South Korea and the US must be skeptical about future talks, not least because North Korea has no incentive to change. However, the North is vulnerable to financial pressure, as seen when the US once sanctioned an Asian bank that handled North Korean money.
Twenty years of negotiations with North Korea have not produced a more cooperative regime. North Korea continues to brutalize its citizens and engage in missile and nuclear proliferation. It threatens countries near and far with destruction and periodically attacks South Korea. Most troubling, the North is now dangerously close to an effective nuclear missile capability.
South Korea is pushing for dialogue with the North, and the North this week signaled interest – accompanied by unrealistic preconditions, such as a cessation of American-South Korean military exercises. One has to be skeptical about future talks, not least because North Korea appears to have no incentive to change. Aid offers have never improved regime behavior. And a show of US military force has its limits since the North seems to believe it can hunker down and out-wait the Americans.
However, North Korea is vulnerable financially. Applying financial pressure has worked before and is more likely to create conditions for useful negotiations than the methods tried to date. Its demand that the United Nations lift newly imposed sanctions as a condition for talks illustrates its financial vulnerability.
North Korea is ruled by a family-based regime that resembles an organized crime group. The regime’s major income sources are via illegal activities – nuclear and missile exports, illicit drug dealing, and counterfeiting cigarettes and US dollars for export. And the entire racket is run by a ruthless boss who rules by violence, manipulation, and intimidation.
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