OPINION | A cold war strategy to defeat North Korea

North Korea is in a cold war with the United States and South Korea. Despite Pyongyang’s nuclear saber-rattling and the failure of diplomacy for over two decades, we have restricted ourselves to two options: economic sanctions and military means, such as deterrence, missile defense and threats of preemptive strikes. But there is another option: to eliminate the North Korean threat by means of the same cold war techniques that worked against the Soviet Union.

Pyongyang’s actions come straight from the communist Cold War playbook: nuclear intimidation, arms agreement violations, weapons proliferation, assassination, counterfeiting, espionage, cyber aggression, subversion, deception and propaganda, including psychological disarmament propaganda associated with détente policies. But we have not responded in kind.

What would an effective strategy against North Korea entail? First, strategy requires a goal. In North Korea, the problem is not nuclear weapons, but the regime that controls them. Therefore, our goal should be regime change. The next principle of strategy in war, including cold war, is to target the enemy’s “center of gravity.”


North Korea’s center of gravity — that upon which it depends for its survival — is its internal security system. The central political reality of any illegitimate regime is its fear of its own people, hence North Korea’s need for totalitarian internal security. This system keeps the people in a state of psychological subjugation and atomizes society by separating individuals from each other, leaving them alone against the omnipotent party-state.

Key nodes of that system that must be disabled for regime change to become possible — a change that can only be finalized by the North Korean people themselves. The key nodes include the regime’s communications monopoly, which prevents the people from transmitting and receiving alternative information and ideas.

They include the ideological party line, which serves as…

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