The U.S. still has one big weapon in its arsenal to put pressure on North Korea, a top U.S. intelligence chief revealed Tuesday.
“I think the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said during a Council on Foreign Relations meeting. He then noted that the U.S. still has options it can explore though.
“We don’t capitalize on our great weapon, which is information. And, that’s something they worry about a lot and their reaction to the loudspeakers being activated along the DMZ or the dropping of leaflets by NGOs over North Korea,” Clapper explained, “They go to nuts when that happens. So that is a great vulnerability I don’t think we’ve exploited.”
The Obama administration is aware of the value of information as a weapon against North Korea.
“It’s very hard to sustain that kind of brutal authoritarian regime in this modern world. Information ends up seeping in over time and bringing about change. That’s something that we are constantly looking for ways to accelerate,” President Barack Obama said in January 2015, but the administration has been slow to move forward on this strategy.
The Department of State pledged last month to heavily invest in projects to “foster the free flow of information into, out of, and within” North Korea. Projects could include transmitting radio broadcasts into North Korea, expanding mechanisms for the for the sharing and consumption of information, and introducing content of interest to North Korean audiences.
Efforts to get information into North Korea extend beyond the government and include various organizations. The Human Rights Foundation, for instance, runs the Flash Drives for Freedom initiative, which slips jump drives loaded with South Korean television shows, documentaries, and general information about the outside world into North Korean society.
Expanding efforts to allow information to permeate the borders of the reclusive North Korean state could potentially cripple Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian and oppressive regime.
“Against the current backdrop, North Korea’s denuclearization is surely improbable,” Chun Yung-woo, former national security adviser to the South Korean president, said at an Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security forum, but while he agrees with Clapper’s comments on North Korean denuclearizaton, he sees another option outside of information.
“The only thing North Korea regards as more crucial than its nuclear program is regime survival, therefore it has no reason to give up nuclear weapons as long as its survival is not threatened,” he explained, “If North Korea is faced with sanctions that are strong enough to make North Korea think they cannot survive without giving up nuclear weapons, then there will be a possibility, albeit very little, that North Korea could come forward for talks for denuclearization.” But, introducing sanctions with the power to threaten North Korea will require Chinese support, which is currently unlikely.
The U.S. and South Korean governments both remain committed to stopping Pyongyang.
“Our policy objective is to seek to obtain a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That is the policy; that is both the goal and what we want to see and there is a way to do that,” U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby said.
“We will keep applying strong pressure on the North by using all means available through cooperation with the international community to stop the North’s evolving nuclear threat,” said South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, “Through the triple-pronged approach of sanctions through the UNSC, coordinated unilateral sanctions and global-level pressure, we will create an environment where the North will have no choice but to forgo its nuclear weapons program.”
The North Korean nuclear crisis will likely continue to be a challenge for the Park administration and will be a critical issue for the next American president.
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