I have to be careful in this post. Parts of it will sound distasteful so some. But the basic idea is the same as witness protection programs for criminals. As a society we have decided that at times we will protect criminals for their cooperation to achieve more important outcomes. North Korea’s decision-makers are not criminals (everything they do is probably legal). I’m just using the analogy to explain.
I noted something I believe motivates North Korea’s leaders more than anything else — from their perspective consequences of failure include their deaths as well as those of their families and probably everyone they know. We know what happens to most authoritarian leaders who lose power. North Korea’s decision makers probably know very well the outcomes that befell leaders like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi
Forget about what you consider right or wrong or what you feel they deserve. Understand the stakes from their perspective. No matter what you want to happen in North Korea, they have influence and make decisions. As long as they have to consider outcomes like Gaddafi’s and Hussein’s, they will probably weigh such personal risks above all else.
I expect any change to North Korea would require assuring its decision-makers they can expect at least to live, along with their families and friends, possibly living comfortably without risk of death. In other words, I think they would need to be offered something like amnesty and a witness protection program. The amnesty might not be necessary, but the protection seems to me to be.
How many people suffered under their leadership? How many people will hear stories that contradict theirs and will feel lied to? They must realize, even if they believe all their stories and that they did the best for their population, that some people will want revenge. How could they abdicate power and feel safe? Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems their cooperation would require their expectation of safety. Likewise, their cooperation seems necessary to change the system.
I don’t even know how anyone could credibly offer protection. How would one assure such a thing for many people’s lifetime.
If you dislike the leaders responsible for millions of preventable famine deaths, who imprison and torture people arbitrarily, and so on, you may find the suggestion of offering amnesty or even just protection distasteful.
Despite the distastefulness In offering the leaders protection, I suggest considering it because we stand to gain the freedom for tens of millions of North Koreans. And that’s just now. Who knows how long the regime could remain stable?
I don’t see any ways around the decision-makers having control of the military that controls the population and missiles that hold South Korea and Japan hostage. Nothing has shaken that control in generations. If the decision-makers can’t safely exit, I don’t see how to remove the risks of using the military or missiles. I don’t think removing one, two, or even a large number of leaders from control, by whatever means, would get around this issue without knowing how many of their colleagues have power to use the military or missiles.
I’m open to hearing alternatives to offering protection.
EDIT: I included much of this post and this series on strategy (edited and polished) in my ebook, Understanding North Korea: Demystifying the World’s Most Misunderstood Country. I wrote the book to help increase understanding, communication, and freedom.
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