Turning North Korea Around

SEOUL – Negotiations over the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula look set to resume. Sadly, they are unlikely to end soon. Talk of a “grand bargain” remains just that – talk.

Trust between North Korea and the United States, South Korea, and Japan is almost non-existent. While all leaders – including North Korea’s Kim Jong Il – remain committed to denuclearization in public, none appears ready to risk much in terms of domestic politics to achieve that end. So the best the world can currently hope for is revived dialogue, an agreement to freeze the North’s Yongbyon nuclear plant, and perhaps a moratorium on further missile and nuclear tests.

To speed the process, a new long-term strategy aimed at the underlying factors at work in North Korea – and in relations with its rulers – is needed. Simply put, the US and other powers need to pursue constructive economic engagement with North Korea to help the regime achieve “strength and prosperity” through economic transition and integration with the global economy.

Constructive economic engagement will benefit ordinary North Koreans, who have suffered as much as any people on Earth since the Cold War’s end. The root cause of North Korea’s economic difficulties is its isolation from the forces of globalization, from which East Asia in particular has profited.