World

North Korea's regime must go, and the U.S. has options to make that happen

Harry J. Kazianis

North Korea might just be the neediest of nation-states. Anytime the world’s attention shifts away—this time to President Trump’s trip to the Middle East—the hermit kingdom knows how to return the world’s collective gaze back to the Korean Peninsula, this time firing off another missile.

And we shouldn’t be shocked. In fact, North Korea is well overdue to test something much more menacing—another nuclear weapon. That would mark the sixth-time Pyongyang has defied the international community in its long march to develop a nuclear device that can rain down atomic terror not only on South Korea, Japan and U.S. bases throughout Asia – but eventually on the U.S. homeland itself.

So what happens next? Judging by the pace Kim Jung-un seems to be on, we should buckle up and brace for more missile and nuclear tests in the future. Kim doesn’t care how much he raises international tension, angers neighbors, his patrons in Beijing or America and its allies. His goal is survival, and the only way to survive when faced with the awesome military might of a superpower is an atomic arsenal that can kill millions at the push of a button.

Thankfully America has options to push back against Pyongyang, as I explained here last week. These include tough sanctions on anyone helping the North Koreans develop nuclear weapons or missiles, the levering of cyber weapons on a grand scale to constrain and raise the costs of missile and nuclear advances, as well as more missile defenses deployed and retained in the area around North Korea.

We must exploit this weakness by working to educate the North Korean people of the abuses of the regime—to help them begin to understand the tyranny they live under.

There is however one solution, the toughest of all solutions, that in all our hearts we know would solve this problem once and for all—one that is not for the faint of heart: the eventual change of regime in North Korea.

History tells us we must prepare, and indeed, carefully push for this eventuality. No regime as evil, as sinister, and as dangerous as North Korea —the modern day equivalent of Nazi Germany with death camps where the regime tests chemical weapons on its own people—has survived forever. The sins of its leaders continue to grow with each passing day, sealing the regimes fate—clearly a question of when, not if, it will fall.

Now, to be clear, I am not advocating for U.S. military forces to mass in Northeast Asia and invade. The preparation for such an operation would be conducted in plain view of Kim Jong-un and he would have every incentive to strike first—and with nuclear as well as his vast, and sometimes forgotten, chemical and likely biological arsenals. Indeed, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis just last week explained that a military solution when it comes to Pyongyang’s nuclear program would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale.” But we do have options to help ensure the expiration date of the Kim regime is set in years and not decades.

For example, we do know how North Korea keeps control of its citizens—the brainwashing of its society into believing that Washington and Seoul are the enemy and that they must starve and live in destitution to support an army that is the fourth largest in the world with an economy the size of Laos. We must exploit this weakness by working to educate the North Korean people of the abuses of the regime—to help them begin to understand the tyranny they live under.

Thankfully modern technology affords us ample ways to achieve such a goal. For example, human rights groups are already helping smuggle into North Korea DVD players that access USB sticks packed with video from around the region, proving the promise of a better life. Citizens are also taking matters into their own hands—hacking government issued cell phones to talk to the outside world as well as trying to flee their prison-of-a-nation in increasing numbers.

The U.S. can help expand the above efforts dramatically. Washington could lead a covert effort, working with human rights and other interested organizations, to educate the North Korea people when it comes to the sins of their leaders. We must help awaken the hopes, aspirations and dreams of a people enslaved far too long. America must weaponize against the Kim regime the most powerful of passions—hope for a better future.    

To be clear, helping the North Korean regime pass into the dust bin of history won’t be easy, and the costs of reunification—easily in the trillions of dollars—will be a bill not easy to pay. But the costs of a nuclear war, by accident or intent, with millions dead and large sections of Asia and possibly even America turned into atomic wastelands is too grim to bear. It’s time to consider a different path—and the most obvious one.      

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded by former President Richard M. Nixon. Click here, for more on Mr. Kazianis.