninsula-002-02-2016-0079.html