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What to Do about North Korea
Region: Asia
Theme: Security
Published August 18, 2014
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North Korea is the world’s most troublesome country, brutal at home and a bully abroad. In 2013 it became even more dangerous, both to its neighbors and to its own people. Most worrisome are the nuclear weapons that Pyongyang sees as vital for the preservation of the regime. Although North Korea seems intent on never trading them away for economic or political benefits, this does not mean that diplomacy is meaningless. In combination with deterrence, interdictions, sanctions, and other policy tools, engagement can seek to limit the dangers. The policy options for the United States are not new; nearly every policy choice short of military preemption has already been tried. What is changed is the set of unfavorable circumstances faced by Pyongyang: a pervasive market economy, an increasing flow of outside information, widespread corruption, and the exposure of internal divisions that reached to the leader’s own relatives. Pressure on Pyongyang that sharpens its policy choices also serves a longer-term goal of hastening internal change that can lead to unification.

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