On the other hand, sanctions and punishment have dominated America’s approach toward North Korea since the 1994 Agreed Framework broke down, although the United States has maintained communication channels with North Korea. But sanctions have barely hurt the ruling elites in Pyongyang and have not changed regime behaviors. It is the poor North Korean people who have been suffering from these punitive measures. The West’s current approach to North Korea not only lacks creativity, it is morally deficient.
There is another way – the third way. The international community should initiate a new strategy with one primary objective: the peaceful evolution of the North Korean regime.
This new strategy must include comprehensive contact with North Korea’s people, not just its government. Such full-scale contact would involve more than just providing food and fuel to North Korea as outlined in the now broken Leap Day agreement between the United States and North Korea. And this new third way would take a far more specific and encompassing outreach approach than South Korea's "sunshine policy." As a pillar of this approach, exchanges at the societal level must be promoted.
For example, the United States and other Western nations can establish scholarships to invite North Korean students to study abroad. North Korean cultural, educational, and sports teams should be welcomed to participate in more international events. Even military-to-military contact between North Korea and the West, while inconceivable now, should be explored. Full engagement does not mean endorsement of the North Korean regime but aims at positive changes within North Korea.
While the North Korean leadership appears united, different views exist among top leaders. The West can apply a “divide and conquer” strategy to isolate hardliners and encourage potential reformers. Such a strategy has a better chance to influence long-term developments in North Korea than punitive sanctions.